Over three decades ago, Elizabeth Taylor first used her voice and her fame to bring attention to those afflicted with the AIDS virus. When she died in 2011, she left behind a legacy of AIDS activism and using her voice on behalf of those who did not have one. Now, her family, including children Michael Wilding Jr. and Liza Todd-Tivey and grandchildren Quinn Tivey and Naomi Wilding, are continuing her fight as The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation launches an online art auction to benefit its efforts to eradicate the disease
“The thing that was most important to me in my youth was making art and my mother loves art,” says her son Michael, 66, a sculptor who contributed his art to the auction. “She saw art as something that was valuable and I always felt supported and engaged by her. Most parents would see a pursuit in the arts as completely insane, but she being an artist herself understood the important impact art has on society. I always felt supported by her, encouraged by her, in my pursuits all along, in whatever I did.”
The three-time Oscar winner, whose father was an art dealer, not only influenced her children with her passion for art, but also her passion for fighting on behalf of those with HIV/AIDS.
“She was fiercely loyal to her friends and people around her, many of whom were being affected by the AIDS epidemic,” says Liza, also a sculptor. “She saw firsthand the injustice of the stigma that stood in the way of the political and medical community doing what they should to treat the disease and those affected by it, in all walks of life. She did not see herself or other celebrities above anyone else and was not afraid to stand up for what she believed. However, she knew she could use her celebrity to bring attention to the problem.”
Adds Michael, “I’m very proud of my mother for having done what she did in the fight against AIDS. It’s one of the best things she did in her life. Activism is an essential part of what society needs for so many reasons today. She was out there speaking her mind strongly to a lot of people who didn’t want to listen. She was a thorn in the side of the status quo.”
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Michael, Liza and Quinn contributed their own pieces to the online auction, which runs through the end of the month via Paddle8. It also features works by Robert Mapplethorpe, Shepard Fairey, Mona Kuhn, Gary Lang, Andrew Brischler, Kiki Smith and breathtaking photos of the star taken by Herb Ritts and her good friend Gianni Bozzacchi.
“It is truly an honor to be amongst the accomplished and caring artists who have donated their artwork,” Liza says. “To remember what a horrifying time it was before public awareness allowed the current breakthroughs to be made to those with HIV that are able to get medical attention. For those who cannot or do not, AIDS can still be fatal. We have all been affected by AIDS.”
Quinn’s path to photography came after working in film production. “Between my grandparents, and in turn my parents, both of whom are artists who have also donated to this auction, I couldn’t escape it,” the 33-year-old says.
Granddaughter Naomi, 43, pursued fashion, in part due to her grandmother’s style and eye for art. “She was very hands-on about her collection and how everything was chosen personally and hung in the rooms where we lived as a family,” Naomi says. “I think every day about the lessons she taught us about compassion and justice and how she showed us through her actions that we can all make a difference in the world if we choose to.”
Naomi hopes through her family’s work with Taylor’s foundation, they can give people worldwide access to HIV testing, medicine and mental health support that “could finally see an AIDS-free generation,” she says.
Today, her children and grandchildren warmly recall her warmth and her passion. Asked how she remembers her legendary grandma, Naomi says: “Filled with love, but also happy to laugh at the dirtiest jokes and swear like a sailor!”