Editor’s note: HIV/AIDS does not discriminate. The disease cuts across all socioeconomic classes and ethnic groups—and it’s an epidemic that has hit the LGBTQ community and people of color especially hard. At the time of this posting, Pride week began with a horrific shooting at a gay dance club in Orlando, Florida, reminding us of the power of art to spread the important message of peace.
By Christopher Marsala, Associate Editor
Last fall, a mural project called “What’s Your Sign?” was made public in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights district, on the corner of St. John’s Place and Underhill Avenue. Sponsored by Love Heals, an organization dedicated to educating local communities vulnerable to HIV transmission. The project features the work of 16 different NYC-based artists, and depicts a colorful representation of all 12 astrology star signs. The aim of the mural was to engage young people who might resonate with astrology and start a conversation around HIV and AIDS. “What’s Your Sign” is the brainchild of Jeff Beler and Frankie Velez, two main curators of the work, which will remain open for public viewing until mid-November.
“What’s Your Sign?” made its debut on Halloween last year, an auspicious date which coincided with Scorpio season. Given that this seductive, soulful sign deals with sex, reproduction and life/death issues, it came as no surprise to us that the mural would tackle a life-threatening disease like AIDS.
Love Heals dedicated the mural to the late HIV/AIDS activist Alison Gertz, who died in 1992, at age 26. Since her early departure, the organization has devoted itself tirelessly to promoting education and igniting conversation around HIV/AIDS, sexuality, and reproductive health, especially among New York’s black and Latino populations.
It was written in the stars that we stumbled upon this work of “Zodiactivism” recently, so we contacted the good folks at Love Heals to find out more about this inspiring project. Philip Hilton, the Director of Development for Love Heals described the concept of using 16 different artists’ drawn and painted images of the zodiac signs to spark conversation about HIV/AIDS was indeed a unique one.
Hilton described that the process for creating the mural was one of passion and purpose. The spectrum of artists was divided into zodiac teams, such as “Team Libra” or “Team Sagittarius,”so naturally, we wanted to know which zodiac sign (and team!) garnered the most attention. Would it be fire-starter Aries, analytical-yet-dignified Virgo, or spiritually and artistically inclined Pisces? While it’s obvious that each sign turned out beautifully, Hilton said it was the depiction of Alison Gertz herself by artist Jeff Henriquez, that was the most powerful. “The mural is anchored by her portrait,” he said.
Astrostyle’s core values are rooted strongly in equality, so we were thrilled to discover a public project that combined our passions for the stars and social justice. Hilton noted that the zodiac mural project received a lot of attention throughout the community. Even New York City councilwoman Laurie Combo asked for more murals like this one to be painted. (Yes please!)
On a national level, Hilton informed us that the Obama Administration has been instrumental in not only addressing the disease, but adapting to new HIV/AIDS treatment, with an ambitious goal of ending this epidemic by the year 2020. (Interesting astrology fact: In October 2017, Jupiter will enter Scorpio, a cycle that occurs every 12 years. Jupiter was in Scorpio in 1982, the year that the AIDS crisis first swept the U.S. Here’s hoping Jupiter propels us to that 2020 goal.)
There’s no doubt that “What’s Your Sign?” is an important tribute to anyone who has survived and even thrived with HIV or AIDS.
“It celebrates our successes, but it’s important to remember that we cannot rest on our laurels,” Hilton said. “50,000 new diagnoses of HIV are reported each year, and while that number has remained consistent for many years, it’s still 50,000 too many,” he added. We couldn’t agree more.
When our conversation drew to a close, we couldn’t resist asking Philip to reveal his zodiac sign. A Sagittarius with an Aries rising, he also told us that many of the Love Heals organizational staff consisted of fellow deep, thoughtful and inspiring Sagittarians, which in our opinion, made perfect sense.
As larger-than-life, worldly fire signs ruled by expansive Jupiter, this renegade group of Sagittarius artists have helped to raised awareness by bringing people together across social causes (and zodiac signs). If you’re in the NYC area, go see the astrology murals at 314 St. John’s Place in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights neighborhood.
Photos courtesy of Deborah A. Levine, LCSW, Executive Director of Love Heals, the Alison Gertz Foundation for AIDS Education
Cover photo and additional reporting by Andrea Rice
Christopher Marsala is an Associate Editor for Astrostyle, and has written and contributed to various personal and public blogs including FindingCupid and Rebelle Society. A recent graduate of Muhlenberg College with a BFA in Music and Women’s and Gender Studies, he has always enjoyed singing/songwriting and engaging in sizzling discourse on sexuality and the ever-shifting nature of personal identity. Chris had his first fateful encounter with astrology three years ago, and has been hooked on stargazing and chart-reading ever since! A proud and bold Sagittarius, he’s excited to set the world afire with a spirit of adventure, optimism, and eternal expansion.