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16 mm film frame from Dyketactics (1974) by Barbara Hammer


This weekend marks the inaugural New York City Porn Film Festival (NYC PFF). From Friday through Sunday, Bushwick's Secret Project Robot will play host to screenings, programs and parties that "aim to support independent, experimental, low or non-budget productions, to place sexuality and porn in context and recognize it as a medium and an industry within the arts, and to display all diversity regarding sexuality, gender expression, body culture, class, fetishism and race, with a focus on dynamic genders and sexualities, and to create a discussion on the social and cultural impact of pornography."

Visual AIDS spoke with Simon Leahy and Richard John Jones, two of the NYC PFF coordinators, about their vision for the weekend, highlighted programs, and the place of HIV/AIDS within the events.

Tickets for screenings and events can be purchased here.

NYC PFF Facebook

NYC PFF "Documenting Sex" talks and programs Facebook

What was the inspiration behind the NYC PFF, and what do you hope to achieve this first year of programming?
The aim of the festival was to celebrate and screen films which would otherwise go unnoticed--to show this hidden part of our culture. The programs are mostly from open submissions but include curated programs by people we feel are opening new discussions around porn, sex and filmmaking. There is a whole spectrum of works on view, and the program is going beyond the normal sexual categorizations of porn, instead finding affinities between film styles, politics, and more conceptual ideas that emerge form the work. We also really wanted to balance the film program with a thematic talks program (which we think might be a first for an erotic/porn festival). The talks program, "Documenting Sex," is bridging porn with experimental film and trying to introduce the ideas of porn as a social document into the festival format. Of course, it was also important to have some industry presence, the generous support of PornHub.com, and other events by Cindy Gallop for example, will hopefully create a new model bringing together otherwise disparate strands. The inspiration is to really expand on what has been done before in other international porn film festivals around the world and create something new in New York.

What are some of the screenings and public programs that you are particularly excited about?
We are excited about all of the programs--they are each unique, provocative and refreshing. But if you were to push us, we think that the "Little Joe Presents..." screening will be excellent. The program will include Robert Blanchon's film Let's just kiss and say goodbye, which features a re-edit of multiple porn gay porn films where the sex is cut out. Aiming to look at the "politics in the room" around the porn film in general and in this case particularly the AIDS crisis--we think the film is quite a good metaphor for the festival as a whole. Along this vein, the panel discussion "Documenting Sex: Passionate Collections" will feature Marvin Taylor from the Fales Library and Karl McCool and other researchers and librarians to discuss issues around porn's preservation, its value as a social document and what the archive may reveal or conceal through the often troubling categorization of porn. There is also an amazing program titled "United Beats" by the filmmaker Julian Curico, and also "Nosebleed City," a whole program of Yaoi anime. Plus there's Barbara Hammer discussing her earlier films and the ideas of erotica versus porn, there is Alfred Bruyas's "Ulterior Pornography" program--there is so much and it's really all excellent!

How do dialogues around HIV/AIDS make their way into this years screenings and programming, either explicitly or otherwise?
The program is a mix of current and archival films, which is also reflected in the talks program. There is also a fair amount of queer, gay and 'post-porn' work represented. Certain films refer to HIV/AIDS explicitly, such as Blanchon's, but it is interesting to compare this to how HIV/AIDS is still being referred to in a completely contemporary way by a filmmaker such as Vincent Chevalier, whose film Breeden will be screened at the festival. There is no explicit program about HIV/AIDS as an "issue," but it remains as a strong theme throughout in terms of the works and their overall commitment to porn and sex work as a politically and socially grounded practice.

How have new technologies, like live streaming and broader dissemination of camera equipment, affected the porn industry and the artistry of porn?
Wow--it has completely transformed the porn industry! Having said that, porn has always found itself at the forefront of new mass technologies, such as the invention of photography, of VHS and home camera equipment. One product of streaming is that there is now an ever-increasing emphasis on "real sex" and "authenticity." It would be wise to unpack these terms, especially considering that they are also used as marketing hooks to sell more videos. This is related to artistry--for example, how is the "real" constructed--but is a much wider issue than just porn: It comes down to how people document and distribute themselves and their social relations. The talks program "Documenting Sex" intends to dig deeper into these issues, looking at porn's historical position as a document yet also at how contemporary filmmakers are working with these ideas. The final event of the festival, "Narrating Our Sexual Selves," will be an opportunity to explore some of these ideas and also to review what we can learn about this from this year's festival program as a whole.

Promotional materials detail that you plan to transform Secret Project Robot, the venue for the NYC PFF, into a "42nd street 1980s cinema experience." Can you describe this festival backdrop, and also discuss how NYC and Secret Project Robot are fitting contexts for a porn film festival?
As it will be featured in the "Passionate Collections" event, '70s and '80s New York saw an intimate connection between porn, experimental film and the art world. It is something of a tribute to this history but also a way to address how, although these practices seemed to have parted ways in the '90s, they are in fact still as interrelated as ever before at a grassroots level of production and distribution. As we said at the beginning, the festival is aiming to reveal something that is usually hidden: It's all already there--we just needed something special like the NYC Porn Film Festival to bring it all together!

