Saturday, December 12, 2009

AIDS is not just a Pink issue

As we reached the start of our new round of 12 challenges I paused to take stock of which of the myriad of tempting projects on my wish list I was realistically going to be able to achieve over the next year or two and to think about the direction in which I wanted my textile art and quilting to go. Of course, planning and reflecting do not always mean the end result is the same as the projection - I had no idea I was capable of what I did in the last round of challenges when I joined this group. But with our three months round the world trip, new work challenges and a new Twelve by Twelve series all coming up together, it seemed a good idea to consolidate and try and focus a bit.

So, I thought and pondered and drew spider charts and wrote lists and still had too many ideas/projects and too little time. And I still, if the truth be known, was a little under-stimulated with the simple idea of one colour as a theme compared to the concept themes we had been working on. So I decided to combine three goals of mine into one:
1. To participate in Twelve by Twelve
2. To focus more on translating inspirations from other cultures, particularly African into my own work and
3. To continue to develop the social issue commentary that surprised me by coming out naturally in my earlier Twelve by Twelve work.

So, for pink, I started to look for inspiration by googling 'pink Africa'. I very soon found this fabulous bamileke headdress. ( Thanks to Africa Direct for permission to re-post the photo from their shop). I was instantly inspired which is just as well as I had only a few days to create this before we left the country.

I combined this African inspiration source with the initial musings I had with the association of pink with gay issues and of gay issues with the AIDS epidemic, particularly in the 1980's. Of course, AIDS is no longer a gay only issue ( if indeed it ever was).

At the end of 2008 22.4 million adults were living with AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. Around 14.1 million children are AIDS orphans. Anti-retro viral drugs are not always readily available. there are issues of pricing, of distribution, of concepts of time and lack of wrist watches ( the drugs need to be taken at regular intervals), of the regular nutritious meals that need to accompany the medication and of a shortage of health care workers caused by the disease itself and the temptations of emigration.

This quilt is made with pink striped fabric sources from The African Fabric shop and originating from West Africa. I have used the pink triangle symbol often associated with the gay rights movement but inverted to its original orientation when used as a marker for homosexuals in Nazi Concentration camps. Its original symbol of potential death is further alluded to by the addition of a black triangle. I hope that the whole looks like a version of an African shield, which is what the drugs would provide against the devastating physical and societal effects of this disease.

The embellishments are not beads but pink pills as a comment on the fact that medication in Europe is so cheap it can be used as a play thing - but in Africa only 42% of people who need anti-retro virals get them. They are slippy little beggars and so they are glued on and then a cradle of stitches added. The green silk background, which is seed stitch quilted, symbolises the new lease of life drugs can give. Although the photo may not reveal it well, the black triangle is textured to mimic the inspiration piece by machining diagonal strips of black knitting tape onto black fabric.

If this topic interests you you may want to look at the quilts and website of Mary Fisher who is a UN AIDS ambassador. She has quilts also with messages on this topic but done so much better than I achieved in a hurried few days - I do not think this is my best Twelve quilt.


Diane said...

Helen! Once again, the depth of your analysis does not disappoint. This is a very interesting commentary on the Aids issues you discuss, and I like how you incorporated all of the different elements -- shapes, colors, pills even.

I know you did this in a rush before you embarked on your trip, but you've done a very clever job of illustrating these themes.

I'll look forward to seeing how you meet your social commentary/cross cultural self challenges in our future pieces!

Gerrie said...

Lime green with pink - love it. I just saw a show about the problem of aids among older women who have gotten back into dating only to find that they have had a partner who gave them HIV. When I first saw this, I thought it was a merkin and it could be!! Well done, Helen. You never disappoint me.

Terry said...

I really love this. It combines so many ideas about Africa, AIDS,assumptions and barriers and yet, it is not a message of despair, but of strength and hope, symbolized by a shield and those assertive pink pills! And if that was not enough, it is simply gorgeous to boot!

Terri Stegmiller said...

Fabulous Helen! The hand stitched background really sets if off nicely. And I just knew you'd have some fascinating information along with your piece.

kirsty said...

I immediately thought how appropriate this would be as a costume at Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (an absolute blast, by the way! Thoroughly recommend it to everyone !) but it only takes a second or two to see the pills and realise that, once again, you have presented us with a very serious subject.I wonder if there has ever been another quilt anywhere in the world that has utilised pills as an embellishment?!

Erica Spinks said...

Helen, I'm interested in your decision to use inspirations from cultures other than your own. Is it because you see them as more exotic? I'm wondering whether you have explored themes from your own culture in your work?

Kristin L said...

I love how much concept you try to imbue into your quilts. Though not all the pieces are as successful as others, I genuinely appreciate the research you do and it seems like your really enjoy it. Keep going the extra mile!

Karen said...

What a wonderful way to get this important message out. The pills are really an interesting touch, and they made me look twice. Your hand stitching is terrific also.