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Embracing your HIV status through the Arts by Chanda Mwango, Zambia

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

“No matter how much falls on us, we keep ploughing ahead. That’s the only way to keep the roads clear” – Greg Kincaid

I can understand how living with HIV/AIDS can be scary or frustrating among other things, especially the stigma and discrimination that comes with it. I know that we try to look for ways to express our feelings in a safe space without facing any judgment. It kind of seems like we are more or less looking for our own Gardens of Eden.

I always looked at art as a very powerful tool because art can leave a big impression on a large audience with or without using any words. I, for one, am not really good with my words so if you’re anything like me then art probably came to your rescue too.

Many of us would like to tell our own stories of living with HIV about all the ups and downs we have faced but most importantly, how we rose to the top despite all the hurdles. I remember watching many cultural dances and let me tell you, that stuff touched my heart and soul. It really makes you think, on how we can reach out and sensitize many people if we properly utilize these arts.

It always amused me on how with just the very sight of a painting, one can tell a story of a thousand words without speaking any words whatsoever. HIV/AIDS has changed the lives of many individuals around the world and it’s amazing to see how artists let us see how it has positively or negatively impacted communities through amazing paintings. One of some pieces it came across was “HIV/AIDS painting” by Tristen Templar where he told a story about HIV. Though it might seem like painting isn’t a deal to some of us, it helps provide a voice for the voiceless so let’s all pick up our brushes and speak.

As much as I love to look at paintings all day and decipher, let’s talk about films. I’m sure most of us just love a good film while eating some snacks on side just as I do. Films enable us to let our audience a company us on our journey as people leaving with HIV because every emotion can be felt through the screen. You know how most of us felt when Romeo and Juliet didn’t end up together in end and how we felt like we were on the journey with them, that right there is the power of film. I remember watching a short film called the Lazarus Effect which was produced and directed by Spike Jonze and Lance Banks. This eye opening film described the how individual infected with HIV in Zambia are impacted by the free antiretroviral drug programs. Another, is an entertaining and yet insightful film I watch on the AIDS2020 Virtual conference global village called the House of Hopelezz. They are an amazing group of drag queens who seek to challenge gender norms and push our understandings about sexuality as well as spread more information about HIV. What I’m getting at is for you to not be afraid to use film in spreading awareness about HIV and expressing ourselves because we can do anything we set our minds to.

I used to be really into poetry at some point in my life and the more I spoke, the more I felt alive. Just like the quote, "Good words are worth much, and cost little"—George Herbert, there is power in our words. Poetry intensifies the feelings and ideas we want to express and with that, you and I can use it to let the world see and understand what living with HIV in our communities is really like. So, don’t try to hold back your emotions, let the world hear you.

There are many more forms of art that you and I can use to express ourselves and what it’s like living with HIV but the ones I’ve mention spoke to me the most. Remember that HIV does not define who you are, but you can choose to shape the person that you want to be. My advice is to snatch that notebook, paintbrush, or camera and start expressing your HIV journey through art because when life gives you lemons, you can’t return them so you might as well make lemonade.

Be you, Always.


Thank you for your generous support for the ICW Young Women's Media Team.

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