The AIDS epidemic has been given a face with the launch on the “Positive Lives” exhibition at the AIDS 2000 conference on Monday Night at the Durban Art Gallery. The exhibition features photos of  HIV positive people from around the world in images which challenge the fear and prejudice that surrounds HIV.

The photographs are a collection of personal stories which lie behind the statistics and the rhetoric, say Stephen Mayes and Lyndall Stein, founding editors of the Positive Lives exhibition.

“The few of us in these pictures represent many millions,” says Fezeka Khuzwayo from KwaZulu-Natal, one of the people living with AIDS whose image appears in the exhibition.

If Khuzwayo represents so many others, this is because she is one of the few who are courageous enough to share their stories in order to save lives.

The African component of this international exhibition was done by South African photographer Gideon Mendel who says that given the controversy around photographing people living with HIV/AIDS, he chose to photograph only those people “who wanted to be photographed and have their stories told”.

Mendel’s photo-documentary of Mzokhona Malevu of Northern KwaZulu-Natal shows him in interaction with family and friends. “I don’t like to photograph emaciated people lying in hospital beds,” says Mendel. “He’s not a pathetic victim but someone living a life.”

Mendel’s photographs of 29 year old Malevu illustrates the poverty of many of those living with HIV/AIDS. One picture shows him sleeping in his bed   with eight younger siblings sleeping on the floor around him.  

“He has one of the two beds in a household which houses 21 people. The kind of really good care he is given within that poverty is inspiring,” says Mendel.

Malevu’s own words accompany the pictures: “I am unhappy that people overseas can get better from the drugs they are given while we in South Africa have to die.”  

Judge Edwin Cameron, the HIV positive South African High Court judge who opened the exhibition, noted that if he was well enough to attend the opening this was only because, on a judge’s salary, he could afford the expensive antiretroviral drugs that kept him healthy.

Malevu, on the other hand, could not afford such treatment and was too ill to attend the opening that night. “This iniquity,” said Cameron, “is the result of drug company profiteering and government inaction.” – Health-e News