The pain and passion of Niccolo Cosme

The photographer as activist for HIV/Aids awareness.

The photographer as activist for HIV/Aids awareness.

By Elton Lugay

Visual artist and conceptual photographer Niccolo Cosme is returning to New York for his second solo exhibit on August 24.

The exhibit, “Monologues, Soliloquies, and Tributes,” is a collection of portraits of gay people, advocates and supporters who have “contributed significantly” to promoting the rights of the LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender) people and raising awareness about their health and well-being, he said. Included in this collection of stunning, stylized photographs are portraits of standup comic Vice Ganda, socialite Divine Lee and Filipino-Irish actor/model Jon Avila.

Vice Ganda

Vice Ganda

The photographs are his tribute to the “courage and selflessness of these distinctive individuals,” he said.

Born in Cavite, Cosme’s advocacy on HIV/AIDS awareness began when one of his best friends was diagnosed with HIV in 2008. That prompted his first photo exhibit, “Aware,” in partnership with UNAIDS Philippines. His photo collection would be featured at the UNAIDS headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

“My fascination with photography started when I was very young,” Cosme, 33, told The FilAm. “My father owned a manual camera and loved to take photographs.”

His father gifted him with an Instamatic black-and-white camera on his birthday to get him to share his old man’s passion, and, as Cosme recalled, “My fascination grew as I got older.”

At De La Salle University in Dasmarinas, Cavite, he took up photojournalism.

“My professor and mentor had asked me to do a special project, to cover the EDSA 2 rally (which led to the ouster of President Joseph Estrada) which I really enjoyed. I was a student with a school press ID. I was able to enter areas reserved for the press.”

As a child, Cosme struggled for acceptance. His family knew he was gay, and he fought his feelings in an effort to not cause shame on his family.

“I come from a very religious-oriented family. My grandmother used to be a nun, and my other grandparents are very active in the church, too,” he said. “The family keeps several statues of saints and silver carozas.”

His parents and grandparents had encouraged him to become a priest.

“I remember as a young boy whenever asked what I wanted to be when I grow up I would say ‘I want to become a priest.’

He did become an altar boy. The dolls he used to play with were all discarded and replaced with Santo Nino images.

“All my life from childhood until I was 17 was spent in the church. Saturdays was Bible study and church organization meetings, Sundays would be masses and processions and other services. I was part of the church choir too both in school and in the parish. I was active in the church theatre also and in school. I prayed in Latin and Spanish and Tagalog. I know most of the saints and can tell who they are by their hand gestures and other symbolisms,” he shared.

Divine Lee

Divine Lee

But it was pain and suffering as religious themes that he was drawn to.

“I found the Passion of Christ very moving and theatrical,” he said. “The crying Virgin Mary
or the Mater Dolorosa is one of my visual inspirations.”

As a young gay boy, he found comfort in the sufferings of Christ. ”As a child, I’d been fascinated by images from Christian iconography, which I’ve infused with the pain and sorrow that come with experience and maturity,” he explained in an interview. “I use these images to convey meanings and evoke responses in support of my advocacies.” But he would drift away from the institutional church for personal reasons.

Aside from that one friend who came out to him in 2008, other friends have reached out to Cosme.

“I’ve had several friends and acquaintances who’ve passed away, which is why my friends and I started this campaign to intensify awareness on increasing HIV/Aids- related deaths,” he said.

Keeping an open mind and an open heart is an important message of his show.

“Why am I doing this? I can make my life much simpler. Why am I accepting these challenges? Am I really good enough? Will people love this new series as they have loved the previous series?”

He has asked himself these questions as he prepares to unveil his collection of compelling portraits.

“Monologues, Soliloquies, and Tributes” opens August 24 at 7 p.m. at Jeanne & Gaston at 212 West 14th Street.

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