If you can say about someone that part of his/her life living as a HIV positive person formed him/her in positive way, it's definitely the case for artist Mandy Webb. She's a self confident, independent woman who is capturing her decade as HIV positive in her collection, that will be shown in London in The Crypt Gallery of St Pancras. The first preview of her exhibition 'Great Expectations of an Incurable Optimist' is on Thursday October 2nd and will be open daily until October 11. If you live near London or will be visiting this beautiful city in that period, don't miss the chance to visit first Mandy Webb's first solo exhibition.
Your debut solo exhibition in London is capturing a decade of your life living with HIV, inspired by experiences and conversations. What was the strongest experience that you had in this decade?
Mandy Webb: „It's really hard to pin point my strongest experience, but I think each and every day something can inspire an idea. I think that peoples‘ negativity to me has always made me determined to make them almost eat their words, which is the best way to deal with them, also to make a brightly coloured, larger than life piece of work about them, it's very cathartic and also like getting the last laugh."
Once you said that art has been your saviour along with your HIV medicines. In a lot of your art works you even connected these two lifesavers and they represent HIV pills in many forms. What other stuff and material did you use for this collection?
Mandy Webb: „I have been using condoms, pins and a huge amount of plaster of Paris, for pills and grenades."
One of your most famous piece, in which you also appeared on official posters for this event, is the red ribbon dress. How many ribbons have you used for them?
Mandy Webb: „There are approximately 6000 red ribbons covering the Red Ribbon Dress, the bottom of the dress has a 15ft circumference. Lots of different varieties of red ribbon have been used, as to show the diversity of all who have been and are affected by this disease."
It sounds like a lot of work! How much time did you spend on them?
Mandy Webb: „Many hours were spent cutting and sewing the individual ribbons, then I found a quicker way by stitching them with the sewing machine and thought: ‘Why on earth, hadn't I thought of that sooner!!!?' The prep work took most of the time, as once I had stitched the prepared ribbons to a wider and longer strip of red ribbon, then it was a fairly quick but quite awkward process of stitching using the sewing machine to the dress which had became really heavy with all those ribbons."
Your art work is not only inspired by your HIV status. What was your other inspiration?
Mandy Webb: „I‘m a woman first, so I‘m interested in female issues, I‘m angered by the amount of female artists throughout ‘his-story' that have been denied their acclaim due to the fact they are women, I‘m angered by women being taxed for feminine health products as these are classed as luxury items when in fact they are vital! I‘m also angered by peoples‘ continual idea that HIV is mainly a disease affecting gay men; many women all over the world have been infected/affected and as one of them I want to shout loudly and proudly and hopefully change those perceptions, that anyone of us can be affected, anyone who has had unprotected sex. We‘re all at risk and all need to be responsible."
Are you planning to show this collection in another cities and countries too?
Mandy Webb: „I would love to be able to show this collection all around the world, I get so many visitors to my website, which makes me happy that I am reaching a very wide audience."
Do you already have an idea about your next art work?
Mandy Webb: „Of course, as soon as I started on the mammoth project of the grenades/grenAIDS Regimen(t)730, I had already been thinking about the next big challenge. I like to set these goals, as they really keep me focused and that I have to keep on adhering to my medication and keep on living to tell the tale."
What do you personally think that should be done in raising HIV/AIDS awareness?
Mandy Webb: „There needs to be a really good advertising campaign, something along the lines of the scary ones that said Don't Die of Ignorance, like the ones in the 1980's. We‘ve all become very complacent and are all responsible for this complacency when we keep making statements that HIV is not a death sentence anymore! When in fact it does still kill, whether it's by people not getting treatment soon enough as they're completely unaware of their status, or knowing that they might be infected but are too scared to get that diagnosis. Also people can run out of drug regimes to keep the HIV controllable, or give up due to side effects from the toxic medication and some people sadly take their own lives, as find it so difficult to accept their positive status as they fear rejection, fear discrimination and fear disclosing their status to others."
Photos:Mandy Webb's portfolio (http://www.mandywebb43.com/index.aspx)