A time when to be gay and HIV positive was dangerous – a response to the David McDiarmid exhibition


To say that the works of David McDiarmid are exciting, confronting and challenging would be an understatement, but it would also not do them justice. McDiarmid’s works reflect a time of change in Australian society, a time when gay men and women were becoming that little bit more visible on our televisions and in the news, but also a time when to be gay was to be marginalised, and with the advent of HIV, stigmatised.

This exciting new exhibition at the NGV Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square showcases some of McDiarmid’s better recognised works, as well as pieces that have not been seen in public before. David McDiarmid was born in Tasmania but his family moved to Victoria when he was quite young. After studying at RMIT he moved to Sydney where he joined the campaign for gay civil rights.  His works tend to reflect the issues confronting the gay and lesbian community of Australia at the time, and McDiarmid was a passionate advocate for human rights all his life.

After speaking to a number of people who knew McDiarmid it became obvious that he was a man who was very much loved and very much respected. His works do not just mirror a time, they also mirror a man very much in love with life, but also very much aware of its harshness.

The works on display cover a range of media, from fabrics to collage, from posters to holographic mosaics. Some of the images are uncompromising in their depiction of the male nude, but they aim to subvert what the ‘mainstream’ sees as degenerate and reproachful into messages of love and fun for a group that was increasingly being marginalised because of HIV.

The marginalisation of gay and lesbian people in Australia and the stigma associated with HIV are very much at the forefront of some of the pieces on display at this exhibition. The representation of the male in many of the works certainly provoke a sense of unease, almost anger in that we, as gay and lesbians, should not be denied the right to celebrate who we are, a hedonist pursuit of the fun things in life, such as sex, but there’s a twist. In celebrating ourselves we must not forget the impact of our actions, and the possible consequences of this hedonism, HIV.

McDiarmid draws on common motifs in Australian and international art. His images of the square-headed figures in the various safe-sex campaign posters reflect the works of Sidney Nolan’s “Ned Kelly” range of paintings. Likewise his use of everyday disposable items in other works draws on the work of Andy Warhol.

For many visitors to this exhibition some of the images are sure to conjure up memories of past lives, for others it will provide a window into a time not that long ago when to be gay and HIV positive was dangerous.

By David O’Keefe

The David McDiarmid exhibition is on at the Ian Potter Centre, NGV Australia, Federation Square, 9 May – 31 August 2014.

HEX – a Gen Y response to a Gen Y proposition


When you hear “contemporary dance piece based on the AIDS epidemic”, it spikes your interest and intrigue, wondering how they could possibly portray a theme like that through dance. That question was quickly answered when the show started, with the dramatic materialization of the Grim Reaper on stage. That moment was incredibly confronting; being HIV+ and seeing the sinister image of the Grim Reaper that I remember so vividly from those frightening commercials I saw as a child.

This uneasiness transitioned quickly for the entire audience as the Grim Reaper proceeded to bump and grind to a seventies disco track. It was an ingenious way to open the show, and the HIV themes were incredibly evident throughout the performance.


James Welsby has managed to tell a remarkably moving story purely thought movement and music.  One of the many highlights was the use of Queen’s classic “Another One Bites The Dust”. The sampling of the track, and hearing Freddie Mercury’s phenomenal vocals allowed for an insightful portrayal of the fear which existed at the start of the epidemic in the eighties.


The performance then progressed into the nineties with music from Ace Of Base, and the audience are confronted by a representation of what can only be imagined was the worst of the epidemic.

To conclude the performance, Welsby used a couple of red ribbons attached to sticks which he spun around himself as the finale drew near.  The unforgettable climax can only be described by saying it exactly as it was; Welsby dropped his pants, and with his ass exposed to the crowd, he proceeded to use his hands to move his butt cheeks to the Operatic music which was playing. it was quite a spectacular sight to see!

The performance didn’t miss a beat, and the movements were powerfully executed and provocative. The audience left the theatre not only having experienced a brilliant dance performance, but also with a powerful and clear message about community and the changing landscape of HIV.

By Dean Camilleri



Hex – a response by David Cuskelly



Very easily – Hex impressed me last night.

The performance itself was smart, had moments of humour, moments of sex, moments of loss, of life and well portrayed our brothers’ and sisters’ stories of resilience, opposition, battle, endurance, strength, continuation and hope. I liked the way Hex depicts our Gay & Lesbian history. Moving through that huge shift; where everyone at the time experienced loss and those that made it to the other side ensured those left behind are remembered. Very nice work James.

The only emotion that the performance seemed to miss was fear. It then occurred to me – James is too young to have experienced any of that initial fear. He has only ever known a world with HIV.

Then something else occurred to me: I’d actually ignored that the newer generations of the GLBTIQ community have only ever known a world with HIV. When did I close my eyes to that? Then James got me thinking even further – we don’t share our stories and experiences any more with each other as we once did.

Then I read the programme – James thinks the same thing!


I relished (and really still do) in the tales from Doug, the stories from David B. and all the experiences my older brother freely shared with me. These three men shared everything. From the good, to the absolutely hysterical, to the horribly terrifying.

It was amazing to have such a think tank at my disposal and I really got to appreciate everything that my brothers and sisters – the broader queer community – had personally experienced and intervened with to alter the future.

Is it that the youth of today do not listen to the tales of the past, or is it that my peers are not sharing their lives and loves as they once did?

I don’t know what the answer is – but I agree whole heartedly with James. We need to spark greater intergenerational conversation, and yes I mean both ways.

The show itself is very emotive and it made me reflect on my own thought process and my subsided and startlingly lacking involvement with GLBTIQ social commentary.

Last night’s performance has ignited something within that makes me want to ACT UP and fight AIDS all over again and again and again!

Thank you Hex.


A new dance work on AIDS memory, activism, sex and the disco from the perspective of Gen Y choreographer James Welsby at fortyfivedownstairs, 6 – 11 May 2014.
For more information on HEX, call 03 9662 9966 or visit http://www.fortyfivedownstairs.com