Eyes Wide Open

Phoenix Body Positive, an HIV and AIDS research and resource center, is presenting "HIV Through the Eyes of Parents," an art exhibition of collaborative pieces by artists and family members affected by HIV and AIDS. It opens at downtown's APS Gallery on Monday, September 29.

For the project, which Body Positive executive director Brian Helander says is the first of its kind, local artists were paired with parents affected by the virus to help them artistically express their feelings about the disease.

The exhibition's curator, artist William Eason, explains that the artists' role was "to either help direct [the parents], give tips or create a piece together." The result is nearly 30 works of art, including oil paintings, collage, sculptures and mixed-media pieces. The project draws attention to the various ways that parents can be affected by HIV. Not every set of parents involved in the exhibition actually has a child with HIV, Helander explains.

"This exhibit looks at HIV from three perspectives: parents who've lost children to HIV, even in the early years of the pandemic; parents currently living with children who have HIV, and the struggle that they're going through; and parents who have healthy children now who are thinking about HIV and how it's going to impact their child in the future."

Eason worked with a lesbian couple, Abby Maesas and Cindy Vargo, who adopted a son 17 years ago, but is HIV-free.

"Basically, what they wanted to get across was their fears for their son, hoping they'd raised him well in an alternative family situation," Eason says. "To be a gay couple raising a child together, plus working with people who are infected with HIV or the AIDS virus, it really must make you extremely scared for your child."

Joan Jewitt, who lost her son Drew to HIV, worked with artist Tom Steward. Their collaboration yielded a 3-D collage made up of artifacts from her son's life.

"I think that by coming to see the art, the public will be aware of the diversity of the people who are . . . affected by HIV," Helander says. "It has been really difficult, because HIV has primarily affected gay men, to get the message to the general population that that was 20 years ago.

"Hundreds of thousands of people don't know they're infected, because they don't think they're in a high-risk group," he continues. "This is an endeavor by us and APS to educate the public about HIV, the fact that it's still here, has not gone away, is still impacting people's lives and will continue to impact people's lives in many different ways."

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Brendan Joel Kelley