Campus & Community

The art of action

3 min read

Auction of southern African art brings creative solutions in devastating times

Photograph of Victoria Cobokana with
“ArtWorks for AIDS” explores the theme of HIV in southern Africa. The collection has traveled to Durban, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Brussels, and Boston. Above, a photograph of Victoria Cobokana, housekeeper, with her son, Sifiso, and daughter, Onica, in June 1999. Victoria died of AIDS on Dec. 13, 1999. Sifiso died of AIDS on Jan. 12. Onica also has AIDS. <b>David Goldblatt/South Africa</b>

Southern Africa has been hit harder by AIDS than any area of the world. In some countries, one in three adults is infected with HIV.

One might expect these societies to be physically and socially devastated by an epidemic of such staggering proportions, and in many respects they are. But they are also responding in creative and constructive ways. One of them is through art.

Artwork by Norman

Beginning next week, viewers will be able to see the response of 30 prominent artists from southern African countries to the AIDS epidemic. “ArtWorks for AIDS” will be on view in the Carpenter Center Gallery, Nov. 25-28.

After this public showing, the work will be moved to the Harvard Club at 374 Commonwealth Ave. for an auction on Nov. 30. All proceeds from that event will fund research and programs to deal with the challenge of HIV and AIDS in southern Africa.

According to Paul Stopforth, an artist from South Africa and a lecturer in the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies (VES), this will be the first large exhibition of work by southern African artists in the Boston area. The exhibition will include painting, sculpture, photography, ceramics, fabric art, and mixed media.

Stopforth welcomes the exhibition as an opportunity to raise his students’ awareness about the possibilities of using art to influence social issues.

“I’m planning on making use of the exhibition in my teaching, to show how art can function in a context where it can have significant social impact,” Stopforth said.

Ellen Phelan, professor of the practice of studio arts in VES and director of the Carpenter Center, said, “It’s marvelous that the work of this group of artists is being represented here. You can see that there’s tremendous power and authenticity in this art that we don’t often see in this country.”

Artwork by Penelope
“AIDS – Baby – Africa” (left) is a cibachrome print. Penelope Siopis/South Africa
Artwork by Stephen
“Woman With Child,” (right) oil on canvas. Stephen Mogotsi/Botswana

The artworks, which were specially commissioned for the exhibition, explore the theme of HIV in southern Africa with an emphasis on women and children.

One of the many beneficiaries of “ArtWorks for AIDS” will be the Botswana-Harvard Partnership for HIV Research and Education, a partnership between the Harvard AIDS Institute and the Botswana Ministry of Health. The partnership conducts epidemiological and laboratory-based studies focusing on mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Botswana and trains southern African researchers and laboratory personnel. The exhibition is co-sponsored by the Harvard AIDS Institute and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.

For further information on the exhibition and auction, please call Michael Broder at the Harvard AIDS Institute, (617) 432-4121. The artworks can also be viewed online at

Artwork by Velaphi
“Ndebele Graduate (Initiate),” acrylic on wood. <b>Velaphi Mzimba/South Africa</b>
Artwork by Hentie Van Der
Untitled (“pray” and “tears”), photograph – edition 1/1. <b>Hentie Van Der Merwe/South Africa</b>