Thursday, May 11, 2006
Imaginary Cartography, III
The Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania is hosting a remarkable exhibition of art works from South Africa called Body Maps. The beautiful art on display was produced by thirteen HIV positive women who named themselves The Bambanani Women's Group. (Bambanani meaning "to support each other, to lend hands.")
The director, Jonathan Morgan, describes the project in his introduction to Long Life ... Positive HIV Stories, (Double Storey Books [SA], 2003):
Memory box work, as it is understood in the context of HIV and AIDS, is about preparing for death, and about preparing legacies for children who are soon to become orphans. ... When we began the University of Cape Town's Memory Box Project in Khayelitsha, we noticed that the people we worked with were facing the future more than the past. Life more than death. Out of a larger group who had begun to sketch their stories and dreams of a longer life in their own memory books and boxes, we invited those who wanted to, to tell their stories more publicly.These are large, fascinating, and multi-layered works. Several of them make use of text and photography in addition to painted imagery. And each map incorporates the artist's actual hand- and foot-prints, as well as providing a full-body outline. If you're within range of the Annenberg School, I definitely recommend that you make the trip to see them.
The body map paintings ... rapidly evolved into participatory qualitative research tools, which helped participants to sketch out, paint in and put into words their memories and their stories, which were then captured in the form of narratives ...
The painting on the cover to Long Life is a map by Nomawethu (it's reproduced above); by following the link to the Annenberg School's Body Maps webpage, you can view the maps produced by Babalwa, Bongiwe, Bulelwa, and Cordelia.)
Here's an image of the one made by Victoria:
Each of the creators has provided descriptive material about themselves in the book; here's an excerpt from Victoria's:
When Nomonde and I began this book project, we were meant to be here as facilitators ... But we liked what ... the others [were doing] with the big paintings of their bodies much too much. We joined in, and I was the next person to finish my painting.
[She describes the mark on the left side of her head (a wound caused by a fallen stone); and the mark on her right leg (a dog bite).]
When I was 13 in my culture we cut the fingers, especially the ladies. The boys go to the bush. My father he want to mark his children, his ladies, so they doesn't get lost, especially in Cape Town. If the train hits they must know that mark in the mortuary when they come to find you.
One day they took the sharp knife from the shop and that had never been used to anything and they just cut the finger ... I don't notice it is missing. You are the only one to notice.
When I look at this picture I can see what I am, and what I'm not, and what I believe in, and what I don't. I can see that my finger is missing and that I have HIV, but also that I'm strong, very strong.