Interweaving the arts into activism: ar+ogether art exhibition3 min read

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Art is admired, inspirational, and definitely not a taboo subject. HIV/AIDS on the other hand, is a different matter.

This is why ACAS– Asian AIDS Community Services presented ar+ogether (pronounced “art together”): World AIDS Day Art Exhibit. To commemorate World AIDS Day, ACAS brings impassioned artists together to showcase their talents and parlay positive images of persons living with HIV.

I was at the opening reception of this spectacular art exhibit on Nov 29, 2012. The entire third floor of the Glad Day Bookshop, was transformed into an interactive performance space.

At around 6pm, guests filled the room, mingling with artists and ACAS staff all the while enjoying a drink and the complementary pastries from Chinatown.

Mezart Daulet is ACAS’ Youth Education & Outreach Program Coordinator.  Ar+ogether was spearheaded by Daulet because he wanted to paint strokes of optimism and courage in the often dark portrayals of people living with HIV/AIDS.

I had the opportunity to speak to one of the artists:

Artist Lai Tak

“Freedom to Love” (L) and “Breakthrough” (R) by Lai TakPhoto by Kyuwon Kim

“Freedom to Love” by Lai Tak Photo by Kyuwon Kim



Q: Why did you want to contribute your art to the ar+ogether exhibition?

A: I’ve been involved with ACAS since the beginnings of this organization. I’ve volunteered with ACAS, translating their brochures and such because I admire and value the work that they do.

Q: Could you tell me a more about your two pieces of art displayed here?

A: Yes,  “Breakthrough” is an oil painting of a lotus flower. The lotus flower can be a symbol for people living with HIV; it grows in mud, but it is still pure. To me, it signifies strength and vitality as well as challenges. These characteristics are parallel to the emotions one feels when going through medical treatment for HIV.

“Freedom to Love” is a collage of butterflies, which are cut-outs from recycled magazine paper. I wanted to work with an environmentally-friendly medium, as a lot of art materials can be toxic. The butterflies are in a shape of the heart because we all need to love. We are born with love and we have to unleash it- rise above our fears and love. I believe that love is the best weapon to conquer discrimination.


Art of Treatment Photo by Kyuwon Kim

Along side professional artists, ar+ogether presented the art works of some of art-therapy participants. Art of Treatment was a program that was led by Kenneth. The goal of the program was the explore barriers to HIV/AIDS treatment adherence. “By creating art, the participants explored their relationship with medication, with themselves, with service providers”.

The reception began with remarks by ACAS Executive Director, Noulmook Sutdhibhasilp, who emphasized the World AIDS Day slogan: “Getting to Zero”. Sutdhibhasilp remarked that this ambitious goal of “zero discrimination and zero deaths” will be realized only with the collective action.

The evening continued with musical performances by Laurance Tan on vocals and Andrea Poon on the violin. Toronto City Counsellor Kristyn Wong-Tam gave final remarks. Wong-Tam praised ACAS for “doing fantastic, revolutionary work by reaching out to Asian Communities and fighting stigma by interweaving arts into activism”.

Photo by ACAS

Photo by ACAS

Photo by ACAS

Photo by ACAS

Photo by ACAS


The ar+ogether exhibit is free and it continues until Dec 12, 2012 at the Glad Day Bookshop. 598A Yonge St. Toronto.

Featured Artists: Gina Chung, Vince Ha, Euan Hwang, Lai Tak Ki, Hector Valladares-Aguilera, Derek Yee

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