Created by writer Kyle Bella, Our Viral Lives is a new ongoing educational project and online digital archive whose frank discussions of sexual practices and intimacy within the men who have sex with men (MSM) community is a welcome addition to online forums around HIV/AIDS. The website "focuses on using everyday narratives, created art, and interviews by prominent non-profit activists in the queer male community to help stop the spread of HIV/AIDS through education." Our Viral Lives will host a launch event at the Bureau of General Services Queer Division on March 7. The launch event, "We Are Here: Young Activists Talk HIV/AIDS," will feature Visual AIDS Artist Member Kia Labeija, Mathew Rodriguez, Charlie Ferrusi, Martez Smith and Bella discussing their work as activists in the ongoing HIV/AIDS pandemic. Below, Visual AIDS discusses the Our Viral Lives platform and upcoming launch event with Bella.


Describe Our Viral Lives as a platform and what inspired the project? Who are your primary audiences? And what range of perspectives are you most interested in featuring on the website?
Our Viral Lives emerged over the course of my travels throughout Europe last summer, where I was conducting research into contemporary artistic legacies in Berlin and Barcelona while having conversations with other men who were around my age (I'm 25). I started to recognize that despite all of the advances we've made as queer people in so many respects, so many of these conversations were dominated by feelings of loss, shame, and at least some moments of self-erasure, even among younger men who did not experience the initial onset of the AIDS crisis. So, I started to think about what I could do and what I felt wasn't being done, which led me to this idea of a digital archive targeted toward a younger audience.

When you hear the word archive you probably think of a stuffy room in an academic institution or space like the New York Public Library. And these spaces are no doubt valuable, housing rare works of art, other ephemera, and written texts. But they all share one fundamental problem: they're limited by geography. If you have to be in a particular city and have a particular set of credentials to be a legitimate historian or cultural consumer, so many people are going to be shut out. So a digital archive is open geographically, allowing for more individuals to contribute in a conversation to represent the global spread of HIV/AIDS.

Within the archive, it's also important to note that I'm not interested, necessarily, in collecting historical facts or other things perceived as "truth." Instead, the idea of this digital HIV/AIDS represents a new way of constructing an emotionally-sensitive, personal repository of how people are having sex, how they feel about sex, and how HIV/AIDS comes into play. It'll be an educational resource because I also hope to interview clinicians who work at organizations like APICHA, GMHC, or in more community-based settings, but education can also happen in less tangible and well-defined ways, which opens up an opportunity for people who are not academics, clinical experts or otherwise involved in HIV/AIDS to speak about their own sexuality in a language that makes sense to them.

Producing a strong logo was important for Our Viral Lives. I wanted to reference the history of the HIV/AIDS activist movements, but also create a new, contemporary perspective, so I worked with Chris Desrosiers on a design. The reference to the inverted pink triangle provides a link to history while the tear drop and purple, not red, color scheme sets it apart from the more conventional HIV/AIDS imagery. The unique typography was also a way to mix a more traditional typeface with a 21st century sensibility.

Your upcoming "We Are Here" launch event for Our Viral Lives at the Bureau features five HIV/AIDS youth activists, including yourself. What will be the format for the event, and what are you most looking forward to about it? How did you go about selecting the participants and what sort of perspectives will be incorporated?
The format of the event is pretty simple, which was a deliberate move. I will provide a short introduction with some prepared remarks and then each of the other four speakers will be given 10 to 15 minutes to talk about how they're involved in HIV/AIDS activism. At the end, we can open up questions to the audience and afterward allow a chance for more intimate discussion, which will provide a forum for those less willing to share their stories or questions in a larger group setting. I'm really excited to bring together so many different voices in one setting and to see how the larger LGBTQ community responds to these stories.

I knew one of the speakers, Charlie Ferrusi, so I reached out to him because he had previous speaking experience and has worked a lot in college settings around LGBTQ issues and HIV/AIDS. He suggested Mathew Rodriguez, whose work at TheBody.com I had been familiar with. From there, Martez and Kia were both suggested to me. I feel there is a strong mix of work in more established settings (like Charlie's work in universities or Martez's work in CHEST) and less institutional settings (like Mateo's website or Kia's art-based HIV/AIDS interventions). What these individuals share is a deeply personal commitment to talking about HIV/AIDS and a willingness to understand just how nuanced this on-going crisis is. This passion is something I hope will help inspire others.

