I was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta — a city known as Canada’s beef and petroleum heartland, built amidst the prairies and the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.
I came of age admiring the graffiti on freight trains and eventually began to participate in that culture. I developed a love of image-making and became focused on creating art after my HIV diagnosis.
I was diagnosed with HIV in 2009. When I received my diagnosis, I was emotionally devastated. Leading up to that point, I’d been feeling so defeated and broken. I already felt so physically close to death that I weighed the consideration of ending my life.
I remember every instant of the day of my diagnosis up until I exited the doctor’s office. On the way back to my parents’ home, I can only recall feelings and thoughts, but none of the surroundings, sights, or sensations.
While in that dark and terrifying head space, I accepted that if this was my lowest point, I could go in any direction. At the very least, life couldn’t get any worse.
As a result, I was able to pull myself out of that darkness. I began to invite a life that would overcome what previously seemed burdensome.
My own lived experience of navigating through challenges as an HIV-positive person, and now as a father, inform a great deal of the work I’m inspired to create. My involvement and relationship to social justice movements also motivates my art.
For a period of time, I was much more comfortable distancing myself from talking about HIV in anything I’d make.
But at some point, I began to explore this discomfort. I’d find myself testing the limits of my reluctance by creating work based on my experiences.
My creative process often involves working through an emotional space and trying to decide how best to represent it visually.
I’d like to communicate some of my personal experiences to present nuances of how the frustrations, fears, challenges, and fight for justice might be relatable, plausible, and actionable.
I suppose I’m following a life filtered through the inescapable lens of AIDS, and the systems our world has created that allow this to flourish. I’ve been considering what I’ll leave behind in hopes that it can operate as a toolset to understanding who I am, and how that all fits into the puzzle of our relationship to each other in this life and beyond.
We’re your friends, neighbors, the bodies associated with another charity benefit, the original ribboned cause, your lovers, your affairs, your friends with benefits, and your partners. We’re your fight for better healthcare systems, and removal of barriers to their access. And we’re your fight for a world built free of shame, and instead full of compassion and empathy.
Following his HIV diagnosis in 2009, Shan Kelley was inspired to discover a personal, artistic, and politicized voice within the context of disease and adversity. Kelley puts his artistic practice to work as action against apathy and surrender. Using objects, activities, and behaviors that speak to the everyday, Kelley’s work combines humor, design, intellect, and risk-taking. Kelley is a Visual AIDS artist member, and has shown work in Canada, USA, Mexico, Europe, and Spain. You can find more of his work at https://shankelley.com.