On April 1st, 2022 at midnight while on a phone call with a close friend, I finally began to sit with the loss of my cousin. He died July 17th of 2020 but it took 2 years for me to begin grieving. We share the same birthday, April 29th. John born in 1985 and I 15 years later, all that separated us was time. We both attended art school in Chicago, in fact our schools were mere blocks apart. On this phone call I began unpacking all the connections we shared despite barely knowing each other.
This project became my way of mourning someone I never got the chance to truly know. The public performances that accompanied each piece were meant to be the catalyst for conversation amongst individuals who had the privilege of ignoring the AIDS epidemic that we are still battling today. Shame is what killed my cousin and if I could help destigmatize this disease even for one person then maybe I could save a life. It wasn’t until John was on his deathbed that I learned of his diagnosis. He spent 15 years suffering in silence. Wrapped in the discomfort, shame and loss. This project wasn’t just making art, this was life and death. I knew I needed to free myself of the guilt I carried so I could be strong enough to speak up for someone who never got the chance to learn how themselves. The interactions this project provoked were more meaningful than any I’ve had before, from nature conservationists, to police officers, patrons and enemies of the arts alike. I’m grateful to have shared this celebration of all that John was and all he didn’t have the chance to be with the members of my community both on and offline.