You've researched artists such as Keith Haring and David Wojnarowicz. What are some of the most interesting take-aways you've had from these experiences? Do any other artists from the Visual AIDS Artist Registry stand out as perhaps under-known but worth highlighting?
Art, particularly queer art, is about challenging ways of seeing the world and everyday lived experience. And I think Keith Haring and David Wojnarowicz fall into that category. I remember seeing Keith Haring's Unfinished Painting for the first time at the Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. and five years later, I'm still so moved by that image that I want it made into a tattoo. It was also in that exhibit that Wojnarowicz's video "A Fire In My Belly" became infamous after lawmakers attempted to censor it, so he also maintained a place in my mind, even if his forceful artistic style was so different from Haring's less confrontational methods.

But these artists were only jumping-off points into lesser known (or at least lesser appreciated works as queer artistic canon). There is, of course, Félix González-Torres, who is well-known in the art world but I don't suspect outside of it. When I was in Barcelona, I had the pleasure of viewing an original booklet he produced, untitled as most of his pieces were, that features black and white sky scenes with gulls that move across the pages. It was a bit haunting to touch this tiny booklet that was so expansive in its scope, but also haunted by the memory of the artist himself. There was a sense of impermanence there that I continually try to capture in my own work.

All of this is to say that absence is the theme dominating understanding of so many of those earlier artists who died from AIDS-related complications. Back in 2012, when I was working in an MFA program, one of my advisors shared the writing of French artist Hervé Guibert with me. His work on photographic absence once again resonated me with, and I found myself using the confrontation with photography to look at the relationship to my great uncle, who died from AIDS-related complications unexpectedly in 2013. The unspoken emotional connections and the legacy of grief I now hold on to became clear.

How do you understand the internet as a forum for dialogue and discussion about charged topics such as HIV/AIDS, PrEP, sexual health, and art?
Back in March 2013, I wrote a piece on a bareback experience over at BuzzFeed and remember being mortified at the hateful, mean-spirited language directed toward me. So I know that "dialogue" and "discussion" can often be difficult or nonexistent. At the same time, however, there were a lot of affirmative responses. Others who I didn't know shared their stories with me, which was also made me realize that the positive connections that are formed outweigh the more negative responses. Resisting the temptation to engage negativity and instead focusing on stories as ways of building community is what I'm interested in. If I share my stories about using PrEP or the steps it takes to gain access to this prevention strategy, it allows others to ask questions and find ways to make more informed decisions on an individual level.

At the same time, younger queer men obviously meet a lot of sexual partners, lovers, and/or boyfriends through the Internet, so it only makes sense that would be the medium through which this new way of talking sex would develop. Because the Internet is a place of fast connections and can help to remove some fear of talking openly about sexuality, it seems there is more potential to engage in meaningful ways around these charged and interrelated issues.

Why an emphasis on youth under 30? And how does this imperative inform the range of submissions and materials you envision incorporating into the website?
Why a younger audience? Younger people are baring the brunt of the epidemic now. They have higher infection rates and lower treatment rates, meaning they have a higher risk of both transmitting and acquiring HIV. But they're also living a different world than the world in which many older gay men first experienced HIV/AIDS. But often these experiences aren't the ones told in mainstream media, particularly those stories from men of color or who are otherwise not financially well-off. Yet these are the stories that shape how these young men have sex and are, as I see it, the key to better tailoring prevention and treatment programs to these populations.

This includes a lot of people, so the the call is always open for people to submit what they want. But the thing I am particularly concerned about is having the stories being driven by the people telling them. I am, of course, responsible for curating materials and trying to incorporate diverse racial and geographic perspectives, but ultimately I want people to talk about what matters most to them. They could be intimate sexual stories. They could be more focused on specific activist or artistic legacies. They could be driven by policy. Whatever the case, I care most that respect and vulnerability is shared by all those participants in this experiment.


Kyle Bella serves as the Office Manager at Open mHealth, an organization devoted to pursuing mobile healthcare solutions that improve patient and clinician outcomes. He is also pursuing an M.A. in social innovation and sustainability through Goddard College, where he has launched the Our Viral Lives project. Previous writing on HIV/AIDS has been published in Colorlines magazine, POZ, the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed LGBT, nomorepotlucks, and Jacket2. He spent last summer in Europe researching contemporary artists including Keith Haring, David Wojnarowicz, Félix González-Torres and Isaac Julien.

Jih-Fei Cheng, Lucas Hilderbrand and Alexandra Juhasz discuss ALTERNATE ENIDNGS for Visual AIDS Day With(out) Art 25th Anniversary


Visual AIDS coordinated more than 60 screenings of our ALTERNATE ENDINGS video program on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Day With(out) Art. In Los Angeles, the videos screened at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, where a lively post-screening discussion between Alexandra Juhasz, Jih-Fei Cheng, Lucas Hilderbrand and the audience addressed the videos by Rhys Ernst, Glen Fogel, Lyle Ashton Harris, Derek Jackson, Tom Kalin, My Barbarian, and Julie Tolentino/Abigail Severance. Below is an excerpt from Alexandra Juhasz's opening remarks, which started off the conversation.

