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Mondo Wins It All

By CaitlinBergmann Fri., Oct. 1, 2010 ,6:00 am EDT

Mondo videos, photos and designsMondo wins. I don't just mean this episode. I mean all of "Project Runway." This season. Any season. Mondo came to "Project Runway" and he made it matter.

"Project Runway" is a rare bird in reality TV. We are able to get a glimpse into the creative process, with a minimum of fake tans and Bumpits. There may be manipulation from the producers to drum up some drama in the name of entertainment, but the success of the show will always be about watching creativity, and the producers know better than to cross the line. But this episode went even further. It showed us something we have never seen on "Project Runway": a rare view into the process behind the creative process. How a human brain deals with incredible obstacles and develops it into art.

I have come to learn that a true artist is someone who sees the world differently than the rest of us. Perhaps their brains are wired differently, a language-processing disorder producing strengthened visual and spatial centers. Or perhaps they deal with such pain in the form of mental anguish that their vision, as we understand it, is clouded and their minds seek alternative avenues. Maybe pain provides a clear message and it comes through, giving art purpose, elevating it. We have always been aware that there is a link between suffering and the creative process.

There are examples throughout history. Picasso's blue period, his first true evolution as an artist creating in a unique style, was set off by the pain of losing his best friend to suicide, coupled with being poor and far away from his family. Joni Mitchell's moving lyrics were driven by a childhood of isolation because of polio and having to give up her only child when she was 21. The poet Sylvia Plath, the designer Alexander McQueen — the list goes on and on.

Like Mondo's design work, the work of these artists, despite the anguish, was never morbid. Pain was not romanticized. We sensed there was depth, but we never knew why. It was elusive. There was maturity, a worldliness that came through. We only later learned that the great works were the product of a heavy heart and a tortured mind.

View Mondo Guerra's design portfolioMondo's brave revelation of his sexuality and his HIV status sheds light on many things about him — his fragile nature, his initial trouble connecting with the other designers, his eventual bond with the outcast Michael C., but most of all it sheds light on his clothing design. It was screaming to us the entire time. "I am colorful!" "I am young!" "I am alive!" It is a message more to him than the rest of us. If he can believe those things, he can overcome HIV. And he will. And we will all be rooting for him.

Not only has Mondo helped himself by coming forward and earning the support of the "Project Runway" viewing audience and, hopefully, eventually his family; he has also done a great thing for countless young people around the country. He has given a youthful face to HIV. He has reminded us that it is still here, and still devastating. He has helped to make the way clearer for targeted prevention work. He has shown that coming forward with a painful secret is cleansing, and perhaps he has inspired other young people in his position to come forward and seek the support they so desperately need.

For this, Mondo wins it all. Our sons and daughters win. We all win.

Young people seeking support coming out or dealing with a positive HIV status can find help at www.chadzboyz.com/chadz.