Art & HIV Activism
In this episode we take a journey into the world of art and HIV activism through a lively conversation between host James Watson and performance and video artist, and self-described “harm reductionista,” Mikiki. Art has a long-standing presence in the HIV/AIDS movement, evoking strong reactions and delivering powerful messages, and the work of Mikiki is no different. Over the course of this episode they reflect on their work in the HIV response and the impact that living with HIV has had on their art making, and define what it means to be a “body autonomy activist” and a “cheerful nihilist.” From drag to blood draws, Mikiki’s work is never timid—it’s political and it’s personal. Do we need to be in pain to create meaningful or beautiful art? Let’s find out.
Our episode guest
Performance and video artist & queer community health activist
Mikiki is a performance and video artist and queer community health activist of Acadian/Mi’kmaq and Irish descent from Newfoundland, Canada. Mikiki has held many positions in the HIV sector, worked on countless committees and research projects, and has worked in various capacities within the HIV & Harm Reduction movements in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto, co-developing and implementing the first sexual health promotion programming specifically for gay men living with HIV/AIDS in Canada. Mikiki is now dedicated to their art practice and activism full-time.
Silicone or water-based? Silicone
Heel or Dr. Martens? Heels
Daytime or nighttime? Nightime
City or country? City
Sex or drugs? Sex & drugs
Sex or drugs? Sex & drugs
In this episode we take a journey into the world of art and HIV activism through a lively conversation between host James Watson and performance and video artist, and self-described “harm reductionista,” Mikiki.
Mikiki has held many positions in the HIV sector, also working as a HIV tester in Toronto, a Sexuality Educator in Calgary's public schools, a Bathhouse Attendant in Saskatoon and a Drag Queen Karaoke Hostess in St. John's. They have participated on national, provincial and local boards, committees and research projects, including the Canadian AIDS Society, the Canadian Treatment Action Council, the Bad Date Coalition and the CHIME study. Mikiki is currently an advisory member of Beyond LIVING’s Life Force, providing strategic direction for global HIV/AIDS advocacy in concert with the three global PLwHIV networks GNP+/ICW/Y+.
Mikiki has also worked in various capacities within the HIV & Harm Reduction movements in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto, co-developing and implementing the first sexual health promotion programming specifically for gay men living with HIV/AIDS in Canada. They make reference to the Instagram account FAGDEMIC! for further information and resources related to gay men’s harm reduction in the context of COVID-19.
Exploring art’s role in the HIV/AIDS movement, Mikiki explains how their identity as an artist is informed by and intrinsically linked to their history of work as a sexual health educator and harm reduction worker. Themes in their art and creative processes often address safety and responsibility, disclosure and self-determination, community building and reckoning with trauma and loss.
In one project called WHORE LOCK/UP, originally performed in Montreal in 2015, Mikiki uses self-drawn blood and themselves as a homemade human dartboard to illustrate the experiences of extralegal and legal violence experienced by people living with HIV through the criminalization of each of the non-disclosure. This project was a collaboration between Mikiki and Alexander McClelland, an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Carleton University, and has been presented at an international conference in Amsterdam in 2018 and most recently at the 2020 Warsaw Biennial for Szymon Adamczak‘s Research Initiative entitled “Polskie EIDS.”
Mikiki’s performances are unique and it’s not unusual to find them circled by a crowd of audience members and the pungent smell of sauerkraut clinging to the air. Having trouble picturing the political and social significance of sauerkraut? Explore this and more on Mikiki’s performance page on the Men’s Health Project website.
From drag to blood draws, Mikiki’s work is never timid—it’s political and it’s personal. Mikiki explains,
And that is one of the beautiful potentials, political potentials, of drag. You're able to put on this mask, essentially, maybe only millimeters thick, but you put on this mask, and then you're able to say things that would have real world consequences if you were to do them outside of drag.
We look forward to hearing your thoughts on this pozcast episode with Mikiki in the comment section below!
Also check out our recent blog post, ‘Art, activism and HIV: triggering emotions, imagination and action’ where we explore some of the origins and ideas surrounding gay culture, art movements and activism.