Painting with “dirty” blood

Icelandic photography school student uses a queer man’s blood to raise awareness surrounding the blood donation bias.

In a provocative final assignment for her first year in The School of photography (Ljósmyndaskólinn) student Heiðrún Fivelstad has chosen to shine a light on blood donation laws in Iceland. The artwork, entitled “Skítugt Blóð” or “Dirty Blood,” is a photo of a queer Icelandic man with the words “Skítugt Blóð” painted over it in real blood.

The blood was donated by another queer man to drive the artist’s message home. The prompt for the project was to take something she’d already been working on and push it one step further. Heiðrún’s original piece was just the photo of her subject on its own; the blood was added to enhance the message she wanted to convey.

Pose, pose, pose

“We were learning about art history and there’s a saint that came up, his name is Saint Sebastian,” she says. ”He was portrayed very homoerotically, very gay, and that intrigued me. He was a Christian during the Roman era and was sentenced to death because of it. He was stricken with plague-infected arrows, but survived the execution and was nursed back to health. The paintings show him as a young, attractive male stricken with the arrows, but he always seems unfazed by them.” She notes, clarifying “he’s shown like a twink,” she laughs.

“The search results come up with headlines that read “gay men are finally able to give blood,” but it’s all about the proposals. It’s all of these huge positive titles like “Proposals for a bill for a one year period blah blah blah” and it hasn’t gone through. And it’s been years which is annoying!”

The story of Saint Sebastian was the original inspiration for the piece before it was pushed the extra mile. Svenni (Sveinn Snær Kristjánsson), the subject of her photo, is holding a similar pose but was chosen as an updated interpretation of Saint Sebastian. “[The Saint] is always shown as this buff or twinky guy but with my work, I wanted to do a modern version of that, a modern version of what a queer man looks like today,” says Heiðrún. Body positivity and weight stigma in the queer community are also themes in the piece. “So he’s queer and he’s plus size and he’s a beautiful model to photograph. It’s a modernized version of what we consider to be a queer man. I wanted to take it all the way.”

Heiðrún’s work also coincides with the ending of one plague and speaks to another plague the queer community has faced. “Saint Sebastian was popular in the middle ages because he survived the plague of the time that he was infected with by these arrows. During the AIDS pandemic, he became a super popular inspiration for queer artists as well. They used Saint Sebastian as an inspiration of being infected with the plague and overcoming it,” she says.

Queer men still banned completely

For Heiðrún the covid pandemic provided another lens through which to interpret the AIDS crisis and the stigma surrounding infection, just as the plague that Saint Sebastian was infected with. It put into sharp focus the discrimination queer men (and those that have sex with them) face when it comes to donating their blood. “I was looking at archival news coverage and found an article by Bjarni Snæbjörnsson that he wrote 20 years ago and still applies today. Every word still applies. They were calling for more blood and he was saying that he can’t go and give blood because he’s gay,” she says.

To her surprise, nothing about the rules on blood donation has changed in those 20 years. She explains “I thought that there was this proposition a few years ago to change the rule from “queer men can’t give blood at all” to a “year of abstinence and you can donate.” Þórólfur Guðnason, the Chief Epidemiologist was talking about a 3 to 4-month period because that is what other Nordic countries have in place. I thought that had gone through, that something had gone through!”

“Between the blood bank itself and the Ministry of Health, I wasn’t sure which one was discriminatory. It seems at the end of the day it stops with the government though.”

The rules, however, have not changed. At the moment Blóðbankinn’s (the blood bank) criteria for all blood donors specify you should not donate if you are a “male and have had sexual contact with another male” and that blood donation will be deferred for 12 months if you’re a “woman and have had sexual contact with a male who has had sexual contact with a male.” This puts Iceland far behind all the other Nordic nations, France, Canada, and the US who all institute a 3 to 6-month abstinence policy for queer men who wish to donate blood.

