WARNING: Due to the explicit imagery and colloquial language used in this visual poetry to raise awareness about the crimes against humanity experienced by sexually exploited boys with HIV/AIDS, this page may not be appropriate for all audiences.
"In a moment when investigative journalism is considered too dangerous and too expensive and too time-consuming, international artists, poets, writers and storytellers from all walks of life and disciplines, have come together on Real Stories Gallery in good faith. They feel compelled to raise awareness. The stories are not easy to share - as either the speaker or the listener. We thank you for your understanding and for your compassion" Rachel Chapple, PhD (anthropologist, Founder of Real Stories Gallery, UK)
(visual poet, USA; Founder of The Studio/Cinematheque)
do not talk to me of hope/
help me take two across the border and the get-them-the- hell-out/
or is that too radical a notion for you to do/
The Studio is a residential 24/7 art program that serves as a safe house protection des témoins pourles garçons adolescents with HIV/AIDS who are also at risk for psychological, neurological, and developmental disabilities due to sexual abuse, gang violence, addiction, human trafficking, and cyclical prostitution.
The boys are reached and educated through painting, music, photography, video, film, dance, poetry, mentoring, and intensive counseling.
The idea of a safe house is fundamentally based on the dynamics of protection from what brought them here. Witnesses of a time and of a place. While the boys are very connected to the outside world through the interactive use of technology, their contact with that world is monitored in such as way as to prevent contact and/or relationships with abusers, pedophiles, and people from their past who would harm them.
The boys are thusly encouraged to utilize such features as banning within the context of social networks. Communications with the boys that are deemed as sexual invites will be banned immediately. Stalking, either physical or electronic, will not be tolerated and is specifically prohibited by EU law. Stalking is defined by us as seeking contact with boys who have either banned people or have requested that they be left alone. Any subsequent attempt to either arrange to physically meet a boy or continue electronic communication is reported to EU authorities.
Attempts to communicate with the boys that involve asking them questions about their personal lives, histories, relationships, legal status, physical whereabouts, private email addresses, or sexual preferences are regarded as stalking and will be dealt with accordingly.
We are a SAFE environment where boys at risk learn to empower themselves through the self-actualization and educational modalities of art.
*The Studio / Cinematheque Films: Arts Education: Students are allowed access to fair use art materials and mixed media in the teaching of iconic manipulation in photographic, video and film production. Representations and facsimiles posted here are presented as teaching tools and instruments employed to instruct students in the techniques and application of mixed media art and collage. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act allows art-teaching entities the fair use of such materials in classroom and teaching-research applications.
**Real Stories Gallery invites you to visit the work of Tim Barrus (visual poet, USA), who writes to raise awareness of the lives and experiences of sexually exploited boys with HIV/AIDS, and who founded The Studio/Cinematique. Please note no boys were harmed by Tim Barrus during the creation of his visual poetry: http://www.real-stories-gallery.org/search/node/tim%20barrus%20type%3Aartwork%2Cartwork_portfolio_item
"And in the end they possess another kind of awareness, silent, turned inward, riding on the mountainous, breaking waves of pain.
Heading toward a shore only they can know."
timothée barrus/ we are writing poetry (1/05/2011)
American book publishers loathe poetry. “Don’t quit your day job,” is common advice. And they are correct. Do not quit your day job. Nevertheless, this is a disconnect.
Christine de Pizan is a published writer who employs the pseudonym, Christine de Pizan, because, she explains, “if my American publisher knew I was active in the world of poetry, they would be very unhappy.”
Her New York-based literary agency, ICM, would have the same reaction.
The New York world of publishing has decided that there is no money to be made with poetry so why bother. Poetry in their rarified world is a liability. They want a brand.
In the States, Pizan is not perceived as a poet. “I publish cheesy novels,” she says. “The kind Americans love. They even think of it as literature. I think of it as something I can do instead of teaching. I’m a really bad teacher. I like to linger over individual poems. In teaching, there’s no time for it.”
The willingness and ability to linger over individual pieces of poetry is exactly what I was looking for.
Pizan has been working with the boys with HIV/AIDS at the Studio. Most of the work is over the Internet. I ask her if there is much of a difference between working with students who face mortality on a daily basis versus working with most adolescents who feel they will live forever.
