Laura McCann has spent 2023 curating other people’s art but she will end the year exhibiting her own work as she makes her Museum of Liverpool debut.
Initially Laura didn’t know where her work would be displayed but said when the charity Sahir asked her to work on a project to help them mark the 35th World AIDS Day, she says she “didn’t hesitate”. The photographer went on to explain, “Sahir are an amazing organisation and I consider it a real honour to help them recognise such an important milestone”.
Sahir was set up in 1985, at the height of the AIDS pandemic and since then has helped countless people affected by HIV and AIDS. As one of six charities who are collectively the custodians of the UK AIDS Memorial Quilts, Sahir will also be displaying a section of the quilts alongside Laura’s work.
The quilts, which date back to the 1990’s, are widely viewed as important historical folk art. There are total of 48 twelve foot by twelve foot panels, each containing up to 8 smaller panels. Every element of the quilts were made by the loved ones of people who died of AIDS related causes, some of whom were from Merseyside.
Ant Hopkinson, CEO of Sahir commented “Sahir is a vibrant community-centred charity. We unapologetically fly the flag for our LGBTQIA+ communities across Merseyside and support all people living with HIV. Our history is punctuated by the strength, fortitude, creativity and togetherness of local queer trailblazers and sexual health activists. We strive to ensure that all local lives lost to HIV/AIDS will be remembered and that all stories of heroism, compassion, activism and love in the face of prejudice, stigma, inaction and hate will always prevail.”
When Sahir approached Laura McCann to produce a photography exhibition, they asked her to considered two important themes; “The Many Faces of HIV” and “Ageing Well With HIV”. In response Laura has shot a series of portraits that she hopes address both topics.
Laura said, “This has been such an incredibly inspiring project and I’m so grateful to everyone who took part”. The artist added, “HIV is a part of the lives of all the people I photographed but that alone doesn’t define them. I also believe that we all age differently, so I wanted to produce portraits that showed people happy in their own skin and celebrated their uniqueness”.
The exhibition is part of a programme of events that will also feature work by Roberto Tovar, a London-based Mexican artist and community mobiliser who leads the Número de Serie, which is a project dedicated to promoting sexual and mental health, with an emphasis on Latin American individuals.
Roberto commented: “I’m thrilled to be creating new work for this exhibition. Having the opportunity and space to express the Latinx HIV lived experience is humbling. I’ll be showcasing pieces inspired by the Latin American popular salsa song “El Gran Varón,” which was the first Spanish-speaking mainstream song to address queerness and HIV/AIDS in 1989”.
Roberto will also be hosting an arts workshop and Professor John Ashton, former regional public health director, will be giving a talk on the ground-breaking role Merseyside played in HIV harm reduction. The arts collective Homotopia will also be at the museum and are running a series of Oral History sessions led by James Lawler of Duo Vision and podcaster, Olivia Graham will be on hand to record some of the stories being shared.
One event not being held at the museum that Sahir are keen for people to attend is the annual World AIDS Day Vigil, which will take place at Liverpool Parish Church, on the 1 December between 6-7pm.
Rachael Hickmott, Support Worker & Counsellor at Sahir, who worked closely with Laura on her exhibition said, “I’m really excited to see all the whole event come together and I’m particularly looking forward to the reactions of the people featured in the portraits”
The Many Faces of HIV exhibition takes place from 30 November – 2 December at Museum of Liverpool, 10am – 4pm and more information on the photos will be published on Lauramccannphotos.com. As with all the events to mark World AIDS Day, the exhibition is FREE and the full programme can be found at Sahir.org.uk.