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Introducing 2016 Visual AIDS Curatorial Resident Ajamu

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Ajamu, Visual AIDS's fourth annual curatorial resident

Visual AIDS is thrilled to announce that Ajamu will be our fourth curatorial resident, co-sponsored by Visual AIDS and Residency Unlimited. He will spend the month of March 2016 conducting research in Visual AIDS's archives with access to slides, digital images, publication and other resources, as well as activating our community through dialogues, studio visits and public programs. Ajamu is from London and is one of the leading historians concerning Black LGBT history in the UK. He has worked with a cross section of community organizations within the HIV/AIDS sector in the role of Black Gay Men's Outreach worker, trainer and workshop designer for Gay Men Fighting Aids (GMFA), freelance consultant, photographic tutor and freelance photographer--creating images for safer sex campaigns, flyers and posters in relation to activism and social justice. Ajamu outlines his previous projects and goals for the residency below.


I am a London-based fine art photographer and an independent archive curator who has been involved with queer, trans, intersex, people of colour (QTIPOC) communities and wider social justice activism for over 20 years, working primarily in the UK, but connected and active nationally and internationally. The body of work that I have created includes black male portraits, self-portraits and studio based-constructed imagery.

As an independent archival curator, I am the co-founder of rukus! Federation. rukus! Federation is a nonprofit organisation known for its long-standing and successful programme of community based work with Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, artists and cultural producers. The rukus! award-winning Black LGBT Archive, launched in 2005, generates, collects, preserves and makes available to the public, historical, cultural and artistic materials relating to our lived experience in the UK.

I am in constant dialogue with activists and artists in the US as a way of refining my own understanding and academic articulation of the specifics of the Black British experience. Rarely is the Black LGBTQ experience explored through the lens of celebration and creativity, individual aspirations and achievement--essentially, the day-to-day lived experience is missing: the layers, the diversity, the individuals are not seen. What interests me is that the body of work in Visual AIDS' Artist+ Registry facilitates a different discussion for some of the reductionist ideas that circulate within this area of work within the UK, in particular for Black LGBTQ people.

Outline for the Residency

Early March: I plan to hit the ground running with an introductory curator conversation about my artistic and curatorial practice.

Mid-March: I will use my photography experience to take black and white portraits and coordinate oral history testimonies that reflect the richness and diversity of cross generational activists who are Queer, Trans, Intersex People of Colour (QTIPOC) active from within the HIV/AIDS community sector in New York City. I aim to take 15 portraits while in New York City.

Late March: My final event will be a "Suitcase under the bed" ephemera gathering workshop, bringing together many of the folks I have met during my residency and encouraging activists to delve into their personal archives and share the intimate materials they keep close. I will also engage participants in the Visual AIDS Artist+ Registry content that I explore while in New York City, highlighting the participant experiences as QTIPOC activists.

I feel inspired by this residency; it will provide an opportunity to develop an international transatlantic dialogue on archival activism, HIV and AIDS activism and social justice within my arts based creative practice.

I am courageous, I am brave, and I am beautiful!

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Love Positive Women handmade paper valentine (see more at Visual AIDS)


Deloris Dockrey, director of community organizing and New Jersey Women Advocacy Network (NJWAN), shares her poem "Courage with Grace" with Visual AIDS to celebrate Love Positive Women (LPW). LPW is an international series of grassroots events running from February 1 through 14 that uses Valentine's Day as a backdrop, creating a platform for individuals and communities to engage in public and private acts of love and caring for women living with HIV. Working from a place of strength, LPW focuses on the idea of interconnectedness, relationship building, loving oneself and loving ones community. How will you celebrate the women living with HIV in your life this year for Love Positive Women?

For Love Positive Women 2016, Visual AIDS, the Fire Island Artist Residency, Dieu Donné and the International Community of Women Living With HIV (ICW) hosted three paper-making valentine workshops at Dieu Donné in New York City to support women living with HIV. An accompanying valentine exhibition in the Dieu Donné gallery space showcases many of the valentines created as a gesture of love and solidarity for women living with HIV around the world. The valentines will be mailed to women living with HIV at the conclusion of the exhibition, in hopes of lessening the stigma they experience and providing a hopeful and heartening moment of love on Valentine's Day.

A public closing reception for the Love Positive Women valentine exhibition will be held Wednesday, February 3, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Dieu Donné (315 West 36th Street, New York). The closing reception will include brief reflections on the importance of love and community building from members of the Positive Women's Network (PWN-USA) and ICW, including Kia Labeija, Michelle Lopez, Deloris Dockrey, Rusti Miller-Hill and more.