“I don’t have to tell them to write something as if this could be the last thing you will ever write. They already know that. So they are more likely to explore places typical teenagers do not go.”
I ask Pizan why it is a poet cannot make a living writing poetry.
She sighs. “Call it a lack of imagination.”
Apparently, American publishers believe there is no market for poetry. This in spite of the fact that every urban area in both the States and in Europe has a robust community of poets and people who love poetry. There are always readings. There is always something going on.
I personally get emails from people asking me if a poem I have written is fiction or nonfiction. Americans seem confused. It’s poetry.
President John F. Kennedy
- Address, Amherst College, October 26, 1963 -
When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses, for art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.
Poetry magazines abound. Cutting edge poetry can be found on Facebook. Even high school students participate in slam (big time). Poetry is all over the Web. It’s on every college campus. It’s a wild world out there.
Then why are book publishers unable to find a way to market poetry. In fact, book publishers rarely even bother to respond to poets. Unless that poet has an agent.
I have never met a poet with an agent. What poets have are notebooks. To write the poetry in.
For that, there is no lack of imagination.
"Banned" by Gonkar Gyatso (artist, Tibet; © Art For Humanity)
Back at the Studio, the poetry that is sent to me is so powerful, but so intimate that I hesitate to put it on even my own site/blog because they’re minors. Caught between the morbid and the mystical. The living and the dying. Adolescent boys aren’t supposed to write like that.
Christine de Pizan laughs. “What they’re writing is infused with vitality. And sometimes a straightforward depression. They write about both the living of life and the end of it as well. There’s no trace of a lack of imagination. We are writing poetry.”
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu
(Nobel Peace Prize Winner, 1984)
No one should be excluded from our love, our compassion or our concern because of race or gender, faith or ethnicity--or because of their sexual orientation.
Professor Philip Goulder
(Pediatrician & Research Immunologist (HIV), University of Oxford, U.K.)
We watch carefully the people who inspire us, and listen to the stories they tell us; what we learn from them shapes what we understand, how we feel and how we act in the world.
Professor Andrew Tomkins, CICH
(Institute of Child Health, University of London)
Working with children who are infected or affected by HIV/AIDS involves pain and passion but words are often inadequate to express the deepest feelings and responses. Art and poetry however often communicate in deeper ways reaching our inner lives to bring truth and realisation. They also release new strength for respect, care and compassion.
Tim Barrus: Detach Us One-by-One (1/10/2011)
When the boys first started mashing, constructing, filming, and linking these images and issues, I was concerned. I was not comfortable. Not that the boys were unequipped to deal upfront with serious issues, but that the culture at large would not tolerate it. Indeed, we were kicked off Facebook. But I stepped back and told the boys to say what they had to say.
Sometimes what I do is a stepping back and a giving space to, and there are no guarantees you will not be run out of Dodge on a rail.
It is not an accident that the opening sequence is one of a child being raped. Many of these boys have been raped, and that is where it began for some with human trafficking. But I was curious about the fact that when they left the issue of rape, they went directly to the metaphors of dance. Dance being the symbolism of exerting enormous control over one’s own body. There are many repeated images (some of which they got from reading my books) where a boy is seeking both sexual contact and punishment from his older, female social worker. He receives both. The repeats turn this into a running theme like a thread. Many of the boys have had exactly such experiences while being incarcerated in juvenile systems. They move from there to images of brainless dolls and the issues of self-reconstruction. Brains literally cut off the doll’s head. One theme that is not so overt is the allusion of loneliness. At the end, we have more overt issues such as child abuse and homelessness. How are these issues that relate to HIV/AIDS. You can’t separate these issues from HIV/AIDS. Not even with the medical model. We need to employ the human being model. These are issues that dance themselves boy-to-boy (the dancing in the beginning was filmed in a church), and there seems to be no escape. I would argue that there is escape.
I would maintain that the first step toward escape is to acknowledge that these are the issues, and that they exist. Some boys have done this and moved on to issues around what are the alternatives. Some boys remain entrenched and overwhelmed by issues they cannot shake. I am still learning not to make judgments. Some boys only need more time. And I am impressed that the symbolism inherent in every single clip is that of movement.
