African Studies Center Cosponsors Exhibit on Art and HIV/AIDS in KwaZulu Natal
Telephone wire basket with HIV theme by Anna Maria Diamini, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

African Studies Center Cosponsors Exhibit on Art and HIV/AIDS in KwaZulu Natal

"'Break the Silence': Art and HIV/AIDS in KwaZulu Natal" Exhibit Opens February 17 at UCLA's Fowler Museum

HIV/AIDS was identified less than two decades ago, yet its devastation has already staggered the world. Sub-Saharan Africa possesses ten percent of the world's population, but seventy percent of its AIDS victims. KwaZulu-Natal Province in South Africa has the tragic distinction of the world's fastest growing numbers of people living with HIV/AIDS, and half of all young people there may perish from it. "AIDS is a nation-killer," South Africans say, yet the illness remains shrouded in mystery and misconception. South African women are at particular risk, yet many who are HIV-positive remain quiet and avoid treatment for fear of persecution within their families and communities. For some time now, valiant grassroots efforts have been made to break this silence.

"'Break the Silence': Art and HIV/AIDS in KwaZulu Natal", an exhibit based upon an article in African Arts journal of the same title by Allen F. Roberts, UCLA professor and director of the African Studies Center, opens February 17 at the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. The exhibit will feature items from the Durban Art Gallery created by women's workshops sponsored or assisted by the DAG. These workshops are part of the grassroots movement where women are making art to earn money while discussing pressing problems in a safe haven. The works include striking beaded dolls, beaded "letters," and colorful telephone-wire baskets called izimbenge, inscribed with words and images of HIV/AIDS. Also included in the exhibition will be banners painted by schools and other public institutions through commissions from the DAG, that formed part of a 500-meter-long, crimson AIDS-awareness ribbon encircling Durban City Hall to welcome delegates to the 13th International HIV/AIDS Conference held in Durban over the summer of 2000.

The ribbon, the beadwork, dolls, izimbenge telephone-wire baskets, and other arts incorporating the AIDS-awareness ribbon and other motifs produced by women's collectives are attractive and dramatic. They will make a visually engaging exhibition, but best of all, they will suggest to museum audiences that the stories currently carried in the US media about dire problems associated with HIV/AIDS in South Africa are not without courageous and creative responses by South Africans themselves.

The exhibit will be complimented by various activities including a forum addressing the pandemic throughout the continent from the same perspective - break the silence. Roundtables will address how performance and visual arts are being used to explain and debate what HIV/AIDS is, what it does, and what people can do about it. Local initiatives and local response will be highlighted along with the role of social associations and religious organizations in establishing and supporting the dialogue on HIV/AIDS.

The exhibit is sponsored by James Coleman Center for African Studies and Fowler Museum. The forum is sponsored by African Studies, Fowler Museum and the Department of World Arts and Cultures.

The exhibit will be on view until April 28th 2002.

Published: Thursday, January 10, 2002