Courage with Grace!

by Deloris Dockrey

I am courageous, I am brave, and I am beautiful!

It took me a long time to say those words,

And even longer to belief them.

Now, I find the courage to acknowledge my truth.

I found Grace through Faith.

Grace gave me courage and

Courage gave me strength.

Strength to make life's hard decisions.

Grace helps to spin guilt and shame on its head.

Grace made my life a success.

My life is a testimony;

A testimony of courage and strength.

I found courage and courage is my strength.

It took courage to overcome many of life obstacles,

To weather the storms, and survive,

It took Grace and Grace gave me strength.

Why fear the unknown, why be paralyzed

I found true Grace to face my fears and you can too

Through Faith I found Grace

Grace gave me strength.


Deloris Dockrey is the director of community organizing and New Jersey Women Advocacy Network (NJWAN) for Hyacinth AIDS Foundation, New Jersey's oldest and largest AIDS service organization, where she directs public education, AIDS prevention and community action campaigns to raise awareness and encourage action to address the social crisis caused by HIV/AIDS. As a person living with HIV, Dockrey has a personal as well as professional interest in public health policies related to the HIV epidemic. She has trained and mobilized people living with HIV to advocate for policies that impact their access to care, treatment, support, and prevention services.

Hugh Steers, "Stripes and Plaid" (1994), oil on canvas, 67" x 78"


Hyun Mi Oh is a writer, filmmaker and design entrepreneur. Her friendship with Hugh Steers took root in downtown New York in the late '80s and deepened after she moved to Los Angeles, most meaningfully through letters that trace the painter's personal and artistic growth during the final years of his illness. Here, Hyun Mi reflects on her friendship with Steers for Visual AIDS and shares images of the letters that Hugh wrote to her. The reflection was originally posted on the Yale AIDS Memorial Project website, where other moving tributes to Steers can be read.

Hyun Mi will be in conversation about Steers's life and artwork with Nicola Goode, Steers's friend and former roommate, as well as Visual AIDS Programs Manager Alex Fialho, at the Los Angeles Art Book Fair (LAABF) on Friday, February 12, at 1 p.m. at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA; more information here. Visual AIDS will launch the Hugh Steers monograph in Los Angeles at the LAABF from February 12-14.


I was always late. For our cof­fee and din­ner dates, our long walks and talks in Cen­tral Park, for vis­its to his stu­dio and the many club hops that shaped our nights. I can see him sit­ting on a stoop or stand­ing on a street cor­ner expec­tantly look­ing out for me--sometimes wor­ried, never mad--and the delight spring­ing to his face when he spotted me. No one since has ever been quite as happy to see me as Hugh was every time we met. This mem­ory vis­its me often, the image of him wait­ing for me.

Long before his diag­no­sis, Hugh took time seri­ously and couldn't bear to waste any of it. I remem­ber after our grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony while most of us were milling about dazed and con­fused, Hugh was packed and dressed to board the train for New York where he was to start his job at the Dia Art Foundation the next morn­ing. No boozy farewells for him, his eyes were on the prize: to become an artist of the first order. There was also the real­ity of sup­port­ing him­self, hav­ing lit­tle access to the sto­ried wealth he descended from. His family came with heavy bag­gage, though none of it bear­ing any of that old money. Hugh was on his own. He saw the steps ahead of him so clearly: to per­fect the paint­ing techniques nec­es­sary to build a sin­gu­lar and endur­ing body of work, then to go out and hus­tle it. For Hugh this meant a monk­ish dis­ci­pline, and even more impres­sive, a refusal to aban­don fig­u­ra­tive paint­ing at a time when few were buy­ing or even con­sid­er­ing represen­ta­tional art.

Our friend­ship blos­somed after Yale, first in New York, then most mem­o­rably in the let­ters we exchanged once I moved to Los Angeles to become a film­maker. We both knew he was HIV pos­i­tive by then. Long dis­tance calls were expen­sive, so we con­sciously dipped back into an epis­to­lary mode, exchang­ing let­ters, music and clip­pings of writ­ing and ideas that thrilled us. Mostly, we con­soled each other through our hap­less attempts at love. Hugh talked about what the dis­ease was doing to him and his work. He was hes­i­tant at first to make his ill­ness a sub­ject in his paint­ings, think­ing it would make them merely topical or social com­men­tary. Inevitably though, liv­ing with AIDS quick­ened the pulse of his work and acted like a cru­cible to dis­till what was most vital and pre­cious to him.

