activism through POWERFUL WORDS and art
In May of 2019, the HIV/AIDS world lost its most promising poet, advocate, author, singer and young person living with AIDS, Mary Bowman. Mary was 30 years old. Born with HIV, she lived out her experiences of growing up and living with HIV (and losing a mother to AIDS) through her art. As a young, out woman of color, she was a dynamic, vital voice for the next generation of individuals living with HIV—proud, willing to speak of her own challenges with not just her own health needs (mental health, social support) —but also a fierce advocate for other young people with HIV for whom a voice was lacking. For Mary, the arts gave her the platform and voice to channel her creative energy, her passion, her truth.
To honor the legacy of Mary Bowman and support other accomplished young artivists like her, the National AIDS Memorial has partnered with ViiV Healthcare to create the Mary Bowman Arts in Activism Award. This $5,000 award is intended to support young artivists (27 years of age or younger) who exemplify Mary’s passion for the arts as the vehicle for their own HIV/AIDS community activism and expression.
This Award supports arts and culture programs that engage and inspire individuals and communities in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and recognizes the power of culture to break down stigma and isolation. Mary Bowman was an icon of hope and resilience, and performed at the 2018 ViiV Healthcare Youth and Community Summit where she inspired leaders across the movement, one of many examples of Mary used her voice and art to make a difference.
Artivism harnesses the critical imagination to design events and strategies that provoke new questions and new meaning in pursuit of more respectful ways of being. As an example, with respect to HIV/AIDS, such artistic statements are frequently borne from a variety of perspectives in terms of gender, sexuality, age, class, ethnicity, and nationality, and wield artistic expression as a tool for combating stigma. Stigma, and all it entails—shame, isolation, embarrassment, exclusion, shunning—remains among the most formidable barriers to fighting the epidemic. Through this Award, we hope to inspire the amazing world of art and activism.