Ms. Dorothy Davis (left), Gloria Sturdevant (center), and Otto (right) pose for the “Stories of Triumph” photo exhibition. / Images: Sean Black

Atlanta World AIDS Day Photo Exhibition to Display Resilience of People Living with HIV

At first glance, the exterior of Buckhead Art & Company—a brick-and-mortar gallery located in one of Atlanta’s most upscale neighborhoods—appears to be more of the same—a posh offering for wealthy clientele that most residents 30 minutes south of I-85 would deem inaccessible. Yet, once inside, that perceived narrative is immediately disrupted. The space, its owner—Karimah McFarlane—along with 30 portraits of people living with HIV and allies in “Stories of Triumph,” a photo exhibition by photographer Sean Black currently showing in observance of World AIDS Day on December 1, are ingredients in an artistic gumbo that is Black, Southern, accessible, and deeply committed to fostering community.

Curated in partnership with Emory COMPASS Center and Gilead’s COMPASS Initiative, the exhibition is the culmination of a three-month road trip by photographer Sean Black to capture the strength and resilience of people living with HIV as the virus continues to have a disproportionate impact in the South. Black joins a growing list of 30 artists represented at Buckhead Art & Company, most of whom are from the Atlanta area and exist within a marginalized community.

Karimah McFarlane, owner of Buckhead Art & Company stands inside the contemporary art gallery
Karimah McFarlane, owner of Buckhead Art & Company stands inside the contemporary art gallery (left). The exterior of Buckhead Art & Company (right). (Images courtesy of Karimah McFarlane)

For McFarlane, a Decatur, GA native who acquired the contemporary art gallery in June, the exhibition is personal.

“I have people in my family who, unfortunately, have been impacted by the virus,” McFarlane tells GLAAD. “The stigma they get or have lived with has been eye-opening for me, so to even be able to shed light on these stories feels very personal to me and my family.”

In a previous interview with GLAAD, Leisha McKinley Beach, an Atlanta-based national HIV consultant who appears in the photo exhibition, said there is still a stigma associated with HIV.

“When we talk about what stigma looks like in Black communities…that thing is so heavy, and it is impacting our decisions to access and sustain HIV care and treatment,” McKinley-Beach said.

Shakita Jones, Founder and Executive Director of Central Alabama Alliance Resource & Advocacy Center, also appears in the photo exhibition. She tells GLAAD that HIV as a public health threat is unfortunately not an urgent concern for many people.

“One of the primary things people were saying to me was, ‘We didn’t know that [HIV] was still an issue,” Jones said.

Although the U.S. South accounts for only 38% of the country’s population, the region accounts for 52% of new HIV diagnoses, according to the CDC.

Leisha McKinley-Beach and Shakita Jones
Leisha McKinley-Beach (left) and Shakita Jones (right) pose for the “Stories of Triumph” photo exhibition. (Images: Sean Black)

McFarlane tells GLAAD the partnership with Emory COMPASS was a natural fit as both organizations are committed to philanthropic work. McFarlane recently hosted an exhibition for Ukrainian artists, with 85% of the proceeds returning to the artists. McFarlane says she is in “awe” of Black’s work.

“As a photographer, his attention to detail, his ability to capture the moments of healing that the individuals are displaying, is incredible,” she said.

Shadawn McCants and Masonia Traylor
(L to R) “Embrace”, Dawan hugs Ty (THRIVE SS), Ty with Magnolias, Shadawn McCants and Masonia Traylor (Images: Sean Black)

McFarlane says the programmatic offerings at Buckhead Art & Company for World AIDS Day exemplify her investment in wealth and community building while impacting culture.

“My whole purpose is to create wealth in traditionally marginalized communities, and art is one of the ways you can acquire wealth—financially, mentally, spiritually,” she said. “One of the reasons I acquired the gallery was to create spaces of community and joy by bringing people together.”

The “Stories of Triumph” photo exhibition precedes “Cocktails and Conversations,” a fireside chat merging artistic expression with health and well-being featuring prominent Black LGBTQ/HIV advocates and entertainers.

GLAAD reporter Dionne N. Walker will be in attendance. Return to after World AIDS Day for an in-depth report.