Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Interview with the Cast of Noah's Arc

Who haven't seen LOGO's Noah's Arc? I have, and I also got to interview two members of its cast. The feature article was originally published in A&U Magazine.  Here is "Waking Up."
Or read my "Waking Up" article at  

Thanks for visiting!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Learning through Art: HIV/AIDS in Books--The Secret Epidemic, by Jacob Levenson

The Secret Epidemic was reviewed by the New York Times. Here's my review, published in A&U Magazine. I believe the topic is still a fresh one.

Thanks for reading!

The Secret Epidemic - The Story of AIDS and Black America
By Jacob Levenson

Reviewed by Alina Oswald

Considered by some reviewers "the sequel of Randy Shilts' And the Band Played On," Jacob Levenson's "The Secret Epidemic" embarks readers on an expedition to the roots of the AIDS epidemic in "Black America." 

From the rural Alabama to San Francisco, New York City and the White House, the author interweaves personal stories, the role of black church, civil rights and AIDS activisms to create a realistic portrait of the AIDS epidemic in the United States.   

Throughout the read, we evolve together with the characters and take active part in their stories.  As readers, we interact with the tragic, bittersweet, also hopeful events in protagonists' lives.  We follow the social worker to a rural Alabama trailer park and struggle together with him to save the lives of two HIV positive teenage girls.  The enthusiasm of some of the first black researchers investigating the connection between cocaine addiction and AIDS epidemic is a true example of the power of perseverance.  We cheer for the young AIDS activist, son of an "elite" black family, who demonstrates in front of the White House.  The young HIV positive woman finding spiritual healing and strength to survive through faith challenges readers' own beliefs.   

Maybe the most inspiring story is that of a young man, Ato.  Sometimes, AIDS brings out the best in people.  Ato's is such an example, a story about his struggle with the disease and his legacy.  Throughout his ordeal, the teenager matures and starts to understand the importance of "fight[ing] AIDS, not the people with AIDS."  Despite his suffering, he touches other people's lives with his new beliefs about AIDS and its impact on life in general.  He finds the strength to open the doors to his closet and talk about his disease.  Determined to live long enough to make sure others "will not have to suffer in the silence that [he]'s suffered in," Ato prepares his own passing as an AIDS awareness event and leaves his mother in charge of his legacy... and Laura makes sure her son's wish comes true.     

The Secret Epidemic examines the importance of understanding the AIDS epidemic in relation with civil rights and race, in America.  It unravels not isolated incidents, but stories that make up our everyday existence.  Throughout the entire read, the author never presents AIDS as an isolated issue, but always a topic integrated and linked to many aspects of daily life.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Learning through Art: HIV/AIDS through Books--Acqua Calda, by Keith McDermott

At first I was hesitant to read and even more to write a review of Acqua Calda. I'm not quite sure the reason. Yet, the read was rewarding. Here's my review published in A&U Magazine, some time ago.

Thanks for reading,

Acqua Calda
By Keith McDermott
Reviewed by Alina Oswald

Do you believe in second chances?  Well... if you don't, you will after reading Acqua Calda; if you do, you'll learn to appreciate life's offerings even more.
The healing effects of Acqua Calda (Italian for "pleasantly hot water") extend beyond its characters and story to touch readers' lives and offer them a fresh opportunity to reflect upon their own existence and inevitable mortality.  Set in the mid-nineties-at a time when protease inhibitors were the new hope for AIDS patients-Acqua Calda offers its protagonist, Gerald-an aging, jobless, dying of AIDS actor-new hope through a journey that takes him across countries and continents, from the crowded Times Square and Gerald's lonely existence in which death is the only sure thing, to the remote Italian location, alive with the young group of actors.  Along the way, Gerald rediscovers his passion for acting, the possibility of new love and the strength to hope again in a future no matter how uncertain.      
Although it brings into the spotlight our own mortality, Acqua Calda interweaves the reality of living with AIDS and the adventures of theatre life, offering not only a close-up on one aspect of the pandemic but also an informative read for novice and aspiring actors.  As readers, we allow the story and its characters to introduce us to the world of theatre and provide us with a detailed image of the behind-the-curtain life. 
Keith McDermott's debut novel draws several parallels that help us reevaluate and improve our own existence: the therapeutic effects of "acqua calda" symbolize the effects of the new medications on AIDS patients, while Gerald's journey can identify with each of our real life expeditions in search for our own moment of sublime, of "ecstasy."
As readers, we follow in the characters' steps and experience the therapeutic effects of Acqua Calda.  We have a unique chance to learn from its protagonist's experience and better appreciate life's second chances.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Modern Crucifixion

