Unclean & Friendly I & II, 2015, Digital prints on aluminum, each 24 x 36 inches. Photo: Courtesy of the Artist.
The politics and burden of “cleanliness” saturates artist Shan Kelley’s Unclean & Friendly I & II, but with nonetheless playful iconography. A Canadian artist, Kelley’s work must be read alongside the HIV/AIDS criminalization in his country that make being HIV+ all the more precarious. Failure to disclose HIV status in situations that pose a “realistic risk” of infection—however vaguely defined—can lead to severe legal consequences. Linking of illness to criminality, Unclean & Friendly I & II employ a series of icons—Casper the Friendly Ghost, Mr. Clean, Truvada—to call into question notions of “cleanliness” in legal, political, and bodily contexts—an exploration as relevant in the US as it is in Canada.
Shan Kelley (b.1977) was raised in Alberta, the rocky mountain prairie backdrop of Canada’s beef and petroleum heartland. His mixed medium practice sits somewhere amidst the slippage of intersections between art and activism. Kelley has a fascination for language, and the manner in which identity, risk, health, body, and belonging are deconstructed, created, and curated. After an HIV+ diagnosis in 2009, he became increasingly inspired to find his voice within the context of disease and adversity, and to push forward using art as action against apathy or surrender. Shan Kelley is a Visual AIDS artist member, and has shown work in Canada, USA, and Spain.