Even if we had been run out of Dodge on a rail, the fundamental issue behind the idea of survival, is the issue of the idea of movement.
We move. Therefore we are.
There Are Many Versions Of A Life
This is the demonstration — protesting homelessness — where I met the core group of boys.
We all spent the night in two red tents.
We are not finished yet.
"Never Say Never – We Are The Boys"
some gone now
wherever dust is
everything is not arranged
the possibilities of escape
this lost way
the courage of adolescents
I am not normally aware of the extent to which my life is lived outside of the parameters.
Every now and then, I am reminded.
Professor Paul Webley
(Director of School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London, U.K.)
Stories and narratives help define who we are, and help us understand our world and what it means to be human.
timothée barrus/ i took them to the desert (11/27/10)
i took them to the desert
in all their chaos recorded in the log books
lucky me to hold their gaze so long
in the blinking noon of suns
drinking mountain dew in the seed-chest
of a heat mirage produced from arson
we didn’t do it, they claimed
i am laughing at their lies like scars
the downtown mongoloids all see sex inside their hatreds
i spit on the downtown mongoloids and their noise
we run from the sound of it
liquid screaming in our lungs
these boys had never seen the desert
i am the one who took them there
"What would YOU do"
Let us call him Sasha.
He's next in line on the Studio's waiting list.
One of our older boys has been offered a position as an illustrator. It's a good job. I want him to take it. He leaves Sunday. Saturday the boys are doing a send-off party.
Addiction: Fuck America. America has its own self-created problems. The real problem with addiction in the world is glue and alcohol. America is not the world. It is America.
Sasha is from a large Eastern European city where he has been living in the tunnels of an aging sewer system for the past three years.
No parents. He has escaped from three institutions. I am convinced there others we do not know about. The record-keeping has been negligent. There has been no one to care. Sometimes the records are incomplete because the kid has been abused in the institution.
He has no social skills. He's rather like an animal. It is a wonder he is involved in prostitution but he is. His health problems are significant. It amazes me men would want him but they do. He has infected rat bites.
There are social workers from a (very poor) charity who have attempted outreach but Sasha is violent.
I would call him feral [Mary Scriver's word].
His government would love to be rid of him.
Do I think Sasha can be helped.
That is not the issue. The issue is should Sasha be helped. Personally, I think he'll die within the year.
Do we take him in and make that year bearable or do we let him die alone in his sewer with his friends, the glue and the paper bag. Or a sock he stole. The one he sniffs the glue with.
I see no hope for this kid. Why would he even come with us. It has nothing to do with me. It has to do with peers. He's still a teenage boy, and his peers are important to him even if the ones who also live in the sewer system hate him and they do.
He would have peers among us. He knows that. He is aware of who we are.
I have some of his drawing in his file. They are not bad, considering they were made in a sewer.
Does any fifteen-year-old deserve to live in a sewer. The kid is dying as I write this.
We would have to face going through another death. It would be hard. Maybe too hard.
I've met Sasha. He's not unlike an animal.
I am going to put this dilemma in front of the boys for discussion. But I know what they will do. Kilian will be exasperated.
But what would YOU do. Take him in and let him die some comfortable enough death among people he knows. Or let him die alone and sick in a sewer. He could be scooped up and medicated with psychodrugs. This is theory. No one wants to do it. There are no plans to do it. People are just waiting for him to die in the labyrinth with the rats and he will.
What would YOU do.
