Reflective Peace, is inspired by J, a man who is living with HIV. When I first met him, J was a pleasant and charming man who explained how his diagnosis and the fear of the disease led to a life filled with love, peace, and joy. When J found out he was HIV positive, it was the mid-1980s — the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Due to limited understanding of the disease, J felt that he had received his death sentence. As a member of the LGBTQ community, J had seen what the disease had done to his friend and how his friend’s death had affected others. J decided to retreat to a rural town in North Carolina to die alone. He soon realized that he was not going to die immediately from this disease. He decided to forge a new life for himself in the town. He began working at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, where he maintained the outdoor center and taught water sports. This job allowed him to be outdoors, use his hands, and develop relationships with others. For J, this was a rejuvenating and transformative period of his life because it allowed him to feel hope and peace. He felt stronger and healthier during this period. He came out to his friends at the Outdoor Center, and they accepted him despite the less accepting surrounding community. The fear of death faded away and was replaced with feelings of love and excitement for the future. Now, J is older and grappling with the effects of aging and prolonged medical therapy. He has developed chronic pain in his feet that limits his ability to travel and be active. Despite the frustration he feels, J still remains hopeful and content through using other coping mechanisms for his pain. He meditates often to center himself and disassociate from the pain. Meditation is also an expression of spirituality and faith for J that allows him to feel a connection to God and life outside of the pain.
Reflective Peace is paintings that aim to symbolize the coping mechanisms my patient uses to deal with the hardships of his life. Both paintings take creative inspiration from the artist Steven Castillo, who uses acrylic pour as the foundation of his paintings. I wanted to use acrylic pour because it reminds me of the unpredictable ways life unfolds. I chose to paint the lotus position and hands to celebrate the way J came to terms with his diagnosis and chronic pain.
About the Artist: Jennifer Okunbor
My name is Jennifer Okunbor, and I have always engaged in the arts since I was a little girl. Art has been an outlet for me to express my emotions and perspective. I appreciate the opportunity to transform a medical narrative into a visual piece that evokes emotion and reflection. I believe that medicine is imbued with opportunities for creativity and moments to reflect on life and health. I love seeing the intersection between the arts and sciences, and I appreciate SCOPES for challenging me to create an intersection.