The Gathering

Company – Self Portrait
1998, silver gelatin print, 20×16 inches


In “A Conversation with Eric Rhein,” an interview on this website, Eric was asked about some writing he’d done: a text which corresponds with many of the themes in his recent exhibition, Lifelines. Eric followed-up with this memoir, written in 1998, and we are happy that he’s shared it with us here.

The Gathering
by Eric Rhein

        I’ve been pushed back from the borders of death, redeemed to life—escorted by the same spirits who comforted me on the precipice of demise. I’ve been awakened from a turbulent dream, or so it seems; awakened by a prince, with a pharmaceutical kiss.

        I had aged prematurely—ravaged through the course of ten years with H.I.V. When testing positive, my 27-year-old body was still that of a boy, fresh from college; then it became that of an old man, leapfrogging adulthood to decay. Now, having been restored to health, I wear a man’s body that I’d lost sight of. It’s strangely unfamiliar.

        The spirits of my Kentucky ancestors are with me. Their wisdom—imbibed from only seemingly simpler lives and times—resonate in my devotion to the autumn leaves that I revere as tributes to fallen friends.

        My Granny Corinne said the autumn leaves wear brilliant colors like their best Sunday school dresses to remind us of nature’s glory, even as they die. Granny Corinne is ever-present. I remember when she died—I was less then five and unafraid, as I sat alone—wearing short pants and a bow tie—in the parlor of our ancestral home. She was laid-out for her wake—like Snow White in her deep sleep. The morning light was passing through the parlor windows, golden like the turning leaves. The parlor was divided from adjoining rooms by imported Japanese soji screens—their paper was embedded with butterflies and leaves. Their shadows began to migrate across the room with the shifting sun. A butterfly kissed Granny’s forehead—another lit on my hand. A pattern of leaves trailed my bare legs. The silhouettes fluttered, giving form to the spirits of departed kin—as they welcomed Granny into their fold.

        We buried Granny in our remote family cemetery—the funeral procession recalling previous rituals—braving the crude path up the hill. Preceded by pallbearers on foot, the mourners stumbled through brambles as they forged their way to the graveyard.

        Returning from the burial, I remember Uncle Lige—resplendent—in long hippie hair and his funeral clothes, somersaulting with his lover Jack—down the hill through the fallen leaves.

        Uncle Lige was killed when I was 13. Like Granny, he is still with me in spirit. I’ve often called on him for his support and inspiration. He once said to my mother, “Don’t be surprised if Eric grows up to be Gay like me.” Maybe it was the way I’d stare at him, studying his every move—each flex of muscle—his facial expressions. Now, Uncle Lige watches over my shoulder as I wander the streets of New York City and inhabit his former East Village neighborhood. I wonder what it’s like for him, seeing our world swept by a plague.

        Uncle Lige used to say, “You have to learn to bend like the willow.” I didn’t understand what he meant until AIDS came into my life—and death became a constant “companion”—enveloping comrades in such rapid succession that I trip over the count and would lose their names if they weren’t housed in my memorial file:

        There is young blonde Scott with the bright green eyes; Carlos—and Australian Tim—Fair Pam—and the Jones boys, composer John and Jim the painter—David, the artist and activist—there is Huck, the frenzied Aries—beautiful Santiago and Zany Ann—Blue-eyed Roland—Lovely Tina—and Sweet Adrian…

I walk with the shadows

of the men I’ve known

and loved and tasted –-

and feel, even still,

the warmth of their breaths 

against my skin.

        The spirits of my friends and lovers who died of complications from AIDS commingle with my departed ancestors—an extended family tree.

        My guardian spirits abound—sending me back into the world. Each lends their individual attributes. They strengthen me as I feel my footing and learn to walk again in a world I was prepared to leave. My guardians have not relinquished me in my revival. They are stronger in me, as I am in myself.

Visitation (Fire Island)
2012, silver gelatin print, 20×24 inches

A Conversation with Artist Eric Rhein

New York based artist Eric Rhein speaks about his two exhibits, Lifelines, which
have been on view in his home state of Kentucky.
Lifelines is an exhibition at two locations in Lexington: at Institute 193 through
July 27 th , and the Lexington’s 21c Museum Hotel, through the end of August.
Todd Lanier Lester, of the Luv ‘til it Hurts campaign, asked Eric about the
shows—and his current and ongoing concerns.

What is the significance of your showing your work in Kentucky?

