Grant expands history project of HIV-positive women

I'm Still Surviving

MAC AIDS Fund grant in support of “I’m Still Surviving,” an oral history project featuring women’s personal histories of living with HIV and AIDS in the United States.

The University of Illinois at Chicago has received a grant in support of an oral history project featuring women’s personal histories of living with HIV and AIDS in the United States.

The $70,000, one-year grant from the MAC AIDS Fund will expand “I’m Still Surviving,” a pilot program developed by the UIC-based History Moves project and the Women’s Interagency HIV Study (WIHS), a 23-year-old clinical research study of women living with HIV.

In 2014, History Moves and WIHS paired participants to interview each other and share their individual histories. They also worked with the women to collect personal items to accompany their narratives and develop a public exhibition, book and film.

With the grant, the Chicago-based initiative will expand to include women living with HIV/AIDS in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Brooklyn, New York.

Jennifer Brier, the project’s director, says expanding the program geographically will help to highlight critical subjects related to HIV/AIDS in diverse female populations as well as social and health care inequities.

“Their histories, when coupled with the narratives we have collected in Chicago, promise to expose new narratives about women and HIV in the 21st century that center women’s experiences of physical and mental health, racial and economic segregation over the course of their lifetime, and barriers they face to comprehensive care,” said Brier, UIC associate professor and director of gender and women’s studies.

Future goals of “I’m Still Surviving” include a new curriculum for medical and nursing students to learn about the connection between social and physical health through the public history of women with HIV; and HIV/AIDS public engagement and awareness campaign in under-served neighborhoods.

Brier, a historian who studies the intersection of gender, race and sexuality, says the stories and exhibition presented via the pilot program merge the history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic into the history of Chicago.

“The stories often share similar themes of heartbreak and courage, loss and pain, and tales of redemption, determination, and spirit,” she said. “This project seeks to make women with HIV communicators of their history.”

“In Plain Sight: A Women’s History of HIV/AIDS in Chicago,” an exhibition inspired by “I’m Still Surviving,” is on view March 4 – April 2 at Pop Up JUST Art Center, 1255 S. Halsted St. Gallery hours and more information are online.

In Plain Sight-I'm Still Surviving; exhibition

“In Plain Sight,” an exhibition inspired by “I’m Still Surviving,” will be on view at Pop Up JUST Art Center at UIC. Jennifer Brier with Matt Wizinsky, asst. prof. of design at the University of Cincinnati and graphic designer for the project. Photo: Jay Yocis

The project’s graphic design is led by Matt Wizinsky, assistant professor of design at the University of Cincinnati.

The MAC AIDS Fund, established in 1994, supports programs dealing directly with individuals with HIV/AIDS. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of MAC Cosmetics’ products goes directly to the fund.

History Moves seeks to make public history accessible and meaningful to diverse and often untapped audiences by collaborating with community organizations and residents to produce associated public programs.

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