Here is another excerpt from my book, Journeys Through Darkness, one that deals with modern crucifixion in our contemporary life. 

As always, thanks for reading.

The crucifix signifies the suffering and pain of the Christ. In modern society, it may signify the suffering and pain of people living with life threatening diseases, like cancer or HIV/AIDS.
    One cannot talk about crucifixion without getting into the whole issue of stigmata—the holes through which the nails permeated Christ’s hands and feet. Modern stigmata marks can be of a physical, cultural or lifestyle matter. In a contemporary society, with a deep foundation in computer-generated “beauty” and man-made “perfection,” living with a physical disability is many times considered below the acceptable “norm,” and, in turn, can attract unwanted attention, which can further lead to stigma. Those who fit in this particular category can become victims of modern stigmatization. 
Handicaps—that is losing the ability to use part of one’s body—and also disease can lead to such stigma. Cancer, for example, may require severe chemo-therapies or surgeries, may cause one’s hair loss or changes in physical appearance; therefore flagging the individual as having—or having had—cancer and, sometimes bringing unwanted attention or behaviors towards a cancer patient. But, while people may also react to a cancer diagnosis with a feeling of pity, sorrow or even fear, many times their reaction is completely different when it comes to so-called “shameful” diseases, as HIV/AIDS is sometimes still considered.  
Maybe the most society-stigmatized disease ever is AIDS. The reason for the HIV/AIDS prejudice has changed over the last quarter century or more, as it did the face of AIDS itself, which refers, really, to the whole physical appearance associated with HIV/AIDS patients and which, today, mimics the side effects to the newest medications and treatments.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Time for Shadows: Book Review

I've read all of T.J. Banks' books. What can I say... I'm a fan. It all started with her time-travel novel, Souleiado (I was skeptical, because I don't usually read this sort of books), but I was also hooked. Then Houdini followed, and Catsong. A Time for Shadows, though, is Banks at her best. Here is a review I couldn't stop writing for Shadows.

As a preview--Shadows is a timeless story of war and peace, of despair and shredded dreams, and also of hope, love, and dreams come true. It takes an unusual look at the war, in general, while painting the devastation happening behind the front lines of the Greatest War of all--World War I.

I hope will inspire you as much as it inspired me.

Thanks for visiting,

A Time for Shadows
by T. J. Banks
Reviewed by Alina Oswald

“All is fair in love and war.” Moving beyond the meaning of this saying, the war itself is unfair, as are the loss of life, the suffering and devastation it leaves behind. While they give the war a timeless perspective, it is not too often that they are immortalized in related works of art for future generations. 

Instead, as an audience learning or witnessing the war as portrayed in various forms of art, we’ve learnt to expect smiling soldiers going off to fight terrifying battles and winning against all odds. What we, the audience, seldom get to watch or read about are the raw reality of war and, sometimes, the irreversible way it changes those who’ve witnessed war atrocities first hand. The war--any war--doesn’t only change the lives of soldiers, but also of those forced to live the horror of war while trying to give hope and mend the broken bodies and souls of soldiers returning from the battlefield. For these caregivers--family, friends or nurses and doctors--for them, the aftermath of war becomes a real battlefield.

