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Pippa Hetherington is currently enrolled in the ICP-Bard MFA program, graduating in 2019. Having started an internship with Visual AIDS toward the end of her first semester, Pippa has been involved in the LOVE POSITIVE WOMEN initiative. Here, she reflects on a LOVE POSITIVE WOMEN workshop she coordinated in rural South Africa near her hometown; the workshop attendees shared their experience with Visual AIDS through interviews and portraits, and Pippa has brought their beautiful Valentine’s Day cards back with her to New York to be shown at the LOVE POSITIVE WOMEN exhibition from February 1–4, 2018, before they will be mailed to HIV+ women worldwide in time for Valentine's Day.

HIV and AIDS remain a pandemic in South Africa. There are 5.6 million people living with HIV and it is estimated that over 2 million adults and a quarter million children still require treatment. Despite the largest treatment program in the world, South Africa's anti-retroviral (ARV) coverage rate is only 52%—in 2011 there were 380,000 new HIV infections, and 270,000 South Africans died due to AIDS related illness. Over 2.1 million children have been orphaned by AIDS.

In the lead-up to LOVE POSITIVE WOMEN 2018, I held a Valentine’s Day card-making workshop with a group of local artists, health-care workers and HIV+ women in rural South Africa, near my hometown. On January 4th, 2018, eight members from the rural village of Hamburg in the Eastern Cape of South Africa came together to spread their love and support for HIV+ women across the world.

Working in conjunction with the Keiskamma Trust, an art and healthcare NGO in the Eastern Cape, the group connected in a rustic hut and focused on their own stories as well as sharing their experiences with others through making cards for HIV+ women to be brought back to the United States.

True to LOVE POSITIVE WOMEN’s values of brave gestures of love, the group found the workshop to be important for discussing ways of eliminating the stigma experienced by women living with HIV. The women were proud to have men among them in the workshop, though this in a region that is traditionally dominated by patriarchy. They found the workshop to be cathartic and developed their own messages of hope for women living with HIV.

Eunice Mangwane, a grandmother, health-care worker and educator addressing the staggering HIV and AIDS statistics in Hamburg and the stigma often inflicted on women living with HIV, says, “Walk with your head straight up. Ignore all the nitty gritty talks and live a good and happy lifestyle.” Eunice’s own daughter was diagnosed with HIV in 2007.

One of the major hurdles in rural South Africa is that people frequently refuse to take antiretroviral treatments for fear of exposing their HIV+ status. Setenzwa Mangwana, an HIV+ single mother of two, says, “I see in my community women who don’t want to accept that they are HIV+. They don’t want to take the treatment and are in denial. They are suffering a lot, but my advice and my wish is [that] they take their treatment [so that] their lives carry on. I would love [it] if others that are in denial can change [their outlook] and be positive about themselves, because HIV doesn't stop life. It is so nice for the positive ones to be free… they are free to speak about it, they are free to inspire the others.”

Written by: Pippa Hetherington 

Photos: Pippa Hetherington 

Pippa Hetherington is currently enrolled in the ICP-Bard MFA program, graduating in 2019. Having started her internship with Visual AIDS toward the end of her first semester, Pippa has been involved in the LOVE POSITIVE WOMEN initiative and will be assisting Marthinus Roodt, Visual AIDS 2018 Curatorial Resident from South Africa. Pippa’s work is heavily influenced by travels through Africa and her fifteen years of photographic work in the social development sector of Southern Africa. She is passionate about supporting projects in the civil society space and values the need for supporting the meeting point of art and HIV and AIDS. The attendees in the rural South African workshop she held shared their experience with Visual AIDS through interviews and portraits, and Pippa has brought their beautiful Valentine’s Day cards back with her to New York to be shown at the LOVE POSITIVE WOMEN exhibition on February 4th, 2018.

The Keiskamma Trust started as an art project in 2000 to act as a poverty alleviation program and to improve the overall health status of the Hamburg community. Through community awareness events and innovative community health worker programs, reaching out to all members of the community, the Trust aims to address the HIV and AIDS pandemic in South Africa.