Visions of hope

‘Coming Out’ at Firehouse 13; Dery and Easton at 5 Traverse
By GREG COOK  |  January 13, 2010

HANGING ON A portrait by Heuklom.

Shannon Heuklom of Providence spent the past two summers helping at a rural clinic, serving some 2000 HIV-positive patients, that is run by the nonprofit Hope Through Health in the West African nation of Togo.

"Fathers are going into cities to work, through some kind of sexual activity get HIV-positive, then bring it home to their wives," Heuklom tells me. When the wives become pregnant, they transmit the disease to their babies.

Heuklom brought along her medium-format camera to photograph patients visiting the clinic as well as people in their homes when she tagged along when workers from the clinic — who can speak from experience since they're usually HIV-positive themselves — to check on people's health, make sure they're sticking to their regimen of anti-retroviral medicines, and provide emotional support. "We can take a death sentence and turn it into a chronic issue and you can live a fairly normal life," Heuklom says. "And that should be for everyone."

In "Coming Out: The Story of Those Living With HIV in Kara, Togo, and West Africa" at Firehouse 13 (41 Central Street, Providence, through January 16), her color photographs offer glimpses into these lives. One shot shows a woman laying on a bench and a girl laying upon a rug on the floor of an otherwise empty room as if they've collapsed. In fact, it's a grandmother and her HIV-positive granddaughter who had come from far away to visit the clinic, arrived early, and napped while waiting to be seen. "Both her parents died from AIDS," Heuklom says of the girl, "which is pretty typical in the region."

TEXTURE Tobias Goulet’s Barn.

The medium format camera captures vivid colors, but it's a cumbersome device that seemingly limits Heuklom's ability to get into the midst of events. So it's not apparent what's happening in the resulting paused moments, presented here uncaptioned. That's too bad because the stories of tragedy and brave perseverance are the most powerful part of Heuklom's work.

Another photo shows a home visitor woman with an HIV-positive girl, maybe five or six years old, seated in her lap. The woman looks down at the girl's HIV-positive mother, a skeletal figure laying on a bed. They'd gone to check on the girl and found the stricken mom. "We got her to the hospital and the mother ended up passing away a couple days later," Heuklom says. "Sadly, we did not catch it in time."

Also at Firehouse 13 are photos by Tobias Goulet of Providence of winding cobblestone lanes in France and Spain, a cracked Utah salt flat, and a rusty chain at an old fortress in Istanbul. He has a surer sense of composition and texture in the black-and-white shots, which date back as far as 2001, than the color photos from last year. Particularly striking is an image of the side of a barn, weathered and warped and split by age and the elements.

At 5 Traverse (5 Traverse Street, Providence, through January 16), Jo Dery of Providence presents a mystical cartoony allegory about a curious raccoon and a chimney sweep haunted by turtles, plus cameos by philosopher René Descartes and economist John Maynard Keynes. And there are enticements to tap the animal spirit in the heart of your mind.

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