Welcome to The Year of the Rabbit

As communities around the world prepare to celebrate Lunar New Year, we at Team LPV hope that the year of the rabbit brings success and opportunity to our HIV community. To mark the emergence of the year of the rabbit, we chat with artist David Thai, who offers his insight into the world of the zodiac and explains his approach to his art.

What is your zodiac and what role does the Lunar New Year play in your life?

I was born in 1994 so my Zodiac would be the Dog. The Lunar New Year has always been a time in my life where the family comes together to celebrate. For me, it’s marked a time to reconnect and celebrate with my family – to whom I can feel estranged from at times due to a language barrier (not having fluency in Vietnamese) and vastly different lifestyles and belief systems. However, the Lunar New Year is that occasion where I can connect back to my roots and bask in the love and generosity of my family.

Do you think the qualities of your zodiac reflect who you are as a person/artist, or do you think it’s something that’s more open to interpretation?

While I do resonate with a lot of the qualities of the Dog Zodiac, particularly in regard to the loyalty and devotion I have with my closest friends, I do take astrology with a grain of salt. I think the human personality is so wonderfully complex and unpredictable that I almost kind of hate the idea that we have these prescribed traits and qualities from when we’re born.

That being said, I do love reading astrological fortunes and predictions out of curiosity and because they can also be a source of insight into an aspect of your life you may not think about.

You’ve recently had an exhibition of your work at the Victorian Pride Centre. Tell us about that work and how it reflects on you as a person.

The exhibition I recently had at the Victorian Pride Centre was around a photography series I created called ‘Ad Homonem’ that explores the quirks, intricacies and complications of my dating life as a queer person of colour. Using still-life imagery constructed with fruits, vegetables, plants, and everyday objects, I play with symbolism and pop-culture references to interrogate queer social norms and to poke fun at my tragic love life.

This exhibition and project is a reflection of the pride and empowerment I feel in my identity as a gay man. This exhibition is a declaration to finally say that I feel comfortable with taking up space and in my sexuality. What once was a part of my life I use to be shy and quiet about is now a powerful source of inspiration for my art practice. Throughout the process of creating this body of work it has shown me that artwork that is deeply personal, open and vulnerable will always be the most powerful work I can produce.

Your work is themed around sexuality and explores the topic of HIV. Tell us about that journey.

I was diagnosed at the start of 2021 right before the pandemic. I was incredibly ignorant about what it meant to live with HIV in this day and age so when I received my diagnosis, I truly thought it was a death sentence or a condemnation to live a shorter life.

One of the first appointments I had with an HIV specialist doctor was at St Vincent’s Hospital. I remember sitting in a lobby full of elderly and sick people waiting for my name to be called out and with this recurring thought that I was really going to die. I felt so alone. Maybe the most alone I’ve felt in my entire life. In our youth I think we believe ourselves to be invincible and invulnerable to the world. But being diagnosed brought me out of that perspective and made me realise how fragile my body and life was in general.

…and then the pandemic hit!

Often in moments of intense shame and self-loathing we have a million distractions to occupy us so we don’t have to sit with these emotions. But the pandemic and shut down of the world forced me to come face to face with my shame and honestly, at times, it felt unbearable. I ended up turning to art to make sense of being HIV+ and to channel my emotions – these feelings of shame, this sense of helplessness and the loss of faith in my body.

I think that was the turning point for me.

I created an art project that used nude self-portraiture juxtaposed with decaying flora as a method to explore the fragility of life. Just like how these plants were dying, so was I. But I began to see how beautiful that was – the beauty in fleeting life and imperfection. Over time my perspective and relationship changed with my diagnosis. To me, being HIV+ was a reminder to really cherish life because of how transient it is; to hold my friends and family closer and tell them I love them; to appreciate how resilient my body is; to be more open and vulnerable; and to stop hiding myself from the world and strive to be loud and proud. Becoming HIV+ was the best thing that could have happened to me. It woke me up.

From there, Ad Homonem, was born – an art series full of life, colour, humour and positivity.

What’s next in your artistic world. Do you have any similarly themed work coming up that we should keep an eye out for?

I’d like to continue creating new imagery for my series ‘Ad Homonem’ and I think it will be a recurring theme that I’ll explore the rest of my life. There are so many nuances, quirks and ever-evolving topics that come with modern gay dating. There is still a plethora of ideas swimming around my head for this series so I’m really looking forward to setting aside the time to make these a reality and to go further down the rabbit hole.

I would also like to create more art that specifically explores my experiences with being HIV+. I’ve been saving all the empty bottles of my medication in hopes of turning it into some sort of artwork – perhaps another still-life image or something sculptural even. Stay tuned. The possibilities are endless!

Learn more about David’s work at davidthai.com.au

Living Positive Victoria acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land where we work and live. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging. We celebrate the stories, culture and traditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders of all communities who also work and live on this land.