Don’t misinterpret the headlines

What perplexed Heiðrún the most while researching the topic was just how much it looked like Iceland had already taken care of this. When she was googling and researching all of the headlines and news about the subject seemed to imply Iceland was already moving to a 1-year abstinence rule or “looking into” the 3 to 4-month policy. “I was so surprised that nothing happened from all that attention. That’s why I wanted to do this. The search results come up with headlines that read “gay men are finally able to give blood,” but it’s all about the proposals. It’s all of these huge positive titles like “Proposals for a bill for a one year period blah blah blah” and it hasn’t gone through. And it’s been years which is annoying! If you’re just a normal person in Iceland just googling this and you saw all of these articles you’d just think it’s already done, it’s already taken care of, like there’s nothing to talk about anymore and the rules were actually changed,” says Heiðrún.

“[The Saint] is always shown as this buff or twinky guy but with my work, I wanted to do a modern version of that, a modern version of what a queer man looks like today,” says Heiðrún about her work.
She also mentions why her piece is so provocative. For her, it’s about waking people up to all the media attention surrounding the issue and showing them that after all this discussion no rule has changed, that the rules haven’t changed for over 30 years. “I wanted to do something that’s a little bit shocking so people would notice,” she says. “Between the blood bank itself and the Ministry of Health, I wasn’t sure which one was discriminatory. It seems at the end of the day it stops with the government though,” she elaborates.

Dirty Blood

The donation rules as they’re currently written also group all queer men in a monolith of “dirty blood,” says Heiðrún. “It just puts all queer men under the same umbrella. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been with the same man in a monogamous relationship for 20 years, only slept with that man, both HIV negative, it doesn’t matter. It’s the same rule for everyone because there’s still a stigma that queer men sleep around all the time,” she clarifies. In her eyes, this is the root of why queer men, in general, are still stigmatized: “That’s why I wanted to say “dirty blood” on the piece because queer mens’ blood is still considered dirty in general.”

The message she hears from the policy is that “queer men are soiled, dangerous, and lesser than.” However, in her eyes the “issue doesn’t exist in a vacuum.” The broader implication is that “it’s not about whether or not you can donate or not, it’s about the government telling you that you’re lesser than others based on who you’re sleeping with,” says Heiðrún.

Where’s that proposal Willum?

Progress in this area is possible. Canada recently changed its blood donation policy from a 3-month celibacy period to no waiting period at all. Canadian Blood Services, the organization running banks in the country, will also stop asking donors about their sexual orientation in September and instead ask if donors have engaged in any higher-risk sexual behaviors. This comes after years of pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who campaigned on the promise to lift the homophobic rule.

In Iceland, a proposal was made in 2021 by Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the previous Minister of Health, due to take effect in January of this year if it had been approved. Months later and there’s not much more progress happening on the issue other than a solid “we’re looking into it” and “there’s a lot to consider” from current Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson. 

That’s why I wanted to say “dirty blood” on the piece because queer mens’ blood is still considered dirty in general.”

In a legislative session on the 31st of January, Þórsson was questioned by Pirate Party member Andrés Ingi Jónsson about the policy and mentioned that for the law to be changed considerations about testing and screening needed to be made: “some changes have had to be made; risk analysis and primarily to introduce blood screening with a so-called nucleic acid test or NAT. In addition to such blood screening, erythropoietin clearance must be performed.” According to Þórsson, the proposal would be ready in “April/May.” The month of May is half over with no update on the discussion from January.

Heiðrún also mentions why her piece is so provocative. For her, it’s about waking people up to all the media attention surrounding the issue and showing them that after all this discussion no rule has changed, that the rules haven’t changed for over 30 years..

Heiðrún sees through the politics and wants to see change demanded. That’s why her piece is so bold. Do people realize that this is the same, that the law hasn’t changed and queer men are still banned for life?” she asks. The discrimination queer men specifically face when donating also overlooks the fact that anyone, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation, can carry STIs in their blood and anyone can be as sexually active as queer men are portrayed to be.

Biohazard regardless of the donor

Heiðrún says Sigurður, a queer registered nurse who donated his own blood for the project, told her using protective equipment was a must from the beginning. Regardless of if it was queer blood or not “working with blood, I have to have gloves and a mask and be protected because blood is a biohazard in general,” she says.