Visual AIDS is excited to make the full transcript of the MOCA LA talkback discussion available for download here.


I have produced a set of key words that I think are helpful for us to frame what we saw and our conversation:

Nostalgia, but I am going to think of nostalgia underneath affect, under a range of affects that are being deployed. So while some of them are certainly in that affective space, some of them are not. We might want to think of that as a generational problem--or a generational solution.

Mourning is always key. And I think it is complicated around the question of generation as I look out across this room. This room is really beautiful to me because I can't decide why you all are here, what generation you are from. Some of us, from my generation--I am 50 years old this year, I was in ACT UP in New York and lost friends and that moment of activism--we often come out and mourn the people we lost. That is part of what we should do at these events. But many of you in the room haven't lost people and didn't and don't experience HIV/AIDS as a mourning project. And I know you are respectful of our mourning so I appreciate that but it can't be the only project in the room. And yet it needs to always have space. So we will think about mourning. There is a lot of mourning in this work. Many of the pieces are by people in my generation but many of them not.

We had the word Queer People of Color, but I would like to change it to Disidentification in honor of José Muñoz and the My Barbian piece and also because I think that as he theorizes disidentification it is always is a project for people of color.

Then we are going to talk about Video Tape. It was something we all study in relationship to HIV and pop culture. I think a lot of the pieces are working through disidentification and not disidentification relationships to popular culture. It is interesting to me to see how alive it is in the work.

Let me end this introduction with the word Activism. It is so interesting for two reasons. The large group of very visible and very beautiful and important documentaries that have been made in the last four or five years, some of which have even been nominated for Academy Awards (How to Survive a Plague) are about activism; that core moment that many of these videos point at as being about our activism fueled from our anger and our mourning. Yet there is no activism in any of these tapes.... There is history but deplete of activism. It is quiet stunning, actually. I wonder if you noticed, and if you guys want to talk about how that makes you feel, thinking about the 25 years not being remembering as that, not seeing that, not showing that...


Alexandra Juhasz is a professor of Media Studies at Pitzer College. She has been making, writing about, and using AIDS activist video since the 1980s.

Lucas Hilderbrand is associate professor of film and media studies and director of visual studies at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of the books Inherent Vice: Bootleg Histories of Videotape and Copyright and Paris Is Burning: A Queer Film Classic.

Jih-Fei Cheng is completing his PhD in the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. Previously, he worked in HIV/AIDS social services and participated in queer of color community organizations addressing issues such as queer and trans youth homelessness and police harassment in New York City and Los Angeles.

Antiblack Racism and the AIDS Epidemic cover.jpg

Most HIV prevention focuses on reducing or altering minority people's behaviors: getting sex workers to stop working; men who have sex with men to use condoms for anal sex; people who inject drugs to not use drugs or to use clean needles. These strategies have saved lives, though they also shape how we think of populations most impacted and divert attention away from the structures that impact the ongoing crisis.

Early in the epidemic, theorist Cindy Patton coined the term queer intimacies, suggesting HIV/AIDS situates those living with, at most risk, and most impacted by HIV in the realm of the queer, the different, those who must be managed. In his new book, Antiblack Racism and the AIDS Epidemic: State Intimacies, Adam M. Geary works to flip the script, arguing that within HIV movements we need to focus on the state and the role it plays in reducing life chances for those most impacted, leading with the fact the state is rooted in antiblack racism.

Geary is part of a long legacy of thinkers who work to expose ways in which violent systems govern our lives. In the interview below with Ted Kerr, he discusses his influences, the book, and ways in which we can understand homophobia as fueling current HIV prevention methods.

To download a copy of Antiblack Racism and the AIDS Epidemic: State Intimacies, click here. (To download the book's table of contents and acknowledgements, click here.)

Can you tell us a bit about what led you to write the book? Your life before you wrote it? Your influences?
The route to a book, or any significant intellectual project, is always somewhat circuitous. Or at least, it is for me. So there are a number of leads into this book, not all of which were clear to me at the time. But looking back, I can say that this book emerged out of a sense of exhaustion with AIDS prevention as it has been organized: politically, theoretically, emotionally, technically. And then the guilt and shame around that. We're all supposed to be eager practitioners of risk reduction protocols, and as a gay man who came of age in the AIDS era, I've been bombarded with all of that. And let's just say that I'm exhausted by it. So when I began thinking about a dissertation--I pursued my doctorate in the history of consciousness at the University of California at Santa Cruz in the late 1990s and early 2000s--I decided that I wanted to think through this behemoth called "AIDS prevention": what it is as a project of intervening in a viral epidemic. Part of that--though something that didn't really enter the dissertation per se--was also: Why does it feel so lousy to those of us targeted by it, or at least to me?