First, I want to thank you for having this conversation with me. As it happens,
today is the last day of the part of the show that’s at Institute 193. While the
companion show at the 21c Museum Hotel runs through August, exhibitions are
fleeting and only those who are geographically near have the opportunity to see
them. So, via this conversation, it’s rewarding when my artwork and the history
embodied in it can contribute to the conversation around HIV and AIDS, beyond
the walls of those exhibitions.

But tell us: How is Kentucky a special place for you?

Presenting Lifelines in Kentucky has a particular resonance. My family roots are
in Kentucky, and a sense of heritage and lineage are important to me. My Uncle
Lige Clarke was a formative pioneer in the Gay Rights movement of the 1960’s
and 70’s. He and my mother grew up in Hindman: a tiny, rural town in
Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountains—yet he had the fortitude to help lead the
way to an expansion in gay identity through his activism, like helping to
organize the first picket for Gay Rights at the White House in 1965, and also
founding and editing the first national gay newspaper, Gay, with his partner Jack
Nichols, in 1969. I see my drive to include my HIV status in the context of my
artwork as being linked to my uncle’s activism.

How does your memory of your uncle tie in with your own growth?

My uncle had a spiritual core, cultivated through his studies of Yoga and eastern
philosophies, and his appreciation of the great American poet Walt
Whitman—in fact, he always traveled with a copy of Whitman’s book-length
poem, Leaves of Grass. My uncle’s legacy—a liberated vision of life as a gay
man—was passed to me through my encountering autobiographical books
which he wrote with his partner Jack Nichols. That was just when I was entering
puberty and finding myself. Their book about their relationship and activism, I
Have More Fun With You Than Anybody, continues to inspire me. Further, AIDS
activism—which has a spiritual aspect—has contributed to the evolution and
visibility of LGBTQ identity.

I’m quite taken with the title of the two shows: Lifelines. Where does this title
come from?

In the Institute 193 show is a series of three photos that I call Me with Ken. A
photo, from that series, is titled Lifeline. So the name of the overall exhibit
comes from that—yet reaches beyond to encompass themes running
throughout my work and my purpose for showing it. In that Me with Ken series
(which is from 1996) I’m pictured with my then boyfriend Ken, and it was
during the summer that protease inhibitors were initially released. Due to my
having been on those new medications, as part of a study, I was rapidly gaining
a renewed vitality. Ken hadn’t yet accessed the protease inhibitors, and was on
daily IV drips for declining health. Hence “lifelines” refers to this, and to a larger
interconnectedness as well. The intimacy and tenderness, heightened within
that period of shared vulnerability and mutual-caring, is shown in that series of
photos—and is something that I hope runs through my body of work, from my
photographs –to my AIDS Memorial Leaves.

I know that your project, Leaves, is an important part of your body of work. Can
you tell us about it?

Leaves is an ongoing project which is a growing memorial to those I personally
knew who died of complications from AIDS. For each individual (and sometimes
for couples), I express my sense of them through a wire outline of a leaf.
Lifelines also points to an intergenerational exchange that is important to me.
When Paul Brown, the director of Institute 193 first came to my studio, two
years ago, it came out that he was about to turn 27, the same age I was when I

tested HIV positive in 1987. He had gravitated to my portfolio of photographs
depicted me and my companions in the 1990’s, sighting that they affirmed an
intimacy during the height of the AIDS epidemic, which contradicted the
narrative he’d been given when he first came out. Paul shared that his coming
out, like many men of his generation, was colored by associating being gay with
HIV—and, consequently, fear of sexual expression. Shifting the narrative he’d
inherited to a more expanded one, was primary to our working together.

Can you say a bit more about the relation of HIV to your artwork and life?

Having lived with HIV for just over three decades, I’ve found that there’s a real
potential for transcendence—yes, even within this complex history of
vulnerability, loss, and survival (and, maybe, sometimes, because of it.) Sharing
my artwork, which came through my experience of HIV and AIDS—and sharing
it with younger generations—brings a sense of purpose and healing.

I hear that you have written a piece that corresponds with many of the themes
you’ve explored in your artwork (and which we just talked about). Can you tell
me more? Will we have access to it soon?

Yes, “The Gathering” is a piece that I’m happy to share with the Luv ‘til it Hurts
community—and I’m glad to send it along soon, to be available on the website.

One more thing: is it true that there’s a book coming out on your work?

Yes. It too will be titled Lifelines—and will come out early next year.