All wars have their battlefields, more or less known. Today, as the last survivors of the greatest war of all are moving on beyond this life, it is vital to use art as a means of capturing a realistic image of World War I. It is this particular aspect of the Great War that T. J. Bank immortalizes so vividly in her latest novel, A Time for Shadows, through a timeless story of life and death, peace and war, and also hope, a story that is passed on from one generation to another, from Iris--a caregiver, a nurse who’s experienced war and love while mending the broken bodies and souls of soldiers returning from the battlefield--and Dawn--a young writer, and also Iris’ caregiver, with a battle taking place within herself.

In A Time for Shadows the author captures the entangled, complex story of war--and, by extension, of any individuals put in extreme, desperate situations--while painting with words. And while doing so, with each word, with each stroke, giving a new nuance to the despair, the love, and also the inner strength that come to life in each one of the characters, thus making us, the readers, a part of their stories of survival.

Indeed, A Time for Shadows is firstly a multi-layered story of survival: the memories of war live on as they’re passed on from one generation to another, from Iris to Dawn, ultimately becoming timeless as Dawn, the writer, puts them down on paper; the love that survives the war and death itself, becoming timeless; also hope survives through the shadows, the ghosts, of loved ones who’re always around, always protecting, waiting on the other side of the fine line between Life and the Great Beyond. While helping Dawn find the much needed inner peace, hope also lives on through the writer’s work, thus continuing to use the story of Great War to give inner strength to future generations.

As audience, we identify with Iris, Dawn and the other characters in A Time for Shadows. Their stories make us more aware of our own guardian shadows, thus allowing us to relive cherished memories of those who, once, trusted us with their own stories of peace and war, of life and death,  with their stories of hope and inner strength.

Reflections on a Lifetime of Living with AIDS (Excerpt from my book, Journeys Through Darkness)

I'd like to share with you a few reflections on living with HIV/AIDS of a long-term survivor, a true warrior, an award-winning visual artist who has lost most of his sight to AIDS-related retinitis. This is an excerpt from the last chapter of my book, Journeys Through Darkness. The chapter is called "Arrival of the Angel," a titled inspired by one of Kurt Weston's images, one that reminds me of Angels in America.

Hope you enjoy the read. As always, thanks for stopping by.

Excerpt from "Arrival of the Angel," Chapter Nine of Journeys Through Darkness. Copyright Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved. 