What I came to understand in writing my dissertation was that AIDS prevention as it has been organized presumes to intervene in a social and environmental catastrophe through the cultivation of personal and communal responsibility, and secondarily, through massive financial transfers to pharmaceutical companies in pursuit of high-tech "cures." Behaviors and technologies: classic neoliberalism. The burden not only of surviving but of managing or ending this epidemic has been thrown back onto the folks most affected by it, as their responsibility, including their responsibility to offer themselves up for medical experimentation. Which is to say that the AIDS epidemic has been staged as an ethical drama: Can people who've obviously behaved in ways that have put them at risk be lured into ethical transformation so as to behave better? (This is one of the key reasons that AIDS prevention feels so bad, I think: it's staged as a permanent referendum on our ethics. As though "bad behaviors" has ever been a good enough explanation for a health catastrophe or as though good behavior has ever solved one.)

But once I said that AIDS prevention was organized as neoliberal governance, I was stuck. As opposed to what? What other ways might there be to do this? And I have this sense that the petering out of the AIDS cultural criticism of the 1990s is related to this: We became very good at reading the policy and discourses of AIDS critically, but the question of an alternative to them was becoming increasingly difficult to imagine. And for myself, the block to my imagination was in the science: What is an epidemic? What is a virus? When are viruses dangerous? When do viruses spread? Under what conditions? Cindy Patton's warning that we really attend to the ways that science structures our imagination around AIDS was never more relevant than right now ... and maybe most relevant right now, when the sense of scientific certainty is nearly unbudgeable. I'm not being an HIV denialist here (as my book will attest), nor am I being anti-science. But there are traditions of health science--including Western traditions--that have been dismissed or suppressed, that tell different kinds of stories about epidemics, and that lend themselves to different kinds of politics. In my book, I focus primarily on the materialist (Marxist) traditions of social medicine, especially as they have developed historically in Black American thought. The Black health tradition demonstrates again and again that ill health, including epidemic disease, is a result of environments structured by racism and impoverishment that leave bodies vulnerable to disease. For anyone who wants a crash course in that, I strongly recommend Dorothy Roberts's most recent book, Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century (The New Press, 2011).

And this leads me to the other major influence on my thinking, which is Black Studies, especially the emergent scholarship loosely organized under the label "Afropessimism." What scholars like Jared Sexton, Hortense Spillers, Frank Wilderson, Saidiya Hartman, Kenyon Farrow, as well as those like Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Angela Davis, Fred Moten, and others not identified with Afropessimism, have helped me hold in my head is the centrality of anti-Black racism in state formation, state and structural violence, economic restructuring, and the formation of environments of embodied vulnerability to disease. It's not simply that there is racism, but that anti-Black racism seems to be an especially deep well of social and cultural animus through which various forms of violence are legitimated and structured. And as indexed by epidemiological reports, anti-Black racism in particular has been central to the structuring of vulnerability to HIV, in the US, in the western hemisphere, and globally. It's also, I fear, one of the key reasons why social, cultural, and even social-movement concern about the epidemic has shifted so dramatically in the last decade, if not dissipated altogether.

A lot of work around HIV/AIDS in the U.S. is rooted in assumptions and conversations around gay male sexuality, and while that is part of your book, it is not a foundation per se. How has this been received? Have people noticed?
One of the things in the book that I don't say quite as clearly as I would have liked is that the form that concern with gay men takes in dominant discussions of AIDS that you rightly notice--in the U.S. and beyond--is homophobic. This is the lesson I draw from the long arch of Cindy Patton's public and professionally academic scholarship about AIDS. When in the mid-1980s she coined the term "queer paradigm" to describe the form of concern through which risk was being described, it seems to me that Cindy was teaching us that the figure of the gay man was being offered up as the truth of AIDS, but in the most homophobic way: as someone whose illness results from his willfully perverse actions. And this hasn't gone away, though it has morphed to accommodate different kinds of "queers." Witness the current jargon on "hard-to-reach populations."

The results of this homophobic attention have been profoundly damaging, but two issues seem especially important here. On the one hand, as I demonstrate in my book, the hyper-inflated, homophobic attention to gay men has crowded out other ways of attending to risk and vulnerability to HIV. Talking about gay men and other queers (homophobicly) has been a way of NOT talking about the structured inequality and violence that have made some bodies susceptible to viral infection: things like ghettoization, environmental toxicity, endemic untreated infections, lack of access to primary healthcare, mass incarceration, and other forms of state and social violence.

On the other hand--and to me this is an equally unfortunate thing--some gay men have come to identify with this inflated attention generated by the AIDS crisis, even if they contest the details: what Dennis Altman has called "legitimation through disaster." Homophobic concern seems to feel better than no concern at all. I get that, but it's also misplaced and has been terribly damaging. Both because it has blocked efforts to think carefully about the organization of embodied vulnerability to disease and our different and complex relationships to that organization, and because it's interrupted or unraveled the kinds of solidarities that need to happen to transform a world in which suffering and death are distributed in these ways. Indeed, we've seen who can be legitimated through disaster (primarily middle-class, gay, white men) and the costs paid for that legitimation (including but not limited to a homonormative politics of respectability). That's simply not good enough.

