Our team worked with the symbiotic relationship between these three truths, as outlined by the Canadian AIDS Society* in their position statement about poverty and HIV/AIDS.

The Symbiotic Relationship

1. Being poor increases your vulnerability to HIV

2. Being diagnosed with HIV increases your chances of becoming poor

3. Being HIV+ and poor increases your chances of dying from HIV/AIDS.

HIV and poverty are in mutually reinforcing symbiotic relationship. In nature, most symbiotic relationships work to sustain a mutually beneficial goal, that of mutual life. In contrast, in this symbiosis HIV and poverty produce death. We illustrated this relationship is conveyed using symbols: a 2012 penny, a medical illustration of the immature HIV virus and an image of a skull and cross bones. There is text that surrounds the image as a graphic border.

Money: I chose a penny to symbolize money and poverty specifically to show the implicitness of government and the mint in the somewhat arbitrary and ultimately unsustainable ‘game’ of economics. I played with colour and design to reference graphic repetition often found in major design labels- like Louis Vuitton- symbols of wealth and, in this context, of life and death.

HIV/AIDS: I first began working with illustrations of viruses in 2002. I questioned whether something that caused so much destruction could be visually beautiful. I chose to return to this consideration as part of this project, working graphically to depict the three core ideas of this symbiotic relationship in a way that was beautiful visually and yet horrific conceptually.

Death: How to talk about death? I grappled with so many questions when considering how to talk about this relationship and the concept of dying because of a poisonous system. I wondered if we could talk responsibly without being part of a narrative that systematically equates HIV and death in ways that negate the lived realities of folks living with HIV/AIDS who are thriving, celebrating, loving and living?

I settled on using a green skull as the central point of the image, connecting it to the green of the penny. The skull references both death and dying but it also symbolizes ‘poison’. It is dangerous and poisonous to live in a society where there is rampant classism and few sustaining resources for poor folks; where HIV is criminalized; and where systemic ableism affects the livelihood of people living with HIV. This poisonous system is what creates the paradox in the first place, and it is what ultimately leads to death.

Border: Our team decided to include a repeating border around the image that summarizes the symbiotic relationship into a mathematical equation: HIV + Poverty=Death.  In doing so, we are speaking to our histories- remembering the rallying cry from ACT UP, “Silence= Death”. We are also speaking to the inadequacy of numbers, mathematics, money and accounting.

In the end, we hope that this symbolic representation of the Canadian HIV/AIDS position statement about poverty and HIV will create awareness about the connection between poverty, HIV/AIDS and life/death.

Till we’re free!


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