The Positively Revolting Art of JORIAL

Artist: JORIAL, HIVOGUE - Ofra Haza

It's a myth that all art — and artists, for that matter — are inherently part of the counterculture. I was a pre-teen when I came to that realization, watching Teenage Head and Lydia Lunch on early episodes of the New Music, circa JD Roberts and Jeanne Becker. Everything then was very punk rock, the creativity technically unpolished, not yet caught up in the plastic techie factory of the mainstream.

Those of us who were coming of age back then were already stumbling through the anxiety of hormones raging wildly when the AIDS epidemic made its way across the newscasts of the early '80s. By the '90s, many of us had been touched by the loss of a friend with full-blown AIDS; myself, I had entered into a scene of anarchists, queer Black feminists, conceptual artists and AIDS activists — all of which had a great affect on me.

JORIAL's HIV/AIDS propaganda posters stir up the feelings, memories and activist energy from that '80s/early '90s era. Celebrities found on his HIVOGUE series take me back to club nights, house raves on Charlotte, and remind me of cultural references I had placed behind me, packed up with my torn fishnets, fake lashes and construction boots. Although his choice of artistic format is not new — artists like Iké Udé and General Idea have also successfully used the magazine cover as a platform to subvert — JORIAL's approach definitely is.

Artist: JORIAL, HIVOGUE - Willi Ninja and Anthony Perkins
(left) HIVOGUE — Willi Ninja and (right) HIVOGUE — Anthony Perkins by JORIAL

What prompted the idea to spoof Vogue magazine covers as a way to discuss the stigma of HIV+ status?

JORIAL: It was born from developing the HIV awareness/prevention policies for — a "sexy" HIV-centred, queer dating/chat/hookup site we're launching soon. Theoretically, our central objective is to offer a free social-networking platform that guarantees freedom from HIV social stigma, hysteria and discrimination, plus racism, transphobia, etc. The term "HIV negative," and the ridiculous notion of ongoing HIV- status as some sort of character or personality trait, is the core root of the mass ignorance and miseducation that is advancing the global pandemic. It's an issue that mainstream AIDS Service Organizations (ASOs) — for example, ACT (AIDS Committee of Toronto), BlackCAP (Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention), etc. — have failed to address both on-line and off. Quite simply, if we expect the inconvenient truths about the volatile nature of seroconversion and HIV infection to ever sink into the minds of sexually active adults and the general population, the term needs to go out of style, out of fashion, out of use and effectively abolished from social acceptability. It should be sent to the same vernacular boneyard as the N-word. It really is that problematic and deadly a term.

The first thing that pops into your head when thinking about fashion is Vogue magazine and, for whatever reason, they still decide what's in and what's out, what's haute and what's not. I unconsciously apply wordplay and a queer fanzine aesthetic to everything I do, so once I started thinking about it, HIVOGUE wasn't too much of a stretch for my one track mind to conceive.

Artist: JORIAL, Peeple Magazine
Peeple Magazine — Everyting Well-Boonoonoonous by JORIAL

KMA: Is there a difference to how positive HIV status is stigmatized in the LGBT community from the straight community?

JORIAL: Let me put it this way: If you asked me that question on the airport tarmac, I'd drop to my knees, kiss the concrete and say, "Thank God, I'm not straight!" But to really speak about stigma, I think that regardless of race and class, it becomes much more of a question of gender than sexual orientation. An unholy alliance of mainstream AIDS service organizations and the pharmaceutical industry has done a remarkable job of divide and conquer, herding us like cattle into easily identifiable departments and target markets from which to manage us like product on a sales floor.

Artist: JORIAL, Don't Judge, Judy!
Don't Judge, Judy! by JORIAL

Positive men can't disclose because to do so threatens our social status, job security and flops the show for getting our groove on. For women and trans folks it's not only that but a massive personal safety issue. We all know women aren't even safe in their own homes sleeping much less having the audacity to step out onto the street in public during broad daylight, no matter who they are or where they're living on this planet. Add being HIV+ into the mix and the danger and threat to your personal safety and quality of life quadruples. Disclosure is a luxury that women simply can't afford, and that's criminal.

