By: Peggy Frank and Leah Tidey, Facilitators for Poz Women Show Off Exhibition
“In the beginning my light in the dark was very dull”
– excerpt from “HIV Taught Me To Fly”
In the earliest days of HIV’s appearance in our communities, women were left on their own, with no feminist approach to managing HIV. Most resources were targeted at cisgender, trans, and gay men. Despite efforts to carve out space for women, there were too many instances of women living in isolation – feeling alone, misunderstood, not included, and generally overlooked in research and the literature, as well as programming. As part of the HIV in My Day project, a collective of eight HIV-positive women, living outside metro Vancouver, decided to share their stories in an arts-based workshop and public art installation at Theatre SKAM, located on the traditional and unceded territories of the Lək̓ʷəŋən speaking peoples, including the Songhees, Esquimalt, and WSÁNEĆ peoples (colonially known as Victoria, British Columbia).
The term women is used broadly, since we are a group that includes and welcomes cisgender women, Two-Spirit individuals, trans people, and non-binary folks. Co-led by HIV activist and artist, Peggy Frank, and arts-based researcher and certified sexual health educator, Dr. Leah Tidey, the women’s collective explored various art forms as methods of self-expression and knowledge sharing regarding the impact of HIV on women. Community members used art materials they self-selected, using various arts-based methods to share their stories about living with HIV. One collaborative piece was a group poem – “HIV Taught Me To Fly.”
You can view some of the art and the group poem on display at the Cultch from November 29th-December 27th, as well as a 28-foot timeline, which identifies some of the major events, disruptions, and collaborations from the very early days of HIV’s appearance in British Columbia’s herstory.