By Tracy Rusch, journalism, May 2008 graduate
Vicki Miller didn’t know anything about HIV/AIDS at age 11, except that it took her beloved uncle.
So when UW Oshkosh painting professor Li Hu approached her about applying for the 2007 Undergraduate Student/Faculty Collaborative Research program, she had the perfect idea for a project.
With Hu and art professor and adviser Don Stolley, Miller would challenge the stereotypical view of the virus by using art to show the positive contributions that people with HIV/AIDS make to society.
“I thought…it would be great to do a project where I could create a platform for people to have an open discussion about what it is to have it now, HIV/AIDS, and how we have advanced as far as medicine and funding,” Miller said, who graduated in December 2007.
Miller interviewed and photographed eight people who have HIV/AIDS. She then used the information about their heritages, professions and passions from the interviews and the photographs to paint a 4-by-6-foot oil portrait of each person.
While each painting features the person in the center as a calm and simple spot for the eyes to rest, the background displays bits and pieces of who each person is when finally stripped of the HIV/AIDS label. Miller wanted the background to “show their world, its revolution around them and within them.”
The people she met and their stories of struggles and successes were enlightening and Miller’s favorite part of the project. “What it did to me as not just an artist, but as a human being was invaluable,” she said.
Miller hopes that her project shows others that art is a platform where they can make a statement and challenge people’s thoughts. That art offers a place where change can happen.
Some students participate in research projects because it will add sparkle to their resumes, but Miller said that’s secondary to the unique learning experience offered through collaborative research.
Miller spent a lot of time painting in her basement, but at first worked closely with Stolley and Hu. Stolley, who consented to being her faculty adviser for the project, kept her on track and encouraged her to push forward.
Hu taught her a lot about composition and how to handle the aesthetics of form and figure. Both played a role in her success, but it was up to Miller to complete the project and make the most of the experience.
Like many students who conduct research, Miller had fun while she learned. She looks back on her research as an opportunity to grow as an artist and, more importantly, an individual.
“It helps broaden your worldview and your perspective as an individual, and I think that’s a great gift,” she said.
As a UW Oshkosh undergraduate student, Vicki Miller was involved in: Celebration of Scholarship 2008 and the Undergraduate Student/ Faculty Collaborative Research program.