Artist: JORIAL, HIVOGUE - Sharron Redd and Gia Carangi
(left) HIVOGUE — Sharon Redd
and (right) HIVOGUE — Gia Carangi by JORIAL

The pandemic is often described as a holocaust, however it's not just a body count that we can draw parallels from. For example, in a "traditional" family unit where one or both of the parents are positive, most must hide all evidence of their status from their own children, their teachers, neighbours, co-workers, friends, and even other family members in the interest of their children's personal safety. No one should have to live life hiding their identity for survival in that manner, especially within their own home.

Artist: JORIAL, HIVOGUE - Nkosi Johnson
HIVOGUE — Nkosi Johnson by JORIAL

KMA: The more openly queer celebrities you reference are easily identifiable: '80s supermodel Gia, dancer Alvin Ailey, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, singer Freddie Mercury, for example. Then there are the covers with straight celebrities, some who were not as publicly known to have died from AIDS-related complications like singer Ofra Haza (compared to the more publicly known cases like those of performers Fela Kuti and Eazy-E). And more recently, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Your HIVOGUE series is so intriguing: part tribute, part role model-provider for those who are in need of someone to identify with. Why, as an artist, is it important for you to give visibility to those who live with HIV or who have succumbed to AIDS-related health problems. Why do you see the disclosure of one's "positive status" of great importance in the public sphere?

Artist: JORIAL, HIVOGUE - Hector Lavoe
HIVOGUE — Héctor Lavoe by JORIAL

JORIAL: It's important because stigma is so overwhelming that very few positive people are in the position to be open and "out" about it. With the notable living exceptions of Magic Johnson — and a few lesser-known celebrities such as Andy Bell (Erasure) and Holly Johnson (Frankie Goes To Hollywood) — we never find out who our role models are until after they're dead. Generally speaking, the only people who can be public about their HIV status are hardcore activists and long-term survivors who have become so desensitized to stigma they just don't care anymore.

When speaking of HIV, we often talk about the period of time the virus can lay dormant. On-line, there's something I like to describe as seroconversion "RT" (real-time). That's the period of time from seroconverting to the point where you have the confidence and integrity to post a clear face pic on 3P (photo personal profiles) and list your status as HIV positive. For many that can be several years, and for most it never happens. On Facebook, I know of two — count 'em: TWO! — HIV+ people who are completely and totally out about it, and trust me, I know of puh-lenty of HIV+ people. For that reason, local activist Brian Finch and French politician Jean-Luc Romero are huge inspirations, "positive" role models and "status" symbols to me.

Artist: JORIAL, The Queers Online are Positively Revolting[ Click to enlarge: The Queers Online are Positively Revolting by JORIAL ]

For me personally, my experience has been a little ass-backwards. I had no problem [being out about my status] on Facebook, but on gay Web sites, such as or, it's only very recently that I've successfully seroconverted RT. I guess it depends what community you feel most anchored in. I've been aggressively unholy-terrorizing straights in the interest of queerness since the mid-'80s with the zines Bimbox and S.C.A.B. (Society for the Complete Annihilation of Breeding), so I had absolutely no qualms about jumping right in your Facebook.

KMA: In the late '80s/early '90s there was passing concern over the real incubation period of HIV and whether or not an HIV test could ever truly be read as accurate. Many dismiss this as an issue, so the message that emerges from your propaganda poster HIVOGUE — It's All the Rage in Pandemic is an especially urgent, educational one, particularly within the context of sex want ads — on-line or in print. Can you further discuss these ideas and one's false sense of security upon receiving an HIV-negative test result?

Artist: JORIAL, HIVOGUE - It's All the Rage in Pandemic
HIVOGUE — It's All the Rage in Pandemic by JORIAL

JORIAL: With regard to HIV or any STD awareness/prevention issue, I feel accurate facts are of the utmost importance. The volatile nature of seroconversion alone dictates that only a blood sample can be HIV-negative and, because our bodies are living, constantly changing things, a "negative" result for anything our blood is screened or tested for — whether HIV, cancer, diabetes, bird flu, rock-'n'-roll boogie, or pneumonia — is essentially expired information upon receipt. This applies to all sexually active adults, including those who claim to practice safer sex 100% of the time, as latex condoms are not 100% effective. 40-85% of HIV+ people don't know they're infected, and most people wouldn't know what safer sex was if it bit them in the....!

