no 22. septembre 2002.
© Véronique Tadjo
In South Africa and in Africa in general, there is not a day that passes by
without the HIV/AIDS epidemic making news headlines. Lives are being ended at
an alarming rate and whole families are being destroyed.
Statistics show that the deadly disease is spreading in Southern Africa faster than anywhere else in the world. The average life expectancy which was recently around 65 years is predicted to drop to 40, or even 30, within 10 years. The latest figures also show that there are about 12 million AIDS orphans in the sub-Saharan Africa region.
Making governments, authorities, institutions and the general public aware of the scope of this scourge is everybody's responsibility. Indeed, we must all pull our forces together to fight this threat to our future.
In the midst of this crisis, writers, artists, must ask themselves the age-old questions : « What is art and what is our responsibility towards our community ? » If we look at the history of South Africa, we see that art played an important role in the struggle against apartheid by raising the conscience level of the nation and the international community about what needed to change.
Art can, once again, play an important role, this time, in the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Indeed, the visual arts can communicate by powerful, non-verbal means which provoke feelings that no other medium can. Through art the human dimension of the disease is best projected.
It is in this spirit that I held a painting workshop with fourteen South African children (boys and girls) ranging from 7 to 15 years old, accompanied by two Community Care Workers, one Community psychologist and a translator/helper. The workshop was hosted by The Fordsburgs Artists Studios in Johannesburg where I did a four month painting residency from October 2001 to January 2002.
The children, who call themselves « The Bambanani - Happiness Group », belong to the Ekupholeni Centre which is a Non Governmental Organisation located outside the city.
The group is made up of children who are affected by HIV/AIDS. Most of their parents are members of the Khululeka Group, a support group for people living with HIV/AIDS. The Bambanani-Happiness Group meets every week to share problems and support each other. Much of the work with the Group is focused around helping the children cope with ill parents and bereavement.
The workshop gave the children a chance to create artwork in a relaxed and artistic atmosphere. Children were encouraged to say something relevant to their age group and to find their own voice because children's point of view about the disease is not often heard. Children spent the day at The Bag Factory creating banners touching on the theme of HIV/AIDS and were able to express their feelings about the disease visually and in words. Each banner was a statement either explaining the work done or making a personal comment. Their sincere and heartfelt comments say much more than much of literature on the effect of HIV/AIDS on children's life.
The children also visited my studio and that of South African painter, David Koloane. They were given an informal introduction to the visual arts and showed a keen interest in discovering the activities of professional artists.
The community workers were so enthusiastic about the whole process of creation that they too decided to join in and produce their own banners alongside the children. Their comments show that they felt the urge to express themselves about the AIDS crisis.
The children's banners along with their comments were shown during the exhibition of paintings that I held from 9th to 28th February 2002 at the Fordsburg Artists Studios Gallery.
 The Ekupholeni team comprises eight Community Care Workers (CCWs), a clinical psychologists and two social workers. In order to reach more people more effectively a team approach is used. The CCWs are drawn from the community and trained in counselling, community development and group work. Many are leaders in their own neighbourhoods and all have had very personal experiences of violent conflict. Ekupholeni provides mental health services on three levels: Individual and family face-to-face counselling, group counselling and community healing projects. Over 1000 people per month are served at Ekupholeni, either individually, in a group, or as part of a community healing project.
 The Bag Factory or Fordsburg Artists Studios is a non-profit organisation promoting the visual arts through a broad range of activities. Artists - both upcoming and established - rent affordable studios in a cultural environment that encourages diversity and cross-fertilisation of ideas and practice. The organisation runs a residency programme to facilitate exchange, both nationally and internationally.
 Nevirapine : an anti-retroviral drug which
when given to HIV women in labour can halve the transmission of the virus from
mother to child. The treatment Action Campaign in South Africa says Nevirapine
could save several thousands of babies per year as long as they are not
breastfed as the virus can be transmitted through breastfeeding. Giving powdered
milk for one year to the babies of HIV mothers is therefore a
|Véronique Tadjo bio-bibliography|
|Text-poem (1996)||"Le dernier espoir" : Short story (1997)||Review (1999)||Interview (1999)|