Weston’s AIDS diagnosis has re-prioritized his life, reducing it to pure survival. His career took second priority, as did other aspects of his existence. What remained was his intrinsic desire to survive, which demanded his full and undivided attention.
It also required Weston to make a shift in consciousness, to realize that his life had to go into survival mode. It hasn’t been easy to change his mindset, to actually realize the importance of switching priorities from the safety of a regular day job to the insecurities of living without a job and with a terminal disease. In the end, his survival instinct won and allowed him to let go of the life he knew and to go out on disability and, with that, into a life full of insecurities and unknowns.
 Once he has begun nurturing his physical and spiritual being, he has also started tapping into all sorts of metaphysical philosophies that later influenced his artwork. After a while, his health became stable enough to allow him to resume his life from where he’d left off when AIDS had hit. Only first, he had to relearn how to live with his disease and, a few years later, with his visual loss.
Today, the artist talks about his hopes for the future, for his art and life. He believes that stem-cell research will be an integral part of finding a cure for AIDS, one that will come from some type of genetic therapy. Until then, he reminds, there is so much work to be done.
Kurt Weston also believes in the resurrection of a person’s personal and professional life. Surviving and living with his AIDS represent only one part of the artist’s own resurrection. By becoming a visual artist, he also resurrected his artistic career.
Weston’s artwork, in particular his AIDS-inspired body of work, has a lot of iconic imagery and references to mythology. It is also rich in symbolisms. Inspired by the play Angels in America, Prophet Angel expresses the prophecy of AIDS epidemic. In the photograph, the angel is holding a crucifix, which symbolizes his modern crucifixion, because the person in the photograph is HIV positive himself. While angels are associated with the resurrection and ascension of the Christ, Weston’s angel professes the resurrection of AIDS and, by extension, of any other terminal illness.
“I think that when you’re living with a terminal illness you really are very conscious that the physical reality is not the only reality,” the photographer comments. While finding himself so often on the brink of death, Weston became very conscious of the multi-dimensional reality—from physical to metaphysical—surrounding him. When he started to work with his chi, while at SWAN, he also learned that his life energy usually extends beyond the physical realm. Years later, this chi—his life energy—started to inspire his artwork. 
Also, while making hospital visits to see people who were dying and who were also very spiritual—like the yoga teacher and tai-chi instructor—Kurt learned that they, too, were experiencing life on multiple dimensions. They were talking the language of people who understood life as a greater, more in-depth process, and perceived life on a deeper level. These people have influenced Kurt’s life and artwork like his Blind Vision series of self-portraits, meant to be somehow abstract and quite figurative, thus adding a metaphysical dimension to his journey through darkness.
“I am sort of there but not really there,” the photographer explains, talking about Blind Vision.  “I’m kinda half in physical state and half in metaphysical state. Not completely solidified.” The artist appears with his eyes closed, enveloped in blackness. The streaks running through the picture (the foam sprayed on the glass) simulate a stream of consciousness, portraying the artist’s metaphysical journey through eternal blackness. 
Nowadays, the artist continues using his life’s experience to create art that is dynamic, informing, and also transforming. Weston believes that art has that kind of power, to make a difference in people’s perception of life and its realities. “I want to continue making visual art that creates a consciousness shift when people look at it,” he says.
Weston also believes that dreams, like art, are necessary in life, as is the struggle to make them true and see them become real. Sometimes, even more important than their dreams is the life journeys people need to take in order to reach their dreams. Also important is the transformational process they go through while on their journeys, even if they may not always be able to actually fulfill their dreams.
It’s hard for anyone to predict the future, but Kurt Weston hopes for a bright one for his art and his life. Therefore, his dream is to continue to create art.
Sometimes, life’s goals change and so do individuals’ journeys through life. In that sense, Kurt Weston will always be searching for new ways of depicting his reality through his art and discovering new ways he has yet to explore. Kurt’s art is always evolving because, as the artist comments, “it’s not good for anybody to remain static.” For Kurt Weston, creating visual art will always be an ongoing, life-long process. It will continue to expand and change and show itself in different ways. Ultimately, it will remain inspirational and transforming."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

New Art: An Interview with Artist Teresa Korber

Here is my article based on my interview with artist Teresa Korber. "New Art" was originally published in Gala Magazine.

Hope you'll enjoy the read,

New Art: An Interview with Artist Teresa Korber 

By Alina Oswald

BIO: Alina Oswald is a freelance writer and photographer, and the author of Journeys Through Darkness, a biography. She can be reached at

"I've always been, I think you can say, obsessed with love," Teresa Korber confesses, talking about her source of inspiration for her Heart series. The 25-year-old artist plans to use her love-inspired artwork in a show later on this February, the month of love. "I'm a passionate person. […] Love is very close to my heart. I want it. I need it. I gotta have it. I think it's an obsession," she adds, laughing. For Korber, love is, indeed, a passion, not only as love for another person, but especially for her work.

Born in Miami, Florida, and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Korber spent her childhood between the two places. The daughter of two internationally renowned artists, she grew up always having a canvas at hand. As a child she used to sit in her mother's studio, painting. Her mother would give her some paint brushes and a canvas to keep her busy. Korber's first painting was her version (at that young age) of Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night. "It's funny," she explains nowadays, "because you look at it and it's immature." The painting is still one of her favorites. It marked the beginning of her becoming the unique artist she is today. It also inspired her later work. An example is a painting called The Tree, which brings up similar emotions. 

Van Gogh may have influenced her artwork, but, growing up with parents who were also accomplished, renowned painters has also put its imprint on Korber's artwork. "I [actually] didn't even know that they were recognized at all,” she explains. “I just kinda knew them as my parents."

