Visual Art: Albert Winn

Akedah (c. 1995)
Gelatin-silver print

Every month, because of my illness, I need to undergo a blood test. During the process, a tourniquet is bound tightly about my upper arm. At times when I've been on a study protocol for an experimental medicine, I've had my blood drawn every day. Having my blood drawn has become a ritual in what sometimes seems is a new religious practice, an AIDS ritual.

Over time, I've transformed this ritual in relation to my Judaism. I wonder if like Isaac, I am being sacrificed. This time to science. I pray that an angel will intercede and spare my life. When my arm is bound with a tourniquet and the veins bulge, I am reminded that I am bound to my illness. I look at the rubber strap and see tefillin. Sometimes the impressions of the leather straps from the tefillin are still visible on my skin by the time the tourniquet is wrapped around my arm. The binding of the tefillin is a reminder of being bound to my heritage. The straps also make my veins bulge. Except for the needle stick, the binding feels the same.

AIDS Dreidels (c.1993)

A variation on the Hanukkah game of chance, except in this case, no one wins.

The AIDS Mezzuzah

I was diagnosed with AIDS in 1990. It seemed to me I had no skills to understand the information concerning my own illness and death. As I watched my body beginning to wither I had to comprehend the new terms of my life, to put them in some meaningful form. I could only do that through my Jewishness. When I heard of AIDS referred to as a plague, I thought how ironic that I, a Jew, a descendent of those Hebrew slaves sparred from all the plagues, would succumb to one. I wanted a gesture that would causes the Angel of Death to pass by me, and thought about smearing blood on my doorposts.

The idea of an AIDS Mezzuzah emerged from the imagery of this Exodus story. I needed something that would transform my experience, while staying in the context of my tradition. I wanted something that would continue to make my life and my Jewishness meaningful, and bring a sense of order to the chaos I found myself living.

I have also been aware of the slow and ineffectual response of the Jewish community to the AIDS crises. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of Jews have suffered and died of AIDS, yet in an organized communal response, the Jewish would seemed silent. The effect on me was a sense of invisibility, of alienation and separation. I wondered how I could make the Jewish world take notice of the suffering that was going on in its midst, and thought of using traditional Jewish rituals, symbols and objects to deliver the message. Watching the blood flow out of my arm into one of the vials during my weekly blood test, I decided to use my own blood to put on the doorposts of my house.

Multiple Menorahs (1995)

Heal the World...Tikun Olam (1999)

The "Heal the World...Tikun Olam" poster seen here is a self portrait as I would envision a Zionist pioneer as an AIDS patient, or "AIDS Halutz-nik." It was part of a tzedakah box I designed for the Jewish Museum of San Francisco, in 1999, for an exhibition "Making Change: 100 Artists Interpret the Tzedakah Box".

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All pieces artwork © Albert J. Winn and may be used only with the artist's permission.