HIV and ART, the message in the medium

a group of artists used striking visual artworks to get HIV/AIDS information across
a group of artists used striking visual artworks to get HIV/AIDS information across

Earlier this week, the Ministry of Youth Sport and Culture (MYSC) hosted the annual Nna le Seabe HIV and Art awareness exhibition at the National Museum as part of the commemorations for World AIDS Day. Mmegi Staffer MOMPATI TLHANKANE visited the museum to interpret some of the seemingly indecipherable messages in the artworks.

With the topical issue nowadays being global warming, artists have taken to portraying the phenomenon with a burning orb to represent the destruction of mother earth by its inhabitants.

Locally, a group of artists have since 2001 been relay messages on HIV/AIDS information a with striking visual artworks.

Although it cannot be classified as protest art, the present creative works by the local artists  can shock, awe  and leave an indelible mark in the minds of the viewers.

It is as if the artists were saying, “if  it’s awareness, they want we’ll give it to them in a shocking and awe-inspiring way.

Influenced by the topic of HIV, each artist has a different painting style ranging from realism to abstract.  Take Sylvester Koweno’s artwork which could aptly be coined “lethal coitus”. A naked man is straddling a big black scorpion, the kind that gives you just one bite and you are reay to meet your maker.

Inevitably, the naked man seems to be trapped in the act. Koweno said he likes to convey messages through his art. He said the man lying on top of a spread-eagled scorpion indicates how some people sometimes get themselves into huge and irreversible problems. Another scene shows a skull with a thorny heart on the top.

“The other image of a thorny heart shows that some people can be heartless and they can drag you into their problems,” he said. A painting Onkabetse Mpolokeng shows a condom rolled on to a half-peeled banana. Right at first glance, the artwork provides some deeper meanings. The picture implies that even though the banana may be sweet and enticing, in the end safety precautions have to be exercised before savouring it.

Mpolokeng said he wanted to portray circumcision through the half peeled banana. “The title of the artwork is ‘My Only Remedy’ and the condom is meant to encourage people to condomise,” he said. Mpolokeng said it was his third Nna le Seabe exhibition and he worked on the artwork for two months. Victor Leshomo came up with another artwork showing a pair of feet on a stiletto crushing down another scorpion. Like the previous artist, Leshomo used a scorpion to symbolise HIV/AIDS. He told Arts and Culture that he wanted to show the power of women.

“Women have all the control in sexually related activities. Men bow down to women because they (men) are the ones in pursuit of sex,” he said. The graphic designer said he used Adobe Photoshop and in-design to design his artwork. Next was Kedumetse Matshidiso’s portrayal of an old woman on whose face is etched intolerable pain. The paintings entitled ‘Break The Chain and Condomise’ shows a broken chain next to a condom.  Matshidiso said he wanted to assure the viewers that if they condomised, the chain would be broken.

“The old woman shows the pains and suffering HIV victims leave behind after they pass away,” he said. He was also quick to indicate that in the picture there is a small graphic detail of people who have broken the chain and now live freely. Through the exhibition, artists were given a platform to effectively communicate the message of HIV/AIDS through visual representation. When he launched the exhibition this week, the Minister of Youth, Sport and Culture, Thapelo Olopeng, said Nna le Seabe was a platform for artists to make their voices heard and their contribution in fighting the scourge. “They do this through various expressions which include fine art, performing arts and literary works. This initiative leads artists to research and apply their knowledge in the different genres, using various mediums as a form of communication,” he said.

Olopeng said the exhibition included materials that provide guidance in mainstreaming issues of HIV and AIDS, targeting People Living with Disabilities and their efforts in fighting the scourge. He urged other relevant stakeholders, particularly the private sector to also make a contribution to bring valuable growth to the programme. “The title, “Nna le Seabe” is significant as it rallies every Motswana, and indeed all of us, to play our role in combating the scourge of HIV and AIDS,” he said. “Every individual has the responsibility, not least the artists.”

National AIDS Coordinating Agency  has been sponsoring the exhibition since 2009 and the exhibition will run until end of January next year. The exhibition came almost a week after the commemoration of the World AIDS Day 2015, which was held in Tonota last week. This year’s “Nna le Seabe” exhibition goes under the theme ‘getting to zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero HIV/AIDS related deaths’. The exhibition has been hosted since 2001 and it has represented a critical contribution by local visual artists in combating the scourge of HIV/AIDS in Botswana.

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