Can I kick it…yes you can, can I kick it, yes yes you can!
A Tribe Called Quest knows the question and the answer. I’m still struggling with both. It’s 1.30am and I’m sitting in the international terminal at Auckland airport. It’s been a while since I’ve sat at an airport waiting for the city to wake up…5 hours till I can leave and counting. Urgh!!! I’ll still have another 5 hours travel by bus after that till I can sleep in my own bed again…
I had a bit of a debacle in arranging travel, thinking that I was supposed to be in Auckland for a meeting tomorrow/later this morning. It got cancelled, so instead of spending the night in a hotel in Sydney with a flight back to Rotorua I’ve ended up in airport waiting land again. It’s been a while, I shouldn’t complain…but I’m fucking tired.
I’ve been at ASHM, the annual sexual health meeting in Australia. As usual it was overly white, overly clincal, overly the same as the structural spaces that clinicians and researchers usually occupy. I had been invited to attend and present at a special satellite symposium organised by NAPWHA, the national association of people living with HIV and AIDS in Australia. I was one of four presenters speaking on Indigenous peer responses to HIV, myself and two others speaking from the perspective of people living with HIV. It’s always powerful to speak on this topic because the World Health Organisation has set global targets to end HIV. The strategy is to have 95% of all people who are HIV positive tested, 95% of those tested on treatment and 95% of people from at risk communites on PrEP, a drug which if taken every day will protect them from contracting HIV. If governments can reach those targets by 2030, we can end HIV in this lifetime. The problem for marginalised communites is that we are the 5% of acceptable losses, we are the gaps and we are really the only ones with the solutions to close those gaps. But of course, we’re brown, black, poor, remote and an ongoing issue because we want our land and resources back. It’s hard to influence when you’re right at the bottom, even with a PhD.
I believe HIV was part of an intentional plan to control and remove particular populations from existence, it’s too perfect a virus to not be of a design, especially when you read the WHO strategy to end it. It’s written in economic terms where if the targets are met by 2030, the global investment in HIV becomes profitable. For every year over 2030 that these targets are not met, the profit margins decrease significantly. That’s the selling point for the WHO to ensure that governments back the strategy. It’s fucking sick that this whole response is about money, rather than ensuring millions and millions and millions of people don’t die hideous deaths.
Even though I do good work in the sector, and it is good for the spirit to share my knowledge that can help people, it takes a lot out of me. The sexual health sector is highly vulnerable to funding shifts and cuts, even when programs work. Because of this the whole sector is insecure, with organisations pitted against each other to retain their funding and prove the worth of their outcomes. More often than not when I do work in the HIV sector I don’t get paid and it costs me money. I was glad at this conference that NAPWHA made sure that breakfast was included with my accomodation and that I was able to attend networking dinners if I wished, lucky, because living the student life for another 5 months I’m broke as fuck. I’d never pay for myself to get to one of these conferences. I’m lucky that the past three ASHMs I’ve been to now, travel and accomodation is paid for by the orgs that invite me.
But it’s a constant battle working in the sector. Governments really don’t give a fuck about sexual health. Doctors and researchers don’t like being told by brown people they don’t know our communites so how the hell do they think they can figure out strategies to help us. And the white gay male population who run the orgs that receive the lion’s share of funding don’t like to be challenged on their racism, their transphobia and the fact that the many heterosexual women living with HIV are as invisible as the brownies, blackies and the trannies who also live with HIV.
I’m really tired of work in this sector. The focus is constantly on strategies to fix the structural barriers, when all the evidence says the real issue is the ingrained phobic society we’ve inherited from Europe. Apparrently that’s too big to address, so we stay on the roundabout of always trying to make the structure work better. Of course, the structures we live with were designed by people who were only interested in maintaining their excesses…they’re inherently oppressive structures, top-down works perfectly for those at the decision making top.
On my flight home I watched a documentary on Lee ‘Alexander’ McQueen, an incredible HIV positive artist in fashion. Watching it I kept thinking to myself, “I’m a powerful maker of beautiful messages in art…what am I doing investing all of my power in these fuuuuuuuuuuuucked structures. I constantly feel anxiety, stress and disappointment in the work I’m doing. Alexander McQueen would have been a few years older than me were he still alive today. He ended his own life, such a foul waste. Even though he created such incredible beauty, inspired often by death and darkenss, he hurt a lot. I know what that’s like, I really do, but I’m not allowed to end my own life anymore.
When I make art I feel powerful, in charge and heard.
I think the Equinox is pulling me away from the sexual health work I have been doing, and is helping me to fully return to my practice. I didn’t do a PhD to work as an academic. I did a PhD to help hone my creative analytical skills and extend my ability to make. I did a PhD to gain a tool that could enable me to make without challenge. I’ve exhibited and done performance work this year, but it has been all old work. Since I finished my PhD I haven’t felt inspired to make and in the past year I have only made three kete, and have made no digital images nor video. I haven’t painted and although I’ve scribbled, there’s no real drawing happening. It hurts to not feel the passion I have always had to create because its the thing that has sustained me at my lowest, it got me through and not only that, I love to make art. When I am making art, it’s impossible for others to pretend I don’t exist and I am able to change the ways people see the world.
I used to think I could do structural work in the academy, governance and social structures as well as have a thriving practice, but I’m beginning to think they are too at odds. To do structural work I have to perform in particular ways, maintain a perception of professionalism and often submit to the structure. It makes me doubt myself and I feel oppressed by it. To make art, I just have to be myself, it makes me feel free and alive.
I need to live…