So I made a conscious decision in writing my book to maintain a studied distance from talking too much about gay men given that the construction of "gay men" in AIDS talk is so inflated and homophobic. "Gay men" as an identity category does too much work to contain knowledge about HIV risks within a phobic attention to individual behaviors (and "men who have sex with men" is no improvement whatsoever). Whenever the category "gay, bi, and other men who have sex with men" gets invoked in AIDS talk, we're immediately in the realm of thinking about (irresponsible) butt sex, which is so reductive. Butt sex isn't the problem. The problem is a world organized to make some people vulnerable to ill health and other forms of suffering for the benefit of other people. For gay men, the question then becomes how are we differently structured into that world, and how do we work with others to transform it?

Womanist ethicist Emilie Townes, who among her many books wrote, Breaking the Fine Rain of Death, has said we would be in better shape as a culture if we would include talk of spirituality in our public life. I wonder if you could add a line or two about spirit in the book and what it might say?
This is a book about a world that hates Black people, a world that loves white people by hating black people. I take it to be axiomatic that this form of hate-love also means that this world also hates non-Black non-white people, queer and trans people, the disabled, the poor, and other-than-human life. I want a world that loves Black people. I want a world that loves altogether differently.


Adam M. Geary is an associate professor of gender and women's studies at the University of Arizona, and an affiliate of the university's Institute for LGBT Studies. His research brings AIDS studies into critical conversations with black studies, Foucauldian studies, and queer studies. Geary received his PhD in the history of consciousness from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 2004.

Khafre Kujichagulia Abif is an editor and poet whose Cornbread, Fish and Collard Greens: Prayers, Poems & Affirmations for People Living with HIV/AIDS is a 616-page tome that brings together over 100 contributors whose writings touch on HIV/AIDS. The publication is available for purchase here. Here, Abif speaks with Visual AIDS about the importance of this wide-ranging collection.

Describe the initial inspiration and process for putting together Cornbread, Fish and Collard Greens.
In 2010, two very dear friend and warriors in this fight against HIV made their transition. They were both long-term survivors. I sat in quiet contemplation to ask my God, "Why am I still here?" I began to receive the answer. It first came with the vision of Cycle for Freedom, which I am still working towards.

The assignment for the anthology came later, in 2011. The assignment was to assemble this collection of words to combat the words that are so often heard spoken to people with HIV. I reached out to writers and poet I had relationships with, developed a call for submissions, then used social media to push the call out to the collective community to respond. When I began the project, I had in mind what I wanted it to be, to look like; however, after about a year the submissions were not coming in as I had hoped. I spoke to an elder (a woman who as has shared my work and struggle for personal freedom) and she shared with me that it will be complete when it is complete. After that discussion I let go of my thoughts on what I wanted and let spirit have its way. The results were published in September 2013 as a collection of works from the 125 contributors. The collection has contributors from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Nigeria, Spain and Italy, with their respective languages in English translations.

I am not done with collecting the short fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, personal narratives, critical essays and visual art from people living with HIV and those from the LBGTQ community. My forthcoming works include Raising Kazembe: A Memoir, Sistah's Speak (short fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, personal narratives, critical essays and visual art of women who are HIV positive), He Ain't Heavy (short fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, personal narratives, critical essays and visual art from heterosexual men who are HIV positive), It Is Our Turn to Speak (short fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, personal narratives, critical essays and visual art of youth ages 13 to 17), A Pastor's Prayer for People Living with HIV/AIDS (intercessory prayers from faith leaders) and TransVoice: Shout Out Loud (short fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, personal narratives, critical essays and visual art from the trans community).

What are a few of your favorite works from the anthology, and why?
"Wholeness" by Rev. Nazim B. Fakir, my former college roommate, who is one of few faith leaders who cared enough to submit a prayer for this project.

"New Day" by Tasha (Lady Dred) Dancy. This affirmation of a new day is central to the message this project wants people living with HIV/AIDS to hear, and embrace.

"I Sing" by Sekou Kofi Abif. This piece is from my youngest son and it shows his unconditional love for me, his Baba, and for the sincere love of the collective community.

"Who Can I Tell?", my own work. I stand in my truth when I share personal pain and triumph. exposing myself fully and allowing others to know they are not alone.

A vast community of voices provided words for the anthology. How did you go about compiling these pieces of writing, who is the community given voice within the pages of the publication, and how has building this community affected you?
The anthology includes work from my sons, Sekou and Ture; established and emerging authors Alfreda Lanoix, Serena T. Willis, Samiya Bashir, Nikki Grimes and Reginald T. Jackson; poets River Huston, Tony Medina, Mose Xavier Hardin Jr., Catherine Zickgraf and Cathleen Bailey; and spoken word artists and performers Cliff C. Boyd, Mary Bowman, Lady Vee DaPoet, Storme Webber, Tim'm T. West, Sleepy Eyez Carter, Carl Hancock Rux and Red Summer.

