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How to make a pearl

22 minutes

What it’s like to spend a decade in the darkness and yet retain an inner light

The US artist John Kapellas found out that he had HIV in 1987. As a Vietnam veteran, the devastation of the AIDS crisis reminded him of the war in its destruction of young lives and indifference to their worth. A combination of medications saved his life, but he would carry the psychological trauma of losing so many in the gay community to the disease, and would live with the toll that his medications took on his body. In How to Make a Pearl, the filmmaker Jason Hanasik joins Kapellas in a blacked-out apartment in San Francisco where, besides brief pre-dawn walks and trips to the hospital, he has been living in near-complete darkness for roughly 10 years. In 2007, he was diagnosed with severe photosensitivity – likely the result of one or some combination of his HIV medications. Despite being ‘a prisoner of light’, as he puts it, Kapellas courageously and doggedly maintains a rich and active life: he welcomes friends and family into his apartment each week, and renders his traumas and experiences into art, much of which he makes directly on his walls, and music with which he fills his home. Read more about Kapellas’s life in the dark in The Guardian.

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