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ISSUE 118 VOL 2 PUBLISHED 9/24/2004

Artists render 'Maps' to soul

By Clare Kennedy
Contributing Writer

Friday, September 24, 2004

Heralding the latest St. Olaf art exhibit, Flaten Art Museum hosted a reception in celebration of "Body Maps," a series of reproduced canvases created by 14 female South African victims of HIV Friday, Sept. 17.

More than 60 students and faculty showed up to enjoy refreshments and take a first glance at the show.

Publisher David Krut (a naturalized British citizen who was born in Johannesburg, South Africa) kicked off the reception by an informative and touching speech.

Krut, whose work is based in London, has been publishing art editions since 1980. He published the book "Long Life  Positive HIV Stories," which anthologizes the artists' written words describing "Body Maps," and is on display alongside the artwork.

The art department wrapped up the opening festivities with a modern dance, improvised to the sounds of drums, rattles and an oral recitation of select passages from "Long Life."

The student response to the show was enthusiastic.

"The exhibit is very powerful and informative for those of us who dont have AIDS," Elizabeth Henke 05 said. "Everyone should see it; its a very positive expression from people who are dealing with the disease."

The body maps featured in the exhibit are impressive and colorful visual records of the struggle that the South African artists face on a daily basis. The artists' lives are chronicled through wounds, children born (and lost) and their perceptions of the disease that has invaded their bodies.

The artists worked in pairs, one drawing the outline of the others body. Each piece came to have an evocative double outline, with one bodily form falling like a shadow behind the other.

The artists used many symbols to represent the virus; most compared it to snakes and storms. A more enigmatic symbol that appeared in multiple works was a flower that resembled a tulip.

In addition to visual symbols, written and printed texts were included in the artwork as well, some in English and other in the artists' native tongue.

The texts are woven through the background of some of the pieces. One woman, Nandumiso, wrote "Love them all but trust no one."

According to Krut, the artists were drawn from a population of transient migrants who have recently swept into urban areas but "& are still functioning as though they were living in rural areas."

The migrants live in shack settlements, with no electricity or running water. Low levels of education and high unemployment rates plague them; consequently, there are often 10 people in one dwelling, all of whom are living on a single income.

It is in this specific population that the AIDS virus has taken hold. Unfortunately, there is a strong stigma surrounding the disease  especially in a community where people usually become sexually active at a very young age and the rate of teenage pregnancy is fairly high.

The migrant men consider the disease a challenge to their manhood. "Its a very macho society  a lot of men refuse to have sex with condoms," Krut said

Another problem is the rampant misinformation about the disease, propagated by both the South African government and local traditional healers.

The problems within the South African migrant community underscore the importance of the "Body Maps" project.

"The main idea is to draw peoples attention to the aids pandemic in South Africa, but to do it through the visual arts, which is so powerful," Krut said. "Its absolutely a message of hope; it helped them come to terms with their bodies, who they are and that they have HIV."

Since their involvement in the creation of "Body Maps," the artists have seemed very optimistic. They have been receiving medical treatment  a fundamental part of the "Body Maps" project, in addition to the encouragement of self-expression. Most of the artists are now healthy, although one of the women, Maria, recently died in a car accident. Many of the artists have bought houses with the proceeds their work has generated.

The artists feel it is their job to explain the nature of AIDS to their fellow countrymen and women. Even the works themselves, originally done on cardboard and other common materials, are far too delicate to be moved and remain in the National Gallery in Cape Town, South Africa.

Recently, a Swiss patron of the arts purchased much of the artwork. Photographs of the works were taken on a digital camera, and then printed onto canvas in order to make the works accessible to the public.

"Body Maps" was shown at the South African National Gallery in December 2003, and was subsequently shown at the David Krut Project in Chelsea, New York, N.Y.

Director of Flaten Art Museum and Assistant Professor of Art Jill Ewald requested that the show come to St. Olaf, which is the first stop on a cross-country tour of American colleges; in early November, the artwork will be shown in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Although there is still a great need for treatment, the international community has been very supportive; they have given much aid and applied much pressure the department of health in South Africa to move more quickly in dealing with the crisis.

Krut considers the involvement of foreigners in this project to be a message to the South African government and all those that are affected by the AIDS crisis that "the rest of the world understands the problem and wants to help."

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