Brendan McHugh is a graduate student in the Department of American studies at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. In addition to Shanti Project, he also researches and writes about harm reduction and the history of women living with HIV/AIDS in the United States. He’s written for Nursing Clio, Disability Intersections, and is a book reviewer for The Oral History Review. He is currently developing a podcast and book based on this website. Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/brendanexplain1
The further I’ve gone in depth researching and writing about Shanti Project the more I see its pertinence to our current cultural and sociopolitical moment. For the past ten years, I have been engaged in a deep relationship the archives and materials that tell the story of Shanti and for the past five years I have been speaking with people who came to Shanti to care or be cared for, or both. One thing that has become clear to me is that the duality of inner personal change and social change is a false one. I hope that this work will instill for people that social change and care of others and self are not mutually exclusive. Social change can’t be done at a distance. And our own self-work can’t be done in solitary or solely our therapist office (if we are privileged enough to have a therapist). As Linda Maxey told me in our interview together, how can you give support if you aren’t getting any support yourself? I hope that the breadth of stories here and the images and voices will make us realize that.
Every time I sit down at my computer to go through Judi’s group portraits of Shanti volunteers; I am met with overwhelming questions. Who are these men and women? How did they grow from this experience in the midst of such darkness and pain? Are they alive or dead?
It’s heavy because most of the men in these photos; they are probably dead. Or, their friends are dead. Who will identify them? What were their names? How did they navigate the epidemic? When they passed away did they feel loved? That uncertainty compounds my own uncertain feelings about death, dying, and leaving the world too soon. But, I hope I can learn their story, find their names, feel love towards them. This extends to the women who died of AIDS. How infuriating it is that they were put between a historical and literal rock and hard place. They were disappeared by our culture in its own way. I can’t let that happen an I hope you won’t either after viewing this project.
AIDS/HIV is a huge generational trauma that keeps extending itself. I hope this project and the reset of my work on the subject can be a tool to help society process this trauma when, as a whole culture, we decide to reckon with how we did or did not act, which people chose to care and love and fight for these people and who did not. And what does this all mean for those that these men and women left behind? I’m hopeful that this excavation and highlighting of feeling and social transformation will assist in that process if not push for a true reckoning of the impact of AIDS in this country.