In a let­ter after one of his art shows proved less than ground­break­ing, he wrote: "I sort of feel like Bette Midler's descrip­tion of the Rose, 'She gave and gave 'til no one gave a shit.' In the cre­ative arts, one spends all this time in iso­la­tion work­ing and nobody knows or cares what you're doing." Still, Hugh pressed on and grew ever more deter­mined in his approach to paint­ing.

I've finally come to accept my lack of facility or capacity to convincingly shift styles as a virtue... I think I value single-mindedness, a "burn all bridges" approach. To me it signifies the Artist has put everything on the line and that lends power to the work.

Hugh was right about his art. His paint­ing evolved into a sin­gu­lar style that grew in inten­sity and focus, and near his death, took flight. In his last series of paint­ings, "Hos­pi­tal Man," a heroic, angelic fig­ure, gives exquis­ite form to Hugh's reck­on­ing with death.

My Hospital Man series is coming along nicely. In fact, it's literally taking off. I have this idea for a painting where Hospital Man is ascending off the canvas upper-right, his body visible only from the chest down, nude under his billowing hospital gown and sporting some lite [sic], airy white sling backs (not the usual mega-platforms). Lower left is a supine Adonis "expired" after sex or illness. I'm really going off, but I think my technique is there to make it work. Remember how we talked about one's art creating one's consciousness rather than exposing some pre-existing truth?

Pour­ing every­thing he had into his work--his humor, rage, intel­li­gence, and most of all, his ten­der heart--he took his own death in hand and pulled off a sub­lime exit. Hugh soared.

I am rarely late now. After Hugh died, run­ning late would often trig­ger the image of him wait­ing for me, and oh, the remorse! It took me to mid­dle age to finally catch up to Hugh's burn­ing sense of time and pur­pose and return to a long deferred dream to write. If I'm lucky now, I have 20 years to become a writer I would want to read. It feels late in the game, but then I remem­ber what Hugh was able to do in a hand­ful of years. I can hear him say­ing, "Girl, what are you wait­ing for? Get to work."

Postcards From the Edge 2016 SILENT ART AUCTION Online

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Jayson Keeling, "The Marked Man" (2012)

Postcards From the Edge 2016 -- SILENT ART AUCTION -- Online NOW at artnet.

Bid on amazing small works by Will Barnet, Barton Lidice Benes, Sherry Camhy, Michael Dejong, Louise Fishman, Robert Flynt, Jacob Hashimoto, Geoffrey Hendricks, Scott Hunt, Jayson Keeling, Glenn Ligon, Robert Melee, J. Morrison, Tyler Matthew Oyer, and Sheila Pepe.

Bids have begun online at artnet. Artwork will also be on view at Sikkema Jenkins starting the evening of the Preview Party. Final bids close at 1 p.m. on Monday, February 1. View and bid now.

Kia Labeija, "Snow" (2013). Digital photograph, self-portrait.


Ian Alteveer, associate curator in the department of modern and contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, curates a selection of Visual AIDS Artist+ Member artworks highlighting self-portraits.

View Ian's lightbox, Radiant Presence / Self-Portraits from the Registry, and read his web gallery text below. Ian was one of nine collaborating curators for Visual AIDS's 26th annual Day With(out) Art, Radiant Presence.


Photographic self-portraits convey many things to the viewer, not least among them an invitation to consider the artist's own self-regard and perhaps a privileged look into the maker's private world or inner psyche. Many of the artists in this selection of pictures from the Visual AIDS Artist+ Registry depict themselves in frank dialogue with the camera--sometimes even without the protection that clothing or other artifice might provide. For each of these, however, there are equally as many images where the photographer has disguised him- or herself as something or someone else. These role-playing guises--whether the donning of a paper mask of poet Arthur Rimbaud, as in David Wojnarowicz's haunting series shot on New York City streets and back alleys, or dressing up like singer Joni Mitchell, as in John Kelly's well-loved impersonation--speaks to the ability of artists to evoke ghosts from the past or visions of the future within the debatably forthright medium of the camera. Most importantly, though, the self-portraits in this selection speak to the enduring power of the camera to preserve an extraordinary visual record of the myriad lives HIV/AIDS has touched and all too often taken.


