Since 2015, the arts nonprofit Visual AIDS has celebrated Valentine’s Day with women living with HIV through LOVE POSITIVE WOMEN (LPW), a grassroots initiative that uses the holiday as a backdrop for activism and advocacy through community kinship and artistry. With the help of Brooklyn-based paper-making mill Dieu Donné, LPW has invited artists, activists, and community members to design hand-crafted Valentine’s Day cards to distribute internationally to women living with HIV.
Since last year, MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, New York has become the location for Visual AIDS’s annual pop-up exhibition. From February 2 through February 5, over 500 handmade Valentines were mounted on the walls of one of the museum’s second-floor galleries alongside a video work detailing the history and impact of the initiative. The cards were sent off quickly in order to reach their destinations by the holiday.
From tender words of care and encouragement to carefully arranged accessories such as beads, yarn, lace, and sequins, an overwhelming amount of love pours from each card. Some of them have drawings and paintings of extremely round animals with preciously cliché captions while others dabble in collage and calligraphy for more mature proclamations of support and universal love. On February 2, the gallery was bathed in coziness from all of the loving sentiments steeped in warm pinks and reds, but there was also an air of optimism and adoration bouncing between the walls.
In partnership with the Fire Island Artist Residency, the Positive Women’s Network, and the Well Project, LPW has sent over 3,500 cards worldwide to women with HIV in a combined effort to fight the stigma and feelings of isolation that frequently accompany the autoimmune disease. LPW acknowledges the challenges of living with HIV as a woman while navigating the healthcare system, interpersonal relationships, and motherhood, and aims to boost awareness around the specificity of these social side effects.
“Why not do something nice for the women most forgotten about?,” LPW founder Jessica Whitbread asks in a text for the project. “Taking the time to do something for someone else is really beneficial to society as a whole. Don’t underestimate the value in something as simple as sending a valentine to a stranger.”
Anyone looking to get involved with LPW for Valentine’s Day 2024 should visit @lovepositivewomen on Instagram and keep an eye out for similar events and projects by Visual AIDS.