THE number of people infected with and dying from HIV/Aids may be falling world-wide — including in South Africa, whose population of 5,6 million HIV-infected people is, according the UNAids, the biggest in the world — but concerns remain about access to treatment.
And for Carol Brown, former director of the Durban Art Gallery and co-curator of the exhibition, The A.R.T. Show, with Professor David Gere from Make Art/Stop Aids in the United States, it’s the reason they wanted to engage southern African artists in a conversation about life-saving HIV treatment.
Speaking to The Witness ahead of the opening of the exhibition at the Tatham Art Gallery in Pietermaritzburg on Thursday — World Aids Day — Brown said: “We posed the question: how do artists view this new era when the spectre of death still looms, but when people with access to treatment can live with HIV indefinitely?
“And where Aids treatment is not universally available, how do artists grapple with the fact that one’s future is determined by socioeconomic status and the presence of shrinking government treatment programmes?”
Eighteen months later, the results of this conversation can be seen in a series of massive installations, ceramics, photographs and other works.
One of the most complex pieces on show is a travelling trunk, constructed by Xavier Clarisse, a designer from Durban, which, when opened, reveals a cabinet of curiosities. These range from Rosemary Marriot’s small figures made from skin, which are suspended in test tubes, to hands holding sacred relics made by Ardmore Ceramic Art in Caversham.
Clarisse said the work had been extremely complex to make, but had also allowed him to combine his two passions — art and design.
“It’s meant to be playful and interactive. I wanted the piece to be a bit of a game, a bit of a mystery,” he said, adding that like most people he loved the gadgets in the James Bond films and is fascinated by the objects of the Victorian age.
Another key piece has been made by Gordon Froud, a lecturer at the University of Johannesburg. Titled Jacob XX (V2) 2011, the sculpture explores issues of genetics, infection, reproduction and excess.
Speaking about the work he says: “It is a conglomoration of spermbabies in a mix with genetic markers of noughts and crosses. The noughts are made from moulds of egg holders, picking up on the notion of reproduction. The crosses can be read as an x representing the x chromosome, but also as a plus sign to the potential HIV-positive status in a foetus.
“There is also a touch of social commentary in the titling which refers to our president’s penchant for reproduction. The idea for this piece was conceived in the week that it was announced that President [Jacob] Zuma had fathered his 20th child.”
Other pieces include Through Positive Eyes, an interactive, walk-in photographic installation by South African photographer Gideon Mendel, and a unique lightbox with sculptures made by Daniel Goldstein.
Mendel, who lives and works in London, gave cameras and photographic training to 17 HIV-positive people in Johannesburg, providing an opportunity for them to share their lives and stories.
The altar-shaped lightbox made by Goldstein, an artist who has been living with HIV/Aids for almost 30 years, encloses three sculptures — Medicine Mother, which was was made with South African medication bottles and beaded elements created by HIV- positive South Africans, Medicine Man, which is made of the artist’s own medication bottles, as well as those of his friends and dead partners and Invisible Man, which is made entirely of syringes, each tipped with a red crystal bead.
These works will sit alongside that of South African artists, William Kentridge, Andrew Verster, Lunga Kama and Kim Berman, and Sara Anjargolian, an Armenian artist based in the United States.
The A.R.T. Show also features work by artistic collectives, including the Siyazama Project, the Woza Moya Project in Hillcrest and the Keiskamma Project, which has created a work inspired by Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. This new South African work features hundreds of small beaded dolls, representing Aids orphans, and offers a critical assessment of the access to treatment in rural regions of South Africa.
Brown said the title of the exhibition was a deliberate play on words: “A.R.T in the health context refers to antiretroviral therapy, whereas in the cultural context it refers to creativity.
“The exhibition aims to address the issues facing people in the post-treatment access phase and engages with problems such as orphans, unequal access to treatment for rich and poor, living with memories of those already lost to the pandemic. It also engages with the relationship between science and art and makes comments around circumcision, knowledge communication channels and the fear of contamination.”
The A.R.T. Show is the third instalment in a series of exhibitions which began with Make Art/Stop Aids, a show, which chronicled the key role of the arts in the first two decades of the Aids epidemic. It opened at the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) Fowler Museum on February 23, 2008.
Parts of this exhibition and other works then toured South Africa under a new title, Not Alone, which demonstrated that African artists have a great deal to say about the experience of Aids in their region. The exhibition was staged at the Durban Art Gallery, Museum Africa in Johannesburg and Iziko-Goodhope Castle in Cape Town.
• The A.R.T Show opens at the Tatham Art Gallery in Pietermaritzburg at 6 pm on December 1 and will run until the end of January.
It will then move to the KZNSA Gallery in Durban in February, before heading to Museum Africa in Johannesburg, the University of Cape Town Michaelis Art Gallery and other countries.