I've also included high school and college classmates GeAnita E. Smith, Sherry Lowery-Vaughn, lauren ryder williams and Nazim B. Fakir; fellow bloggers and contributors from TheBody.com Tree Alexander, Maria Mejia and Justin B. Terry-Smith; librarian Rollard Barksdale; and Alton B. Pollard III, dean and professor of religion and culture at Howard University School of Divinity.

Through this anthology, I hope to honor the Hemphill/Beam/unheralded writers' legacy. In their memory and because of their bravery, Cornbread, Fish and Collard Greens joins a necessary and continuing conversation.

I was overwhelmed that so many believed in the necessity for a project like this and the contributors trusted me with their words. Completing this project has grown my faith in the God I serve and His belief in me as being worthy of His assignments.

Can you describe the significance of the anthology's title?
In August of 1995, after living with HIV in total isolation for five or six years, when only my wife knew I was positive, I relocated my family from Washington, DC, to Newark, New Jersey. I was moving with the thought that I was taking my wife to her hometown where she would have support to raise our son and I could end my suffering by committing suicide.

In October of that year my mother, my MaDear, came to visit us in New Jersey. I had placed a great deal of emotional distance between MaDear and myself because I did not want to burden her. MaDear arrived on a Friday and was at my home when I returned from work. We had a great time talking and her hugging up on her first grandchild.

The next day MaDear asked if she could speak with me privately. We went into my son's bedroom and her first question was, "Son, what is going on with you? You have been so distant from me and I feel there is a reason for it." I sat on the bed beside her and began crying and I said, "MaDear, I am living with HIV." She asked, "How long have you known?" I told her I was diagnosed in 1991 but that I am sure I was infected in 1989.

My MaDear wrapped her arms around her me and began to pray. She shared with me that when she goes to God in prayer she prays specific prayers and she needs to know what to prayer for when she is in prayer for her children. After we shared and prayed together, MaDear left the room and went into the kitchen. MaDear began to cook and when the meal was complete she asked my family to come to the table. MaDear served us cornbread from the cast iron pan she traveled with, fried chicken, collard greens, yams and white rice.

I often joke and tell folks, we, people living with HIV, need more than chicken soup. But my MaDear knew better. Her menu for healing the soul is soul food: cornbread, fish and collard greens.

The publication is dedicated to Richard Anderson, Joseph Beam, Essex C. Hemphill and Floyd Patterson. Can you discuss their influence on the project and your writing?
Joseph Beam and Essex Hemphill created literary works that set out to counteract the absence of positive images of gay men of color in the media and their exclusion from the cultural world of white gay rights activists. Cornbread, Fish and Collard Greens is meant to add to the continuum and the history of AIDS literature. Through Joseph Beam and Essex Hemphill, the model of an inclusion of many voices in an anthology left an indelible mark on my personal journey to self-acceptance. It is my hope the quilt of words compiled in Cornbread, Fish and Collard Greens will be used to wrap around a community of people who are too often working to combat the words which our society continues to speak to us and at us.

Richard Anderson and Floyd Patterson were both personal friends of mine. Warriors in the fight against HIV and stigma, they both stood in their own truth and spoke to free our community (those infected and affected) from mental and emotional shackles. Their activism and action on behalf of a cause, action that goes beyond what is conventional or routine, and their willingness to sacrifice themselves so we can find our voices has allowed me to find my own. In finding my voice, I have found freedom to stand in my truth and share it to empower others to do the same. With every victory there is great loss. Loss of relationships with both family, friends, and at time the loss of intimate partners. Like Beam, Essex, Anderson and Patterson, I believe the cause and the actions of sharing my personal journey is worthwhile. Like these men I will be a challenger to policies and practices, trying to achieve a social goal, not to obtain power itself.

What do you hope readers will take away from Cornbread, Fish and Collard Greens?
It is my hope and prayer that readers will be inspired to write and to begin filling their notebooks with short fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, personal narratives, critical essays and visual art that features their voices and stories of thriving with HIV/AIDS. I hope the readers take away the importance in the idea that we must share our own stories because if we don't, they may never be told or told incorrectly.

"I was going to die, sooner or later, whether or not I had even spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you.... What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language. I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood." --Audre Lorde


Khafre K. Abif, MLS, is the founder and executive director of Cycle for Freedom, a national mobilizing campaign founded in 2010. Its mission is to reduce the spread of HIV among African Americans and Latinos by confronting three critical issues that fuel the HIV pandemic: HIV-related stigma, homophobia and lack of education. To fulfill that mission, Cycle for Freedom will work with African-American and Latino communities along the Underground Railroad Bicycle Route to develop strategies designed to increase HIV testing and reduce HIV-related stigma. During the 75-day campaign, Cycle for Freedom will work with 14 cities along the route.

