In times of crisis, creative expression can simultaneously work as therapy for those in need of care and comfort and offer ways for people to connect with one another. The AIDS Memorial Quilt began as a remembrance of those who died from AIDS, and quilting has helped individuals infected and affected by HIV/AIDS address the pandemic and inspire a larger community dialogue. Other art forms have also been adopted as therapy and helped to advance knowledge and understanding about this disease. For years, people who are HIV-positive have used writing, photography, drawing, and painting to document their lives and the way they perceive themselves.
Body mapping and photography workshops are some of the techniques used in HIV-positive therapy groups. Started in South Africa, body mapping combines physical experience with artistic expression, which begins with the tracing of a person’s body on a piece of paper. This shape is subsequently filled in by the individual with drawings and writings representing their memories, hopes, and experiences of HIV-positive life. Photography also captures the individual at a specific moment. The person living with HIV collaborates with the photographer to create a self-portrait. These types of self-documentation leave lasting images, and, with the increased accessibility of antiretroviral treatment, provide an opportunity for individuals to reflect on and celebrate their lives.
“Shortly after he died, Ted came to me in a dream and gave me the first directions that began the design of the panel. I merely ‘followed orders’ as I created. I tried to show Ted as he saw himself. He was right there with me . . . laughing his hearty laugh and calling out his yeas and nays. It was a deeply spiritual experience for me, filled with grief and completion . . . an intense labor of love that brought me exquisite joy.”
“The souls in repetition represent how our lives are all intertwined, yours touching mine and, in turn, mine blending with another’s. The colors of the silhouettes represent individuality and reflect the transformations in our journey through life.
David, you left an impression. The world was changed by your presence, and today you are missed. Until we meet again.”
—Sharon Keasling and Joy Perreras
Photo by Billy Howard