Ian Alteveer is associate curator in the department of modern and contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he recently organized the 2015 Roof Garden Commission: Pierre Huyghe. He also curated the prior two commissions with Dan Graham and Günter Vogt (2014) and Imran Qureshi (2013), as well as William Kentridge: The Refusal of Time (2013-14). He was part of the curatorial team for the Met's Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years (2012), which traveled to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and worked on the museum's presentations of Ellsworth Kelly Plant Drawings (2012); Richard Serra Drawing (2011); John Baldessari: Pure Beauty (2010); Francis Bacon: A Retrospective (2009); and Jasper Johns: Gray (2008). Before the Met he was graduate curatorial fellow and curatorial assistant at New York University's Grey Art Gallery, where he worked on a groundbreaking survey of art from New York in the 1970s and early '80s, The Downtown Show: 1974-84 (2005). He has an undergraduate degree from Stanford University and completed his qualifying exams for a PhD in the history of art at NYU's Institute of Fine Arts, where he is writing a dissertation on the early institutional history of California Institute of Arts and art in Los Angeles in the 1970s. Ian was also a visiting critic at the Yale University School of Art, where he taught critical practice to first-year MFA students from 2008 to 2013.

"Fun in the Sun" (2014/2015). Photographer: Lester Blum, Creative Director: Vladimir Rios, Ultrachrome archival prints


Lester Blum and Vladimir Rios discuss their photography project I Still Remember, on view at the the Pride Center of Staten Island through Saturday, January 23.

What narratives does the I Still Remember project develop and why is it important to you to share those stories now?
I Still Remember develops a typical story of an era. It takes a chance encounter into an open, loving relationship in which one individual becomes ill with AIDS, ultimately passes away, and is remembered.

The only way this lost generation can still be alive is in our memories.

It is important today for people not to forget the thousands who perished from complications from the virus.

Describe the I Still Remember photographs and the process behind their creation.
A concerted effort was made with all the sequences in the story to portray them as realistically as possible and to photograph them in actual locations. The participants in all segments were from all walks of life, many of whom remembered or related to the era. The sequences range from the initial meeting in the Meat Rack to other weekends on Fire Island to working the loading docks in the Meatpacking District to a sex club to cruising the boardwalk at South Beach in Staten Island to a drug segment on the street to the visits and testing at the doctor's office to a powerful bedroom scene that shows both love and intolerance to the final memorial segment.

How does I Still Remember commemorate those who have passed from HIV/AIDS-related causes and help educate a younger generation about the early years of the disease?
The project commemorates those who have passed before their time by portraying their lives, both the joy and sadness. It is one fictionalized story created to represent a generation that was devastated by the virus.

The younger generation basically has no idea or understanding of what it was like to lose loved ones almost on a weekly basis, the constant mourning and memorials. Friends and lovers lost except in our memories. They have to realize that they are not invincible and even today, with new medicines, they must continue to take precautions.

How did the reception on World AIDS Day resonate with the images and audience?
I Still Remember was an impactful presentation to the viewing audience. Many of the viewers, of all ages, were emotional as they walked around the gallery. The show ends with a current family portrait of the family of a close friend who died in the early 90's of HIV related complications. His sister, nieces and nephews appear in the photograph holding his portrait along with grand nieces and nephews he never lived long enough to meet. That one image brought reality to the exhibit.

How have the Staten Island audiences responded to the exhibition of photographs, and how has the process of highlighting these narratives in this borough been for you?
The response to the exhibition has been extremely favorable. The Pride Center of Staten Island extended the exhibit by two weeks because of the viewer reaction. Although the exhibit was on Staten Island, people from different boroughs and Long Island attended the exhibit.

We felt that the presentation was meaningful and the exhibit in Staten Island has only proven our opinion. We are even more determined, than before, to widen the viewing audience with additional venues in New York, throughout the US and internationally.

Lester Blum has been gradually climbing the artistic ladder since he began exploring photography 13 years ago. While this climb is steep and often wrought with challenges, he has excelled in combining his knowledge of color, design and balance, which was honed during his years in the fashion industry, with his photography skills. Primarily self-taught, Lester photographs a diversity of subjects ranging from still life to portrait to travel to commercial work to artistic nudes to narratives. Images are immersed in a bath of light and shadow, which not only enhances the photographs but conveys an emotional impact to the viewer.

Vladimir Rios is a renaissance man of the 21st century--actor, model, creative director. I Still Remember is the fourth major collaboration with photographer Lester Blum where Rios conceived and directed the projects. With his diverse background, he has an appreciation and understanding for lighting and the camera lens. Thus he is able to create compelling works. Whether he is acting or creating artistic concepts, he brings his unique sense of creativity to every project. He is a liberated individual, living life to the fullest.



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