As a child, Teresa Korber would watch her father, artist Michael Korber, put on music and "go nuts with the canvas," she recalls. "[It's amazing just] watching him. It blows your mind!" She would also accompany her father to coffee houses where she would be exposed to various expressions of art—like music, poetry, and painting.  It was an inspiring experience for the future artist, but also one that made it more difficult for her to decide which art form to embrace.

The answer came to her a couple of years ago, through a painting. The Embrace portrays an embrace between a man and a woman, but it can also be interpreted as between two men or two women. "I was preparing for my first show," Korber explains, "and I would not [be able to] get my colors right. It just wasn’t working.” She considered going over the painting with white paint, to cover it up. Until then, she’d thought she could paint only in a certain way; therefore, she’d felt boxed in. But then she took a step back from the painting and realized she was going to work on it. “And from that moment on, I just kinda broke through that box,” she says. And once she did that, she became freer in the way she was painting. She also realized that painting was the way she could express herself artistically.

Since then she has continued to break down walls and free her creative process, and, with that, find her own artistic identity. As a result, her artwork has started to capture some of the deepest, most powerful emotions humans are capable of experiencing—fear, loneliness, envy and love—emotions ranging from the blackest darkness that can imprison human souls to the brightest light shone over us by rays of hope and love.

One of her newer favorites is Mi Soledad [My Solitude], a portrait of a woman shown sitting down on the floor with her hands on her knees, like in a ball. “It’s almost very sad, and very interesting in the same time,” the artist comments on her subject. There is something almost enigmatic about the woman in the painting, as if she has a lot on her mind. As viewers we can only wonder about her—on one hand, because we are curious creatures; on the other hand, because, like the artist, we can relate to Mi Soledad.

Some of Korber’s paintings seem simple yet, looking closely, they are very complex. Shadow Emotions is such a painting. While created using only two colors—black and silver—Shadow Emotions is a striking, almost haunting painting based on fear and loneliness. It is also the first artwork Korber has created using not a brush, but a palette knife, to give the image a rough touch and a thick, rich texture.

Almost at the opposite end of the spectrum of emotions captured in Shadow Emotions we discover Anticipation, yet another example of Korber’s artwork that engages viewers. Anticipation portrays a beautiful woman, “maybe [with] a little bit of an ego,” and who seems to be very confident. She’s anticipating somebody or something and the viewers can’t help but wonder about her Anticipation.

There are times when Korber asks herself if what she’s trying to express through her art really reflects the reality. In that sense, she’s right on target, especially with paintings like Green with Envy, an artwork displaying the perfect male body. “He’s, well, Green with Envy,” the artist says. “It’s funny,” she adds, “because when I painted it, I didn’t really know it was so true.” Only then she realized how real the feeling was, because a lot of men could connect to it. After all, what man wouldn’t want to have the perfect body of the male in Green with Envy.

When working on her art pieces, Korber prefers to do it without models because it leaves her creative work more to her imagination, consequently allowing her to further break down more walls and become freer in her creative process.

For the same reason she has never stopped experimenting. She participated twice in the Lake Worth Street Painting Festival, an annual event in downtown Lake Worth, Florida. To enter the festival artists fill out a form. They are assigned a square piece of street on which they can “go crazy, […], doing art with pastels,” Korber explains. People stop by to watch the artists create, and take pictures. “It’s outside, sunny, hot and sticky, but it’s a lot of fun,” she adds.

She also participated in a live body painting show. She got to paint the body of her friend, using finger paint—a kind of paint, not harmful to the body, that kids use in kindergarten when learning to paint with their fingers.

Teresa Korber does not only participate in live art shows. She also curates a live art group show in downtown West Palm Beach. The Art Nouveau show features more than 20 artists who create in various media, including painting and body painting, sculpture, and photography. They all do their art live and showcase it in front of people. And they have a good time while at it, too. “It’s been very successful, very busy,” Korber says. “The fire department showed up the last time because we were over capacity.” Although she was hesitant at first, the experience turned out to be an inspiring and fulfilling one.