As a photographer and artist, this was her first time working with blood as a medium. “I’m just a student. This is just my first year in school. I was quite scared. I was also scared I wouldn’t have enough blood to use,” she says. Despite any worries, her teacher encouraged her because of the message it would send;  “it was easier than I thought. I was thinking about mixing paint with the blood to get the color right but I didn’t have to. I did some tests and what I used is just 100% blood. Conceptually it’s also a lot stronger if it’s just blood, ”she clarifies.

“I also realize that I’m a lesbian, this is not about me, this doesn’t affect me personally but it’s super important to shine a light on the issue.”

When coming up with the idea for her final project she also wondered how she would acquire queer blood in the first place. “I originally just wanted to use red paint but my teacher told me it would have a stronger message if it was real.” says Heiðrún. 

“It was surprisingly easy to get queer blood,” she laughs. “I’ve been a part of the queer community and involved with activism for so long so people know that I approach things respectfully. So I was very happy with Siggi who was happy to donate,” she adds.

Heiðrún’s work also coincides with the ending of one plague and speaks to another plague the queer community has faced.

Bigger than just one exhibition

Though Heiðrún knows the story of her photo and the blood on it will have an impact, she realizes the conversation is bigger than just one photo: “I’m thinking in broader terms. This is the exhibition I’m doing for school. There’s a message I’m trying to get across,” she says. “This is how I’ve been doing activism, this is how you change people’s minds.”

Other works in the exhibition cover all kinds of topics like mental illness, motherhood, immigration, meditation, sustainability, and femininity. Each of the students is taking something they’ve already been working on and pushing it a step further.

Has the conversation around HIV and blood donation changed?

Heiðrún is happy to be shining a light on blood “cleanliness” and the discrimination that still exists. With a call to action she says “I also realize that I’m a lesbian, this is not about me, this doesn’t affect me personally but it’s super important to shine a light on the issue. There are so many people who have been talking about this activism and changing the blood donation rules and doing really important work, but it’s still the same as it was 20 years ago. The HIV stigma is still around 40 years later. We’re still dealing with it even though the situation is totally different. We have medicine. It’s not a death sentence anymore. It’s not just queer men who get it but that stigma is still there. Hopefully, people are more willing to listen now.”

The Hamburger Factory
- gourmet burgers

Ok. You’re in Iceland. Most likely for the first time.

You will probably bathe in the Blue Lagoon and take a road trip to Gullfoss and
Geysir. That’s all well and good. But neither Geysir’s nor waterfalls are
something you eat. That’s why we have 15 brilliant and creative hamburgers at
The Hamburger Factory. And they are all perfectly square. Don’t miss out on
Iceland’s most beloved hamburgers.

The Hamburger Factory is Iceland’s most innovative gourmet burger chain.
Packed with burger-craving customers since it’s opening in 2010, among the
regulars is Iceland’s best known fisherman, Eric Clapton. In our restaurants we
welcome tourists with our newspaper like menu and smiley service. They are
packed with fun items and memorable connections to Icelandic pop culture.

Locations:

Omnom Chocolate
- award-winning chocolate maker

    Omnom Chocolate is an Icelandic craft chocolate company based in Reykjavík. We produce handcrafted chocolate from organic cacao beans sourced ethically and sustainably. We’ve developed direct relationships to create premium chocolate with fine flavor cacao beans.

    Our creative flavors are carefully crafted by meticulous chocolate makers. The cacao beans are roasted, winnowed, ground, and refined into melty-smooth chocolate.

    Omnom’s process is one of constant exploration, invention, and experimentation. If it doesn’t please us, if something isn’t absolutely delicious, there’s no reason to be doing it. So, we always start with our taste buds and follow our instincts. Our team searches for the finest ingredients in the world and new ways to improve chocolate. This obsession with knowing where our ingredients come from has led us around the corner to dairy farms in the Icelandic countryside and all the way to rainforest cacao farms of Nicaragua.