Unless they invent a device that can be jammed into our veins 24/7, constantly monitoring and screening HIV status, no one has the right to claim HIV-negative status. Those who do are knowingly — or unknowingly — creating a deadly, sero-supremist false sense of security for both themselves and others, passively fostering HIV social stigma, hysteria and discrimination and recklessly advancing the global pandemic. With 25 million dead, 46 million currently infected, and 5,700 deaths per day from HIV/AIDS in 2007, perpetuating the notion of HIV-negative status is to engage in reckless, high-risk behaviour that reinforces systematic misinformation so deadly and destructive that we should recoil in horror at utterance of the term.

Artist: JORIAL, Soaking in It (Self-Portrait)
Soaking in It (Self-Portrait) by JORIAL

Institutionalized homo/queer/transphobia, hetero/sexism, misogyny and racism forces sexually-active adults into multiple closets. And, whether they like it or not, whatever's happening on the nastiest queer "barebacking" site directly impacts the "innocent," God-fearing heterosexuals navigating the most wholesome, arranged matrimony sites imaginable. No matter how the latter group stubbornly polices, condemns, and criminalizes the lifestyles of the former, HIV will continue to spread back and forth between populations. Open dialogue, harm reduction and realistic sex education really is so important if we're serious about stopping HIV/AIDS. We've already seen the glorious results of 25 years of throwing bourgeois tea parties, staging misogynist fashion shows and handing out condoms to barebackers at bathhouses; maybe it's time for fresh tactics like pointing out the glaringly obvious truth and #1 misconception about HIV!

Artist: JORIAL, Meet Mr. Clean
Meet Mr. Clean by JORIAL

KMA: My introduction to your work was through your pastel drawings, which reminded me so much of the late Jerome Caja's artwork. Both of your works have, at times, overt religious and/or sexual overtones that speak bluntly, yet with much humour, to issues of sex, abuse, gender, and desire. As an HIV+ gay drag queen and artist, Caja especially had so many interesting pieces where he cross-identified with Jesus and la Virgen de Guadeloupe (two classic martyrs), using their images to explore his feelings around mortality, difference, persecution and reverence. When I look at your pastel illustrations, I can see that there is a similar dialogue that is also going on. Both you and Caja poke fun at the seriousness of religion's confines and speak to the "darker" experiences of life. Talk to us about some of the themes that dominate these drawings.

JORIAL: I think most artists and writers in personal struggle with their own mortality, whether it's HIV, cancer, other chronic illness, disability, injury, or advanced age. We tend to entomb ourselves in subject and content that explores memory, closure, cause and effect, or whatever we feel encapsulates, justifies or explains our journey. I experienced a severe creative block that lasted ten years following a rather traumatic period of my life, and visual artwork, writing or producing anything remotely creative, was only revived as the result of group art therapy offered at the AIDS Committee of Toronto and participation in an individual art therapy study at Mount Sinai Hospital.

After such a long period of artistic silence, a passionate response to HIV-related depression, stemming from the overwhelming social stigma that's rampant throughout the gay community, has been a central theme outpoured in most, if not all, of my stuff since 2005. Expressing that has been like coming out of a closet all over again — a psychological and personal rollercoaster, which is as equally exhilarating, tedious, rewarding and terrifying as embracing queerness the first time around.

Artist: JORIAL, Class, Race and Gender Privilege at 399 Church Street
Class, Race and Gender Privilege at 399 Church Street by JORIAL

The obstacles to "positive" identity are very familiar and identifiable (authority, religion, family, heterosexism, etc.), and I think for many HIV+ queer/trans people, fatigue from years of battling morons, jackasses and hypocrites the first time around certainly impedes our enthusiasm to relive the same tired old war, especially when through silence, complacency, incompetence and inaction our so called gay "community" has joined their ranks! While she's generally not known for her sarcasm, it's kinda brutal that gay icon Dionne Warwick sings "Déjà vu" and "That's What Friends Are For."