Teresa Korber’s artwork continues to be as inspiring and fulfilling. She has come so far because she passionately believes in the power of persistence.

She is so certain of the power of persistence that she extends her message of  “Never give up [and] persistence will pay off,” not only to those who want to make it in the art world, but also to everybody else who want to make a positive difference in the world like, for examples, the individuals who fight for equal rights. In that sense, Teresa Korber’s artist’s voice becomes a distinctive voice for equal rights. “I think lesbian and gay rights are very important,” she says. “We all need to stick together, no matter what we do, [because our voice is more powerful] when we are united. We’ve come a long way as far as our rights,” she adds, “and it’s only the beginning.”

Interview with Teresa Korber,

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

HIV/AIDS Updates: TRIM5a Protein in Rhesus Monkeys and New Hope for an AIDS Cure

HIV/AIDS Updates: Researchers discover that a protein we share with the rhesus monkeys may help us find a cure for AIDS

By Alina Oswald
Also published in Out IN Jersey Magazine

Are we ever going to find an AIDS cure?

Twenty-nine years and counting since the beginning of the AIDS pandemic, and the question, still on everybody’s minds, remains unanswered.  While recent attempts have been fueling the hope for a possible (but not necessarily affordable) cure, the newest findings may just bring experts a step closer to achieving the ultimate goal.

Edward Campbell, PhD, and his team of researchers at Loyola University Health System, have discovered a protein—called TRIM5a protein—in rhesus monkeys that protects these primates from becoming infected with the immunodeficiency virus. It does that by “latching on” to the virus and, afterwards, other TRIM5a proteins come to its help and gather together to destroy the virus. While the human version of TRIM5a protein protects us from becoming infected with certain viruses, it doesn’t protect us against HIV.

Rhesus monkeys are primates of Asian origin living in Southeast Asia, China, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. They were also introduced in Florida. Rhesus monkeys have brown fur, and red faces and rears. These intelligent animals adapt easily to living in human communities, in particular in India, where the Hindu population believes animals are sacred and does not harm them. 

Throughout the years, these animals’ contribution to medical research has been significant. For example, antigens found in rhesus monkeys helped medical experts identify different human blood groups. When it comes to the newest AIDS-related findings, researchers hope to be able to modify human TRIM5a protein to block infection with HIV. But in order to do so, researchers first have to identify this protein’s components that, in turn, enable it to protect us against viruses.

Proteins, in general, are made of building blocks, of chains of amino acids. These amino acids have a vital role in metabolism. TRIM5a protein is made of approximately 500 amino acid subunits. The research team led by Edward M. Campbell, PhD, has found only six of these amino acids as being located in a previously little known region of the TRIM5a protein. These particular amino acids are vital in the protein’s ability of inhibiting viral infection (or infection with viruses).  To be able to identify these amino acids, researchers at Loyola worked on lab cultures, using a specialized $225,000 microscope—called a wide-field “deconvolution” microscope. To better observe and measure the interaction between HIV and TRIM5a at a microscopic level, researchers attached fluorescent protein to TRIM5a to make it glow.

Also, researchers hope to identify one or more specific amino acids in human TRIM5a protein that inhibit (or could be modified to inhibit) HIV infection. That, in turn, would allow them to develop medications that would mimic TRIM5a’s effect on HIV. 

SOURCES: : Science, Physics, Tech, Nano News : National Geographic

NOTE: The article was published in Out IN Jersey Magazine

Friday, September 3, 2010

My Interview with Duncan Osborn, Author of Suicide Tuesday

Sometime ago everybody was talking about crystal meth and about the meth epidemic. I talked about this so-called new epidemic with Duncan Osborn, the author of Suicide Tuesday (a book about crystal meth). The article, "Playing with (Super)-Words," appeared in A&U Magazine--America's AIDS Magazine.Or you can also read it here:

As always, thanks for stopping by,