    In only a few short years, we’ve grown from our 50 sq. m. petrol station space and become an award-winning chocolate maker. Now, with our headquarters in 101 Reykjavík, our chocolate is sent out around Iceland and all over the world.

    At the end of the day, our goal is to make chocolate.

     

    Alfred’s Apartments
    - gay owned an operated

      Alfred’s Apartments and Alfred’s Studios is a gay operated and owned accommodation in the heart of Reykjavik.

      Alfred’s Apartments offers spacious apartments at a good price located just around the corner from Laugavegur shopping street. You can choose the apartment starting from a Small Studio for 2 persons to a large One-bedroom Apartment with balcony for 5 persons.

      Their staff will ensure your comfort during the stay and provide the most updated information about the city, gay and night life in Reykjavik.

      Each apartment has a private bathroom with a shower, fully equipped kitchen and free Wi-Fi. Guests can buy groceries at the local grocery store 50 meters from the apartments. Because of their very central location, numerous shops, restaurants and cafés are available in the surrounding area. The Church of Hallgrimur is located 350 m from the apartments, a tourist agency is just 50 m away and the nearest gay bar is less than 5 minutes walking distance.

      Laekur hostel
      In the hostel we have dorms for 4-8 persons with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities. The rooms are furnished with free internet, lockers, and a USB charger by each bed. The beds have linen provided and you can rent a towel in the cafe on the ground floor for 5 EUR.

      All the dorms are mixed with both genders. You can also book a whole room with 4-8 bunker beds.

      Nasdaq

         

        Nasdaq (Nasdaq: NDAQ) is a global technology company serving the capital markets and other industries. Our diverse offering of data, analytics, software and services enables clients to optimize and execute their business vision with confidence.

        With over 4,300 employees in 39 offices around the world, at Nasdaq we all contribute to the success of the company and its culture, and each one of us has the ability to make a difference. When it comes to our core mission and values, we embrace the role of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) as a fundamental driver of our corporate growth, workplace culture and market development. We strive to create a culture that embraces the power of different perspectives—a culture where people’s unique backgrounds and different experiences helps us fuel innovation and support our clients around the world.

        Our unique position at the center of the capital markets allows us to see firsthand how these values have redefined corporate culture and success, deepening and accelerating our own commitment to champion inclusive growth and prosperity, as we strive to create more equitable opportunities to help people of all backgrounds reach their full potential. Most notably, we published our diversity statistics for the first time in 2020. These metrics serve as a quantitative assessment of where we are today and help determine what strategies we need to adopt to enhance diversity in the workplace. We recognize that we have much work to do, but we are steadfast in our commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive culture—one that reflects the communities in which we live, allows all employees to be their true, authentic selves and fosters individual growth and achievement.

        As we move forward together, we will continue advancing diverse ideas and perspectives that help fulfill the promise of a more inclusive and prosperous world. We aim to set the pace for rethinking capital markets and economies anywhere and everywhere. To learn more about the company, technology solutions and career opportunities, visit us on LinkedIn, on Twitter @Nasdaq, or at www.nasdaq.com.

        Blue Lagoon
        - One of the 25 Wonders of the World

        Named by National Geographic as one of the 25 Wonders of the World, the Blue Lagoon is a shimmering expanse of warmth, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Its unique geothermal seawater
        comes from 2.000 meters within the earth where seawater and freshwater converge in a tectonic realm of porous lava and searing heat. Propelled by extreme pressure, the water ascends to the earth’s surface, emerging enriched with silica, algae, and minerals—the elements that endow Blue Lagoon geothermal seawater with its radiant, healing properties.

        From its humble beginnings in the shadows of a geothermal power plant, Blue Lagoon has evolved into a world of wonder, now encompassing two hotels, three restaurants, three
        geothermal lagoons, a subterranean spa, a renowned line of skin care, a thriving research center, and a wealth of spa and refreshment facilities.

        Achieving harmony with the volcanic landscape, the lagoon and its surrounding architecture embody the unification of the man-made and the natural, and adhere to the highest principles of sustainability.

