Jabar Esmael, the Philippines
For some of us, art is an antidote to different kinds of venom which may take the form of depression, self-doubt and tragedy amongst others. For Jabar Esmael, a Filipino gay man living with HIV art is a healing experience. It is a place where God and mortal men meet. It is a space where one transcends, sees the light—be the light —and an avenue to become an inspiration to others. For him, art allows him to express his self to the world and see better.
Since May 201, Jabar is a PLHIV. It was a journey which allowed him to discover himself and to develop a profound sense about his being. He got to experience a spiritual awakening but without a fair share of depression. He cannot deny that there was denial and anger when he found out that he was HIV positive. But the support of his family—especially the open communications he had with his mother—was fundamental for seeing light in this.
As a pivotal moment in his life, this experience humbled him and inspired him to share his story if chances are given. The support of his parents lifted his burden. He was able to speak for those who are not able to speak, especially those who are living with HIV.
For him access to mental support is most important for a PLHIV to start the process of acceptance, forgiveness to one’s self and continue life with a good outlook. He also stressed that gay men—and men who are having sex with men—should get tested regularly. It is only through early detection that we can prevent any infections that may contribute to the deterioration of our physical health.
PLHIVs experience mental health issues more than others. Painting has been Jabar’s outlet to visually express what he feels inside—views that he wants to share. He shows his anxieties and fears; happiness and joy; and worries and vulnerabilities through a canvas and a paintbrush. Being five years a painter, he considers art as a form of meditation where he can lose himself in his imagination.
Being more self-aware through art, Jabar learned to know his own boundaries and define his limitations. He is able to choose questions that he can answer and acknowledge his own state of mind, e.g. feel his emotions and learn when to say “no”. He acknowledges his own vulnerabilities and says that vulnerabilities without boundaries is not love to him. Vulnerability is a way of accepting ones story and it is one way of sharing ones personal story.
When COVID-19 outbreak began, Jabar was worried about himself. He thought he was at high risk to acquire COVID-19 and sought for information that allowed him to control his anxieties. He says that accurate information will save us and uses art to cope with the situation that the pandemic caused.
Although there was no memo of warning regarding Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) shortage, he nevertheless commends The Love Yourself Inc, a community-based organisation, which effectively puts measures in place for PLHIV like him to access life-saving ART.
When COVID-19 pandemic affected the livelihood of some PLHIV Jabar knows, he started selling his art pieces online. By selling his pieces he was able not only to contribute to those who are in dire need of financial support, but also share his message with the community.
Art is fluid, it does not adopt a certain shape or certain method. Art adapts to your own expression and is a result of how you express your inner musing and conversations. We can explore art as a non-violent, non-harmful but self-enriching way to express ourselves.
Check Jabar’s Vlog on YouTube.