the more you see it/ click it/ the less you see of god/
not even a pinpoint/ not even a molecule/
it's just another gun to use as manipulation/
you get angrier and angrier/
but then i usually stop and remember the other photographers i would drink with in hotel bars/
and almost all the ones who became angry are dead and disappeared/
and i really don't want to join them because there's just too much to do/
there are too many boys dead in the snow/
and those pictures just burn in a drawer/
and you do not open that drawer/
no god was there for them/ nothing/ and nobody/
and no one was there for them/
the worst part isn't even the bullets in the heads/
i'm sure that after living in a subway tunnel for a few years death is a relief/
it's their SHOES/
SHOES so dilapidated no one even wants to steal them/
i saw some whores last night singing pop songs to putin/ he makes me sick/
no one/ no one/ no media is going into russia/ no one wants to know/
the biggest red flag is when the mamushkas are fighting over potatoes the size of shriveled marbles and eaten by insects/
capitalism has done a great job/ it feeds no one/
i try to be nice to people who bring up the subject of god/
i try to not go off/
but they seem to have no idea how bad it is out there/
and it is very hard to keep my big mouth fucking shut/
at least when they drive the kids away to be trafficked they arrive with a nice big car/
and the trafficker will almost always be a woman who are nicer than the men/
just go to the cops/
whores do not just go to the cops/
i am a writer and a whore/
going to the cops is not anywhere near this deck of cards/
we delude ourselves with a multitude of illusions/
o let the united nations do it/
your systems and institutions are constructed for the privileged few
while the majority of human beings languish in ignorance, misery, starvation, disease, homelessness.
and despair; your united nations
with its declarations of rights inherent to humanity has failed/
your religions are your wars/
timothée barrus/ in rooms/ 12/7/10
and he waited to couple on the steaming nights or the colder nights up against the streetlight plunging into snow/
hot, cold, it hardly mattered with the angles of it dripping down his face when they came on him/
blind leagues and golden greeds with the angles of it sensing death’s accord inside the body count, he would survive today/
a meal somewhere/
these immediate things/ were all a russian boy could dream of/
perhaps half an hour on a computer where the gameboys played and he surfed the web for what might be compassion that would cum his way/
in a landscape where hope was a mythology/
to dream however briefly of being yet consumed in alliances with whatever he could sell/
to eat/ to not be hungry/ to not get arrested/
he had already eloped from how many warehouse orphanages and conduits to human trafficking/
perhaps enough sucking cock to buy some glue to blot the screaming hunger out breathing deeply from the paper bag/
which, for its part, the hunger, eats at the hole in his gut whenever he shits blood in the squatting in the middle of the subway tracks/
holes being the crawling down into the labyrinthine maze of darkness he lived in/
his mind bursting at the lifting, heaving overhead, of a bloody axe/
o moscow leningradsky train station 30,000 children live inside your filthy anal hole/
with the angles of it sensing only one way awaiting equilibrium and all of them are where your guts collide with the feeling of fatigue saluted at the grave of body counts and all the laid it down and falling in/
and they want to talk to me of hope/
do not talk to me of hope/
help me take two across the border and the get-them-the- hell-out/
or is that too radical a notion for you to do/
do not talk to me of hope and medication/
talk to me of how you will be getting off your white ass/
talk to me of art in motion/
talk to me of body counts where the angles of it sensing death’s accord takes his hand and pulls the boy by his lifetime across the threshold of a hundred years of pandemic’s voices singing champion/
Every Day Is World AIDS Day For Millions Of Children.
Every One Living Today
Was Once Upon A Time
"please speak up for the boy, who is courageously raising awareness"
"There are only two member countries at the United Nations that refuse to ratify the International Rights of the Child.
Those countries would be Somalia, and the United States of America."
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
"The rights and needs of children and young people are largely ignored in the response to HIV, even though they are the hardest hit in many places... HIV is significantly an epidemic of young people... Youth aged 15 to 24 accounts for over half of new HIV infections worldwide, despite unprecedented awareness of HIV and AIDS and its causes. Children orphaned or affected by AIDS are denied their basic right to social protection, even as their numbers swell to the tens of millions in sub-Saharan Africa alone" (Open Society Institute, 2009).
"Even when he was HIV-positive he still wanted sex. He refused to use a condom. He said he cannot eat sweets with the paper [wrapper] on" Sules Kiliesa (Uganda 2002: "Just Die Quietly").
"Many doctors in India refuse to treat or even touch HIV-positive children. Some schools expel or segregate children because they or their parents are HIV-positive. Many orphanages and other residential institutions reject HIV-positive children or deny that they house them. Children from families affected by AIDS may be denied an education, pushed onto the street, forced into the worst forms of child labour, or otherwise exploited, all of which puts them at greater risk of contractive HIV" ("Future Forsaken: Abuses Against Children Affected By HIV/AIDS In India").