        The Blue Lagoon. A wonder of the world. A world of wonder.

        Whales of Iceland
        - larger than life

        Whales of Iceland is the largest whale exhibition in Europe (and perhaps even the world), where guests can learn about the giants of the sea in a calm and modern environment. The permanent exhibition features whales like guests have never seen them before. It is truly a giant experience.

        Landsbankinn
        - leading financial institution
        Landsbankinn

        Landsbankinn is a leading Icelandic financial institution. It offers a full range of financial services and is the market leader in the Icelandic financial service sector with the largest branch network.

        The present bank was established on 7 October 2008 but the history of its predecessor dates back to 1886. The bank is owned by the National Treasury of Iceland, which holds 98.2% of its share capital, and other shareholders who own 1.8%.

        Landsbankinn’s strategy is to provide comprehensive financial services that meet customer’s needs. It emphasizes providing exemplary service to customers, developing e-banking for their convenience, increasing the efficiency of support functions, modernizing its technology and ensuring effective utilization of its balance sheet.

        The bank’s vision is to be exemplary and its role is to be a trusted financial partner.

        Special emphasis is placed on promoting a performance-oriented culture in the bank. To follow up on the implementation of this strategy, the bank has defined key goals which are measured regularly to determine progress. These goals include, for example, customer satisfaction and loyalty, profitability, cost efficiency and the correlation between risk appetite and employee satisfaction.

        Landsbankinn wishes to lead the development of a sustainable society in Iceland by integrating economic, social and environmental concerns in its operations. The Bank aims to ensure that both its owners and society at large benefit from its activities.

        It intends to achieve this aim by building solid infrastructure and a strong team of 1.100 employees, by listening to its customers and by respecting and encouraging its employees to actively participate in their community. Landsbankinn was a founding member of Festa, a Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, and is a member of the UN Global Compact.

        Landsbankinn has been a proud sponsor of the Reykjavik Pride since it was first celebrated in Iceland.

        Aurora Reykjavik
        - northern lights center

          Aurora Reykjavik is a Northern Lights Center situated in downtown Reykjavík at the Old Harbor next to Icelandair Hotel Marina and Vikin Maritime Museum.

          Aurora Reykjavík is Iceland’s first educational and recreational Northern Lights Center where multimedia is used to explain when, why and how the Northern Lights work, with the highlights being large HD projection of the Aurora’s. We also share myths and legends about what our ancestor thought about those mystical lights.

          The Northern Lights Center is for all ages. Children are our favorite guests and we created the exhibition in a way that children can have a look freely and parents don’t have to worry about things being broken.

          Aurora Reykjavik offers a great selection of souvenirs that are designed and made by Icelanders along with nice little coffee corner, where you can enjoy free coffee and tea while browsing through the souvenirs or just planning your next step.

          Contact Aurora

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            Dohop
            - get inspired
            Dohop

            Dohop allows people to find the cheapest flights available with just one click. Founded in Reykjavik in 2004, it is the only Icelandic company of its kind and quickly became the go-to tool for finding cheap flights among the locals. Dohop finds the best deals among hundreds of different airlines and online travel agencies, to make sure that the user is getting the cheapest price. Dohop also offers hotel and car rental search engines, so users can make all of their travel bookings from a single website.

            Dohop‘s specialty is finding so-called “self-connect” flight options, which can save travelers money by booking a ticket through two or more different airlines. The ability to look for these self-connect option is what sets Dohop apart from its competition, as it can save people hundreds of dollars on certain routes.

            More recently, Dohop has developed a unique product called Dohop Go!, which allows users to check for the cheapest available flights from their home airport. This tool is perfect for those who are looking for travel inspiration but are not willing to overpay for their flight ticket. Dohop Go! is now available in the Dohop Flights App, both for Android and iOS, along with its traditional flight, hotel, and car search engines. “

            VSÓ Ráðgjöf

               

              VSÓ Ráðgjöf er alhliða ráðgjafar- og verkfræðifyrirtæki sem leggur áherslu á trausta og faglega þjónustu sem tryggir viðskiptavinum hagkvæmustu lausnir hverju sinni, skilar raunverulegum árangri og stuðlar að samkeppnisforskoti.  Á skrifstofum VSÓ í Reykjavík og í Noregi starfar yfir 80 manna samhentur hópur verkfræðinga og annarra tæknimenntaðra starfsmanna.