Artist: JORIAL, Vaginal Davis
Vaginal Davis by JORIAL

Because stigma is so isolating, much "viral culture" output from HIV+ artists appears self-absorbed and I guess my own is no different. I also think that with exceptions like ACT UP, AIDS Action Now, Diseased Pariah News, etc., self-absorption/obsession/condemnation historically explains why, when left to our own devices in groups, the HIV+ haven't been able to organize our way out of a paper bag. It's sort of impossible to express universal themes as each person's experience of HIV is unique, with religious backlashing and condemnation perhaps the one interchangeable specter to which we can all relate.

Ironically, as a character in the 1990 Gabrielle Micallef and Debbie Douglas film anOTHER Love Story notes, "AIDS ain't fussy." That statement is so true and it's something we'll acknowledge on an individual basis, yet the universal global response to HIV in providing treatment, delivering services or even just fundraising has been to judge, divide, conquer and compartmentalize the HIV+ into easily identifiable groups of "us" and "them," innocent and guilty, those deserving of compassion and those deserving scorn. Hyper-conservativity, hysteria, selfishness and disunity is no way to fight a virus, and I certainly try to challenge that mindset with the spiritually interchangeable pieces Jesus Is My Bitch and The Prophet Muhammad for MAC Viva Glam.

KMA: I heard that you're involved in a very interesting film project that stars ex-Fifth Column bandmate, Caroline Azar. Could you tell us a bit more about this project?

JORIAL: Well it's kind of a fully-clothed queer re-make of Nude On The Moon, the 1961 softcore porn/nudist camp epic by Doris Wishman, who with over 30 feature films to her credit is the most prolific female director of the 20th century. Our version is called Project 36-C and stars Bitch Nation's Jena von Brucker and G.B. Jones as the astronauts and Caroline Azar in an absolutely hilarious dual-role as "Doris Manwish," their frumpy administrative assistant and "the All-Time Queen Of The Moon!" We filmed the movie way back in 1992/1993 during the height of Toronto's queercore renaissance, a period when we also started publishing Double Bill, the so-called anti-fanzine/"hate" zine strategically designed to advance the character assassination of (then) wife-killer and pedophile on-the-loose William S. Burroughs, while offering up as an alternative William Conrad (star of the TV show Cannon in the 70s and Jake and the Fatman in the 80s/90s) to the queer masses, so desperate and starved for a male role model named Bill to worship, idolize and adore.

Artist: JORIAL, film poster for Project 36-C
Project 36-C film poster by JORIAL

Much of Project 36-C was shot during the same period and at many of the same locales as G.B. Jones's movie The Lollipop Generation, features three of the same principle actors, and pays loving tribute to the techniques and styles of both Jones and Wishman. As such, it was filmed without sound, the dialogue and music to be added in later.

In 1994 the movie was half-finished when circumstance put it on a back burner, and then in 1995, A Different Booklist happened. As you recall, in 1998 when"left" A Different Booklist, there wasn't much time to pack and the three canisters of film that were Project 36-C were misplaced at that time and presumed lost for nearly ten years. Meanwhile, G.B. Jones completed The Lollipop Generation, which premiered this past April as the gala feature opening the 2008 Images Festival in Toronto. The "lost" Project 36-C footage was unexpectedly recovered about a year ago in 2007, so after meeting with G.B. Jones a couple of weeks after her premiere, we decided we really should finish the movie as time travel is an element of the plotline anyway. Plus, there's just too many obscure celebrity cameos (Kevin Killian, Sadie Benning, Rachel Pepper, Mark Ewert, Jeffrey Kennedy, Johnny Ray Huston, Davey Houle, Mike Thompson, Lisa Freeman, etc.) to justify letting it rot in someone's closet!

Thanks to G.B. Jones' renewed involvement and guidance, I'm very excited to be completing what I'm sure will be my first and last, one and only, foray into moviemaking!

JORIAL will be participating in Urbanity Humanity, a group exhibition for 2008 Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, Saturday, October 4th at Beaver Hall Gallery, where he will be showing works from his HIVOGUE series. To view more of JORIAL's work, please visit his on-line galleries at or His social networking site, is currently in development and will be launched in 2009.

IMAGES: Copyright of JORIAL and are reprinted with his permission.


G.B. said...


tata said...

Hey just want to say.. this interview rawks.. thanks you two of making my
mundane monday morning digestible.As always ..I am in awe of both of you.

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