Oak Bay artist and HIV advocate Peggy Frank is heading out May 1 on a cross-Canada trip with her eight-foot martini glass sculpture

Oak Bay artist and HIV advocate Peggy Frank is heading out May 1 on a cross-Canada trip with her eight-foot martini glass sculpture

A hard pill to swallow for Oak Bay artist

Artist raises awareness of the complexity of HIV

Reyataz. Kaletra. Zerit. Norvir.

The names, strange to pronounce and numerous in variety, adorn pill bottles glued to an eight-foot sculpture of a martini-style cocktail glass.

They are all medications for people with HIV and concurrently bring life and struggle to those infected with the lentivirus.

Oak Bay resident Peggy Frank used to take 49 pills per day. She was diagnosed with HIV in 1987 after a humanitarian trip to Africa.

“I just felt like the medical nomenclature of calling the combination of drugs a cocktail was ironic,” Frank said. “It didn’t feel like a cocktail to me.”

As both an artist and an activist, Frank has constructed the sculpture out of plastic, a steel frame and hundreds of pill bottles. Frank and a friend are heading out May 1 to drive the cocktail glass across Canada, to the Kingsbrae Garden Sculpture Competition in St. Andrews, New Brunswick.

The piece is titled “This is not a cocktail party” and is one of 16 finalists at the competition.

“It’s neat for me because it recognizes the sculpture on its own, without it having to do with health and everything else,” Frank said. “It’s neat when you think of it from that perspective but it’s neat to think it stands on its own as well.”

Thanks to advances in medical science, Frank now only has to take five medications per day.

Not all the bottles in the piece, most of which were donated, are directly HIV medication bottles, but most are related, as HIV and its medications can lead to cholesterol imbalances, heart problems, depression and a myriad of other health concerns.

“The cocktail allows people who are HIV-positive to have the joy of living. And yet it’s more complicated than that,” Frank said.

The piece also features shimmering red ribbons from Kenya, giving the piece an African connection. Frank has an organization, called positively AFRICA, for which she raises funds and awareness to help support families and orphans living with or affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Different people see different messages or meaning in the piece, Frank said. Although it started out as a meditation on the number of pills people with HIV have to take, Frank said it began to take on new meaning for her as she realized the amount of plastic used to make all the pill bottles.

Frank figures she’s taken more than 2,000 bottles of pills over her 25 years with the virus. That’s a lot of plastic.

“The plastics are not easily disposed of, there’s residue of all the medications in each of those plastic bottles. What do we do with that kind of stuff?”

The cocktail sculpture will be making a series of stops in Canada along the way, where Frank will advocate for the HIV community and promote donations to her organization.

With HIV/AIDS not nearly the newsy talking point it once was, Frank said people living with the illness get somewhat forgotten nowadays. No longer a death sentence, an HIV diagnosis still brings a lifetime of health struggles and a considerable amount of stigma, which Frank believes discourages people from talking about it and getting tested.

“We talk about criminalization of HIV, we talk about people infecting other people, and I really think that’s not the story,” Frank said. “There’s a lot of policies that are based on fear and stigma, and they create a world where HIV is bound to flourish.”

Frank believes a vaccine is on the way in the next 10 to 20 years, and works to make the message of HIV one of hope, progress and life.

“All that research will eventually come up with some kind of resolution. I think we’re going to see a world without AIDS. I am hopeful. And then, there will be a cocktail party.”

Did you know?

Peggy Frank’s trip across Canada is not going to be cheap and she’s accepting donations to help get the large sculpture to the competition.

Anyone interested in supporting the journey can donate to the Cross-Canada Cocktail Tour through the Vancouver Island Persons Living with HIV/AIDS Society at vpwas.com.