              Macland
              - for all your Apple needs
              Macland

              From starting out as a proper startup with only a good idea and the need to change things, to becoming an established company with 6 employees. Starting from scratch and expanding organically has allowed us to love our expansion and take our customers on the ride with us.

              Macland is located at Laugavegur 23 (101, Downtown Reykjavik)
              For all your Apple needs. We are here.

              Ísey skyr
              - once tasted never forgotten

              Our Story
              Once upon a time, 1,100 years ago in fact, Nordic settlers began arriving in Iceland. They brought with them the skills and knowledge for producing skyr. As time passed, the know-how and recipe for this nutritious food slowly faded out elsewhere in the Nordic region. Luckily, the Icelandic skyr-making tradition continued.

              For centuries, Icelandic skyr formed a cornerstone of the national diet, helping to keep people strong in living conditions that were often harsh. On family farms countrywide, it was the women who nurtured this dairy and passing on both the recipe and the original Icelandic skyr cultures from mother to daughter.

              Ísey skyr builds on this remarkable legacy. It was some of those very same women, the recipients of their mothers’ expertise, who, around 90 years ago, taught Icelandic dairy scientists the art of skyr-making. The production process is more high-tech these days, and the quality standards more rigorous. However, the basic recipe and the use of original cultures to ferment the skimmed milk remain the same. Protein rich, fat-free, creamy and delicious – Ísey skyr is as relevant to consumers now as it was all those centuries ago.
              This is our secret and you are in on it

              You can read more about Ísey skyr on our website.

              Núðluskálin
              - noodle bar
              Núðluskálin

              Núðluskálin is a small gay owned and operated fusion noodle bar.

              All of our courses are individually made from fresh ingredients and therefore highly customisable.
              We offer fully Vegan versions of all courses.
              Though originally a take-away we now seat over 30 people.

              Núðluskálin is located right in the heart of Reykjavík on Skólavörðustígur 8 (street leading up to the big Church) near the junction with Laugavegur (main street).

              Seatours
              - adventure cruise

              Ferry Baldur – the gate to the West fjords
              and VikingSushi Adventure – Bird & Nature watching Tour for everyone all year around

              The “VikingSushi Adventure” is the right boat tour for travelers who are adventurous and want to experience something new – close up to the nature seafood simply doesn’t come fresher than this! The archipelago area of the Breidafjordur Bay always surprises her visitors during winter or summer with spectacular sights. Where else you get to try delicious fresh scallops and sea urchin roe straight from the ocean served with soy sauce, wasabi and ginger.

              600x400-seatours-tasting

              This old volcanic area, characterized by the typical basalt formations of the islands, is the home of countless birds. Here you will also find the strongest currents in Iceland. The VikingSushi Tour takes roughly two hours and our captain is also the tour guide.

              600x400-seatours

              The VikingSushi Tour is a true adventure through incredible nature which should not be missed by any traveler to West Iceland.

              Birds, possible to spot:
              -puffins (from the middle of April until the middle of August)
              -eider ducks
              -shags
              -kittiwakes
              -fulmars
              -white-tailed eagle

              The car ferry Baldur is the bridge to the West fjords via the island Flatey
              Ferry Baldur crosses Breidafjordur Bay daily from Stykkisholmur on the Snæfellsnes peninsula to Brjanslaekur in the north. A ferry ride considerably shortens the route between the south and mid-west of the country and the West Fjords region. It also gives you the opportunity to experience a floating restaurant.

              Take a stopover at the charming island Flatey when you are crossing the bay or go to a day tour to Flatey and back to Stykkishólmur. At Flatey are no cars allowed and between the houses of the 18th century you get the feeling of a journey back in time.

              Contact Us


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