Monday, December 01, 2008


Prayers (2008), arrangement of photographs and digital prints

December 1st is World AIDS Day. Honoring this day is as much about ending prejudice against those who are living with HIV (we all know someone who is) as it is about education and prevention. The Red Ribbon symbol is everywhere, and if you see it now, you'll know why.

I was invited to submit my artwork to a World AIDS Day art and education gallery exhibit in Madison, WI, and six works were accepted. The connection was made by a friend of mine who is an artist, and who has lived with HIV some several years. He encouraged me to submit my work, and he also has some large oil paintings in the show as well.

The show is sponsored by the UW Health HIV/AIDS Comprehensive Care Program at UW Hospital and Clinics in Madison, Wisconsin, and is part of AIDS Action 2008. The exhibit is described as: "The featured event of AIDS Action will be a community art exhibit relating to the personal, political and social aspects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic." The exhibition will be shown from December 1 thru 5, at Common Wealth Gallery, Madison Enterprise Center, 100 S. Baldwin St., Madison, WI. There's an artists' reception the last day of the exhibit, Friday evening, December 5, during which some members of Perfect Harmony Men's Chorus of Madison will perform a small group of unaccompanied songs.


I've been photographing friends and acquaintances since 2000, as part of my nudes in nature series. I realized in going through artwork and photographs to submit to this show, that one thing that tied together many of my male nudes in natural settings was an attitude of prayer, of contemplation, of connection. I've never concealed the truth that much of my art contains mystical and transpersonal content; I've never pretended that I wasn't interested in mysticism, shamanism, and depth psychology. Naturally, your interested show up in your artwork. Yet as I was going through images to present for the exhibition, I realized that a great number of these photographs were thematically related, and the theme was prayer. So I gathered several prints together, arranging them intuitively until everything felt just right. The title of this new piece came so easily, it was almost comical in its obviousness: Prayers.

This is one of six pieces of mine that were accepted for the exhibit, and are now on display in the gallery.

One of Joni Mitchell's most memorable songs of recent years, for me, is Sex Kills from her album Turbulent Indigo, itself one of her best albums. Mitchell is known for her razor-sharp insights into world issues such as environmental degradation, social injustice, and violence. Sex Kills is a song about AIDS, about how love turns to death, about how the rich get richer while the poor die because they can't afford healthcare; and much more. It's a summation, a snapshot of evil, of how by our selfishness we destroy each other and the world we live on. Here is the song's first verse and chorus:

I pulled up behind a Cadillac,
We were waiting for the light,
And I took a look at his license plate,
It said, JUST ICE.
Is justice just ice?
Governed by greed and lust?
Just the strong doing what they can
And the weak suffering what they must?

And the gas leaks
And the oil spills
And sex sells everything
And sex kills
Sex kills

The anger in the song is, as usual for Mitchell, wound together with love. The observation of degradation is bound up with compassion. Surely we can do better than this; surely we can care for each other more deeply, and more sanely. Sex Kills is not just about AIDS, but AIDS is included in there.

I wrote a short poem some years ago, in which the dead and the living coexist, merge, and meet one another. I've posted this poem before, but I want to repeat it here, today, in honor of the circa 33 million who are now living with AIDS, and the over 25 million who have died from it, making HIV one of the greatest pandemics in human history.

involuntary words

little prayers we say,
little strings of words
like pearls around the necks of the dead,
little automatic movements of the eye
flicking towards half-seen things on the peripheries of vision,
hands curling around in warding signs;
out of darkness come the white trees, suddenly there—
we give a little exclamation, a puff of exiled breath,
and riding out with it float the white tongues of fear;
shimmering in green light,
the hummingbird floats above the pool,
we give a soft cry of pleasure
as its flickering iridescence vanishes;
small red leaves swirl about the mossy shelf above the water,
stirred by children’s unseen hands, little girl ghosts
who watch from the shadows and giggle;
alone and silent
while rain comes weeping down,
we speak quiet words over the stone,
pearls strung together by song,
a little laughter, a small child’s wide eyes;
and you, beneath the stone,
do you hear it? those little prayers
and unnoticed sighs; they ring for you through the silence,
the darkness, the silence, the voices of the soil,
the sounds of the living,
given to the dead.

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