  • Rain (self-portrait), 1994 Silver gelatin print, 20x16 inches

= = = = = = =
Lifelines, an exhibit of Eric Rhein’s work, continues at the 2c Museum Hotel
through the end of August, 2019.
21c Museum Hotel
127 West Main Street
Lexington, Kentucky 40507
Eric’s website is:

= = = = = = = =

House of Zion Debut at Luv ‘Til It Hurts Launch

[*Before Pony Zion took part in Cidade Queer and Luv ’til it Hurts, I had the opportunity to attend one of his workshops in Lecce, Italy. xot]

In his own words, Pony Zion describes his motivation for sharing his dance performance and choreography on the occasion of Luv ’til it Hurts‘ NYC launch:

“This is one of those extremely special moments in time when we get to connect in artistic communication and celebrate one another through the expression within our gifts and on top of important platforms that were  built to Lead, Learn and Love. Together, let’s explore our imagination, share our minds and live by our talents by engaging in our Luv ‘TIL it Hurts.”

Pony Zion is a father, dancer, choreographer, performer, creative director and Icon of the House of Zion. He started the House of Zion in NYC and helped open its first chapter in São Paulo, Brazil. Pony has starred in various videos and films, including Lanes (2015) and Vogue Theory (2015) that discusses the impact of Voguing on NYC youth, and is the founder of Vogue Revolution.  

House of Zion

HIV/AIDS Testimonial Art Story

Joyce McDonald is an artist in many senses of the word. She is, of course, a literal artist: a talented painter and sculptor whose works often capture in stark relief the gamut of emotions she’s experienced throughout her colorful life. Joyce is also a weaver of words: not just as a poet or a songwriter (she is both), but also as speaker for her church’s AIDS ministry and assistant director of its children’s choir. We are celebrating her for Love Positive Women 2019.

Love Heals

Being invited to write as an artist, to be celebrated for the campaign Positive Affirmation Day, felt great. I had a sense of pride, a warmth, a worthiness, feelings that I am learning to cultivate, so sure, I’ll support Love Positive Women, tell me more…

“Luv til it hurts”


Now I feel unsettled, confused, triggered.

I breathe, 

I am a survivor of intimate partner violence, 

I am breaking the silence.

I am very good at distracting myself, numbing, changing the subject, moving on I avoid facing my painful memories, I don’t talk about it, I didn’t talk about it, and yet just right now, I can share. As I write I realise that, just as my life incrementally fell into the depths, I have since, slowly climbed up the mountain and now there is no fear. I am not worried about provoking threat or disturbing the peace, 

I am free. 

The time line to this inner strength is long and complex, 6 years ago my home had a police sig marker and panic alarm, 4 years ago I still reacted with hysteria, 3 years ago with despair, 2 years ago I took back control. In December 2018 I had to contact the authorities because a protection order was broken, but I was calm, for the first time I didn’t feel I needed to run,

It didn’t hurt anymore. 

25 years ago I fell in love, I had found my king and he treated me like a queen. I was blinded by romance, dance and faith in a future forever, I know now that I did not love myself, I believed I was not enough on my own, I needed another, and so when things changed, I could not let go.   

He was the father of my children, my husband for better or worse, in sickness and in health, sometimes furious, sometimes fragile. I was forgiving and couldn’t see any other direction, it’s so difficult to see the light when you have to wear sunglasses to hide the bruises. We fought, then with the reality check of HIV we fought even more, and I stayed, I lied, I cried. This is not love, this is anger, bitterness, frustration with life’s struggles, debt, drugs, diagnosis. It is pain and has an aftermath, that arises in any new relationship I try to form, flinching, questioning, an inability to build trust, to feel safe, to completely embrace. 

Today the past feels lighter, I have found ways to move forward, to be independent, to love myself. I celebrate my perfect imperfections and with my sisters I build strength and solidarity. 

I am an artist, and with each image I help to create, each story I listen to, there is an increase in awareness that I am/we are not alone there is a message of empowerment. These connections have filled my heart and healed my wounds, through women that share my status, and women that support us, I have learned love.   

I am loving positive women

I am loving me

I am luving til it uplifts us all.


Piece: $oropositiva
Collage on greaseproof paper and serigraphy
30x 40

Micaela Cyrino, 30, is a visual artist and militant of sexual and reproductive rights, blackness, and HIV / AIDS, in her artistic work and in her participation in groups such as Coletivo Amem. She graduated in Visual Arts from Santa Marcelina University. (São Paulo, Brazil)

Letter Report

Hi all this is a report that the musician that worked with me producing and thinking the music of my last completed worked named “Fantasia casi soneto después de una lectura de dan(c)e” sent me after going to ArteBA Focus (version of the big art fair in Buenos Aires done by the same people):

Hi, Dudu, how’s it going?