Abif is the editor of the anthology Cornbread, Fish and Collard Greens: Prayers, Poems & Affirmations for People Living with HIV/AIDS, AuthorHouse 2013. He has begun a promising career in publishing with early professional efforts, which include co-editing with Teresa Y. Neely In Our Own Voices: The Changing Face of Librarianship (Scarecrow Press, 1996); "Afrikan-Centered Scholar: At Work in the Children's Room" in the same volume; and "At Work in the Children's Room: Building Literacy, Building Families" in Poor People and Library Services, edited by Karen Venturella (McFarland & Co., 1998). He has served as associate editor for Black Issues Book Reviews' Children's Bookshelf for three years. Forthcoming works include, Raising Kazembe, Sistah's Speak, He Ain't Heavy, It Is Our Turn to Speak, A Pastor's Prayer for People Living with HIV/AIDS, TransVoice: Shout Out Loud, and Face US: Not Our Status But Our Story. You can follow Khafre's blog on The Body.

Submit a Workshop to the Prison Health Care and Reentry Summit

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What is AIDS Education Month?
Since 1994, Philadelphia FIGHT has hosted AIDS Education Month (AEM) throughout the month of June, a series of free events throughout Philadelphia to increase awareness of AIDS and to bring people together to find strategies to combat the virus. Our goal is to end the AIDS epidemic within the lifetime of those currently living with HIV. Over 10,000 individuals are directly reached by AEM every June.

Who is the Audience?
This summit brings together the communities that are affected by the parallel crises of HIV and mass imprisonment, including former prisoners, their family and loved ones, service providers, health care providers, prison staff, parole and probation officers, legal service providers, faith based organizations, community members, activists and advocates.

Workshop Submission Guidelines
All submissions are due by midnight on Monday, March 2. Submissions received after this date will not be considered.

All submissions must be received electronically through the AEM website.

Only completed submissions submitted through the website will be considered.

All presenters must be contacted and fully committed to being part of the Summit by the date of submission; all submissions must have all presenter information completed.

The Planning Committee will vote on submissions on Thursday, March 19.

Prison Health Care and Reentry Summit Workshop Tracks
Presenters may submit workshops for any of the following tracks. Some presentations may be relevant to more than one track. Submissions should indicate the primary track that the presentation falls under and then any secondary tracks. You may submit a workshop that does not fit into any of these categories, but you must explain its relevance to the Summit.

Accessing Services for Reentry: Highlights innovative services that are available to support individuals coming home from prison and jail, explores barriers to and facilitators of successful reentry, identifies major service gaps for corrections and community based services and/or provides strategies for addressing reentry needs.

Activism and Community Empowerment: Emphasizes local campaigns, led by former prisoners, which are working to improve conditions inside the prison walls and in the neighborhoods to which individuals are returning home. This track also explores the structural drivers of mass imprisonment.

Families: Focuses on the impact of incarceration on families, children with incarcerated parents, pregnancy and reproductive health in correctional settings and reentry supports that facilitate family reunification.

Legal Issues: Explores the range of ongoing legal issues faced by people returning to their communities after imprisonment, including the impact of a criminal record on employment, housing and public benefits, obtaining pardons and expungements and issues of immigration and deportation.

LGBTQ Issues: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender-non-conforming, and queer individuals face increased abuse when behind bars, and are often met with inadequate services to support their transition back into the community. This track will look at local efforts to meet the needs of trans and gender-non-conforming inmates, as well as national efforts to meet the needs of LGBTQ individuals behind bars and in their transition home.

Prison Health: From Corrections to the Community: Include mental health, addiction and recovery, HIV, HCV, terminal illness, the impact of imprisonment on health and aging, and more. Emphasis on population specific health needs are encouraged, as well as focuses on promoting health both inside and outside of correctional facilities.

Research: Provides a forum for exploring emerging research and best practices in the criminal justice field, including work being done preventatively in the community, during the period of incarceration and throughout the reentry process.

Spiritually Based Prison Work
: Explores diverse faith approaches to prison work - including multiple faith perspectives on working in prisons and jails. This track will also explore the role of the faith community in jail diversion and reentry programming and support.

Voices from the Inside: This workshop track is a space for workshops designed and created by currently incarcerated individuals and that explicitly bring the voices and perspectives of currently incarcerated people into the room. Examples from the past include multimedia presentations involving audio recordings of current prisoners, plays written by current prisoners, and interactive discussions designed by current prisoners in conjunction with their loved ones on the outside.

Youth: Looks at youth enmeshed in the criminal justice system, both in juvenile detention centers and being certified and tried as adults. It also explores youth empowerment programs, alternatives to incarceration, and systemic drivers increasing the numbers of young people behind bars.



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