Yvonne’s family live without piped water or sanitation but they own three Smartphones, one tablet, a laptop and a TV. Far from being luxuries these devices are likely to be their way out of poverty. Her two oldest daughters are very clever and technologically able.
Yvonne works at the Gugu Dlemini AIDS Foundation. She says:
It took me a long time to come out of that shell that made me less confident, but eventually I thought to myself that it was something I had to do. In my community many people suffer from these situations. It’s also because we are less educated, so we see no reason, or feel ashamed to speak about these kinds of things. We still live in a community that is dominated by men, making women feel less adequate.
As a woman this also affects me. I am also HIV positive, and I am deaf too. This has brought a lot of misunderstandings and difficulties for myself and other people. People find it hard to communicate with me. Some people think that there is something wrong with me. I misinterpret what they are saying. This causes me to distance myself from people. It has also caused problems with my relationships with men in my life as they take advantage of me.
Thulile, Simiso and Jennifer are currently presenting their work at the Durban Art Gallery as part of the Through Positive Eyes show, coinciding with the International AIDS Conference. The show has been designed by Stan Pressner and Carol Brown to enable the participants to tell their stories and interact with projections of their work.
Here is an extract from Thulile’s story:
‘I have been living with HIV for 25 years, I was born with it.
As a kid they told me I would not live past 7. When I lived past 7 years old they told me I wouldn’t live past 10….
When my neighbors found out, they stigmatized me.
I discovered I could do things to help myself. I am strong. I am beautiful. I am a positive woman. I won’t let anyone discriminate me. I have survived.
When I don’t feel well I talk to my virus. I say ‘don’t misbehave! If I get sick you won’t have anyplace to live.’ I must love myself and be positive to myself. I am a hero. We are all human, we all need love. We are strong. We are beautiful. We are positive.
Elizabeth is currently presenting her work at the Durban Art Gallery as part of the Through Positive Eyes show, coinciding with the International AIDS Conference. The show has been designed by Stan Pressner to enable the participants to tell their stories and interact with projections of their work.
Here is an extract from Elizabeth’s story:
‘Hello, I’m Elizabeth. I was diagnosed HIV+ in 2008.
At birth I was taken away from my mother, she was mentally unstable. I grew up in the Homes. I had fun growing up with my age group, with only one or two housemothers we had lots of freedom to interact and live.
As time went on I was put in a foster home. I was abused badly at this place. It was a difficult time for me, the hardest time in my life. I felt like my childhood was taken away from me.
I spoke up and eventually was removed from this home.
In 2008 I found out I was HIV+. I actually had many friends around me who were positive. I asked them questions and I’ve learned to live with it.
I moved on. I continued to use alcohol and drugs. I had two children. The first I gave up for adoption. The second, I decided to keep. The day the doctor put her in my arms, I fell in love.
New Year’s day last year, I decided to change my way. I’d been going around and around in circles. I want to find myself. I decided I wanted to pull myself together.
I’ve decided to come out about it all, especially living with HIV. Now I want to encourage young girls to love themselves, to trust themselves, to speak up….’
I’m just back from working on the final chapter of this international arts and advocacy project, in which HIV+ve participants photograph their lives to combat stigma.
I teach photography, and co-edit the work with the participants, alongside Gideon Mendel and Prof. David Gere’s team from the Art and Global Health Centre at UCLA.
A major exhibition featuring work from all ten cities has just opened in Durban to coincide with the 21st International AIDS Conference, which begins on the 18th July. The HIV+ve photographers will work as guides and speakers at the show.
I’ll post work from the Durban group during the conference, starting with Silungile.
Silungile is a sangoma or traditional healer as well as an educator, HIV activist and grandmother. Here are a selection of her photographs.
Last March this international arts and advocacy project, in which HIV+ve participants photograph their lives, came to London. I teach photography and co-edit the work with the participants, alongside Gideon Mendel and Prof. David Gere’s team from UCLA. This is the ninth city the project has worked in to challenge the stigma of HIV.
Each participant produced a sequence of ten images which will be appearing on the project website: http://throughpositiveeyes.org/ Meanwhile, here’s a sample to be going on with.
Last December I returned from helping to run the Haiti chapter of this international arts and advocacy project, in which HIV+ve participants photograph their lives. I teach photography and co-edit the work with the participants, alongside Gideon Mendel. This is the eighth city the project has worked in to challenge the stigma of HIV.
I’ve just returned from helping to run the Thai chapter of this international arts and advocacy project, in which HIV+ve participants photograph their lives. This is the seventh city the project has worked in to challenge the stigma of HIV.
One of 14 HIV+ve participants, Anthony rendered his life story in a series of paper cut-out shadow photographs. Working until four in the morning over many nights and using just paper and a torch he has taken photography right back to its origins by fixing a shadow cast upon a sheet of paper. His images have the directness of photograms and produce a compellingly parred down narrative of survival.
Visiting her one room home I was particularly taken by the screen around her shrine. She told me it was there to avoid offending passing Muslim neighbours in the busy alley outside. This sparked a whole discussion about how she navigates her multiple identities as a man, a woman and as a Hindu and a Muslim while remaining within society and her community.
She acts these out for us in a documentary performance which is intimate and confident but without histrionics or vanity.
I’ve just returned from helping to run the latest round of this international project in which HIV+ve participants photograph their lives.
Around the world—in half a dozen countries, on five continents—HIV-positive people open their lives and share their stories. Through their own photographs, in their own voices, they teach the importance of compassion and the power of living a positive life. I run the photo-workshops on this project which is directed by photographer Gideon Mendel and Professor David Gere with a team from UCLA.