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Thrift shop exhibits AIDS artwork by homeless youth
by Ariel Parrella-Aureli
2018-12-12

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December usually means holiday cheer, hot cocoa and family gatherings. For Monarch Thrift Shop in Avondale, at 2866 N. Milwaukee Ave., it also means honoring World AIDS day—for the entire month.

The thrift shop's latest addition to its display windows has one holiday angel made out of red cloth for a dress, a pearl necklace, Christmas lights and tree branches—all used items from the store. These often ignored or discarded materials can create a piece of art that people will stop to look at and react on, according to Mireya Fouche, merchandise manager at Monarch, which is known for its efforts in restorative justice, helping disadvantaged communities and reducing recidivism.

That is what the angel represents—the beauty within the broken or tarnished parts of someone or an issue—according to Fouche.

"That speaks volume for World AIDS day," Fouche said.

The angel is part of a partnership art exhibit called "In True Form," which shares poems, drawings and two angels made from homeless youth. Its aim is to show the community and youth that art can be healing and can spread awareness to people who may still see the stigma of the illness. Funded by the AIDS Health Foundation, the art was created by 19 youth ages 17 to 22 from the Covenant House of Chicago, with help from Fouche's other work as founder of One Heart One Soul, a traveling art program that serves homeless youth.

Fouche said she wants people to see that it is not a death sentence to live with HIV/AIDS, and it does not mean unhappiness. Creating a space for conversation and understanding of the topic is a central part of the exhibition—one that Fouche said should be much more exposed. It includes harsh statistics about HIV/AIDS that have been shocking to some but are needed to show the gravity of the issue, she said, adding they prove discourse around AIDS needs to continue.

"There is still a lot of stigma connected with it so with that it is hard for people to want to get tested to find out if they are HIV positive," Fouche said. "So, if we can do what we can to alleviate that portion and actually have these conversations, we can make it a trending topic to get tested and understand the status."

"In True Form" is on display at the thrift shop and the Corner Project, an art gallery space a block from the store, at 2912 N. Milwaukee Ave. Artist Lynn Basa, of Corner, offered Fouche more space to show the artwork because she was moved by the mission of the exhibit, Fouche said.

"The artwork the youth created is out of the conversation we had surrounding World AIDS day and those are hung up at the Corner," Fouche said.

Although the exhibit is already up, Fouche said the youth who created it have not yet seen its finished product. To her, the real "unveiling" of the exhibit will be when they come to the store and see their work on display.

"It's one thing to create it and it's another to know people are going to see it," Fouche said of the artists. "It takes a lot of courage and vulnerability with creating art but the youth are completely geeked about it."

Some of the poems on display tell emotional journeys of accepting the illness, moving past it and starting fresh, along with how it has affected daily life and what the youth have learned from their struggles. Sharing their broken pieces and turning them into beautiful art is the grand metaphor of the exhibit, Fouche said. It is an uplifting message to a negative perception and a goal to bring into the new year.

"If we can make these hard topics beautiful, I feel like more people will be involved, engaged and aware," she said. "The partnership with Monarch, One Heart One Soul and the Corner Project is like seeds being planted for greater things to come in 2019."

The exhibit runs through Monday, Dec. 31; visit logansquarist.com/calendar/in-its-true-form-art-installation-for-world-aids-day/ .


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