Some articles take time to be written. There are a number of reasons why. For this feature on the artist Mary Fisher, which appears in the current issue of Popular Patchwork, the reasons were fairly straight-forward. Mary is a talented artist, whom I met at last year’s Festival of Quilts. She graciously agreed to be interviewed by email. Her work is fascinating and deals with a very serious subject matter: HIV/Aids and in particular, our treatment of women in sub-Saharan Africa who suffer from this terrible disease. So it took time for me to craft something that was suitable for an entertaining quilting magazine, read primarily for light relief, whilst treating such a subject with the seriousness it deserves. Hopefully for Mary and the other women she helps, I have got the balance right and have helped highlight an issue we would generally prefer not to think about.
For Mary, this isn’t a possibility as she has HIV too. Prior to meeting her and doing some more research, I had naively believed that with the new drugs on the market, it was pretty much life as normal for HIV sufferers in the West. You take the medicines and basically it is no more inconvenient than the migraines I suffer from and treat with drugs on a daily basis. Sadly, that isn’t the case, as whilst the HIV drugs prolong life, like all drugs there are side effects and these can be devastating. Aids isn’t a crisis that has passed, it is still ongoing and when you discover that in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa, half the population are infected and the life expectancy is lower than the years I’ve already achieved (and I’m young in quilting terms!), it is an outrage that more isn’t being done.
As well as being an artist, Mary has become a major international campaigner on this scandal and devotes much of her time to trying to make people aware and change lives.
I know this is more serious than things I normally write about on my blog: my art doesn’t affect life and death, but hopefully you’ve stuck with me to the end of this piece and will be inspired to try and do something about HIV locally or internationally. Ironically for Mary, as a white, upper-middle-class American Republican, she does not find much companionship/ support in the States as she does not meet many women in a similar position. In her book (well worth a read), she says that the contrast in the support she received when she was diagnosed with breast cancer was telling. People knew what to do in that situation. She often finds herself more at home with African women in the same circumstances as her: can I live long enough to see my children through education/college/marriage/parenthood. We should all be doing more.
PS If all this makes Mary sound over-assiduous and humourless, you couldn’t be further from the truth. There is a definite sense of fun and joy pervading her work and her life too. I strongly recommend you visit her website or read one of her fascinating books.