Faces of HIV – Twenty Eight

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

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“Visual AIDS is an archive project that started, I think, twenty-six years ago. It was started pre-HIV medication so when a lot of artists were dying off. Artists and friends of artists in the New York area were concerned that their art practices would be forgotten, and all their work would just be thrown out. It started as a grassroots foundation and it grew. So now it’s the largest archive of work and acts as a hub. The work doesn’t always deal directly with HIV, but they deal with issues revolving around HIV such as vulnerability.” “Lately I’ve been interested about the issue of criminalization surrounding HIV, specifically of non-disclosure of HIV where people have been charged, particularly in Edmonton actually—which has some of the most heinous criminal charges laid against people who were convicted of sexual assault, administering biological substances, or attempted murder for not telling their partners they have HIV and then having some kind of intimacy or sexual contact, regardless of transmissions. I don’t know why Edmonton has a gross history of that. It’s just ignorance.” “The courts strengthened the idea that consent should be the ultimate protection so that people with HIV were seen as having negated consent for not disclosing, so that’s the genesis of where these problems became exponential. How do you undo this idea of consent if we’re medicating people in order that they can have autonomy to make their own decisions about consenting and telling people if they’re positive? Does that have to happen? It used to be the case that the courts in Canada would accept the idea that someone’s virological load or ability to transmit is negated because they’re on medication. So the courts went a step further and asked that people use condoms so the only two conditions they would accept without disclosure were if they met those two conditions—they had to have a negligible viral load and they have to had used a condom. Otherwise potentially the law has the ability to come down with these awful charges. It’s fascinating to me, and it also makes me very angry.”

Photography Credit: Shayne Woodsmith
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