I was on ArteBA Focus for a while, all right. I give you a brief report: The work was in a plasma TV of acceptable size, but had no headphones, and the environment was too noisy to be heard well with the speakers of the device. Also, when I went, the video had a jump, a line of slight horizontal digital noise, which appeared cyclically and affected everything, video and audio. Still, it could be said that, given the context, the work was “intelligible”, and in fact, I saw several people stop to look at it for a while. Very good photos of you too, I liked them.

The sample, in general ok, although nothing dazzled me: – [

After reading this email this morning I felt like taking this as a chance to say more and to send it to you, curators and people working and deciding about art nowadays.

I am now living in Frankfurt and these pasts days had been the first depressive days I had here.

After being yelled while transporting myself through the city twice, Friday around 8AM and Saturday around 00AM, I decided to create a new sound work called “I love you Frankfurt”, that actually I had this idea way before but now it´s urgent for me to do it. Will be done soon hopefully.

As I am far from my Umbanda Terreiro in São Paulo, I have to appeal to some improvised healing like having a haircut today as I always do when feeling down. Today my haircut was only to leave the knife I have tattooed in my head visible to others. Now I feel cold in my head.

Great haircut to go to my Ausländerbehörde Frankfurt (Foreigners Department) meeting in 20 days! To try to get my visa, not having reached the money I need or either a sponsor who could sign a letter. Yet.

I never forget listening to Cuauhtémoc Medina talking about the meaning of Curatore.: those who used to take care…of money (back then).

But I sold two photos in the art fair! From which I have to discount half from both for the galley (fair) and production of everything (fair). I need now to think how to do to make the money travel from Buenos Aires to Frankfurt. Hopefully a friend will carry the papers for me.

Thinking about this art fair experience I do need to think of doing an exhibition soon, and I do have works ongoing:

I’m waiting for a dramaturge called Carol to come back to Guissen (next to Frankfurt) from Japan (she was at Kyoto experiment) to start a new project I already started here: performative film about a choir that sings problems in German. Their problems doesn´t seem the same as mine problems. I have a lot of ideas already for this, it´s exciting.

And I also decided to continue my blind project video with only sound, with the two amazing persons Luiz Carlos and Paula who are in São Paulo. Something good will come out from this as long as I can still be here to use the studio sound at school!

I also delivered a project here to see if I can get money for it, it´s called Incapazes. In a way it´s about art and care. A tiny for of this film was part of Jessica Gogan´s video about art and care where the curator Ricardo Resende that helped me in the beggining with this project as curator of Museu Bispo do Rosario (the museum that actually helped to get into the hospital as a pacient) I sent already this project for an open call in São Paulo, they didn´t choose it.

I started “Incapazes” last December in a psychiatric hospital in Rio de Janeiro. The material is waiting in my external hard drive and few notebooks, handwritten diaries, and now the project has another layer: doing a field research about art and madness and care here in Frankfurt starting with Heinrich Hoffman and the Sammlung Prinzhorn collection. Finger crossed.

I cried twice this weekend and talked with my lover who is now going back also from Japan to Salvador da Bahia. We talked about HIV and care and love…

And this email is mainly because I´ve been thinking about CARE.

What am I doing?

Today I thought a lot about what Willem de Rooij said in our first class meeting, in a way is like a ritual for him to send a photo of Nancy Reagan with the slogan Just Say No.

We all need to think a little more about care, and this should be translated to what we do. I felt really surprised reading that the city where I studied and grew up and decided to be an artist is or was at list for a couple days “An Art Basel City”. What does this means? I don´t get it. Are they buying the city or renting it? How are they helping there or what is their real interest? I´m curious (not that much reall). But one thing takes me to the other and seeing all those # and my work involved did affected me while thinking about CARE.

And finally: I wanted to deliver “Fantasia casi soneto después de una lectura de dan(c)e” with English subtitles for all of you but seems that I can´t download the program I´m used to use for this kind of work. So I will have to wait for this. Any way, the Spanish version of a work done during 7 months in what seems to be now an Art Basel City, the lovely but weird Buenos Aires FUCK MACRI, LOL:

Coletivo Amem – São Paulo <> NYC

Coletivo Amem is a São Paulo-based artistic collective that promotes festivals, performances and debates focusing on race, class, gender, and public health. 

Coletivo Amem ‘occupies’ São Paulo’s Container Theatre during Virada Cultural 2018.

For the last two years Coletivo Amem and House of Zion (Brasil) have visited NYC during Black Pride and #HouseLivesMatter.

The House of Zion in Brasil came about during a 2016 visit to São Paulo by New York’s Pony Zion.