KHOPOTSO: The gallery feels cold, looks deserted and is very quiet, except for the artworks on display and the DVD left playing for hours on end, featuring the life stories of each participant in the project.

Fx’€¦ Sound from DVD.

KHOPOTSO: Most of the people whose work is on show here haven’€™t held a paint-brush or considered themselves artistic before. Little did they know that art can be a form of communication and therapy. Mvuzo Dhlamini is one of the exhibitors.

MVUZO DHLAMINI: I even consider taking art as a career because you have to, like, simply express your emotions, your feelings, in whatever you are working with. I think the youth will benefit from my work because as you look at it it just gives you that confusing feeling. You want more explanation on it.              

KHOPOTSO: Indeed, Mvuzo’€™s creation is intriguing. On a card-board, the 23-year old Soweto man has drawn three different faces. There is no colouring for the skin tones and very little bodily features. To make up for the missing bits, he has cut up images depicting women’€™s features ‘€“ such as painted eyes, glossed lips, ring-studded ears – from a magazine and pasted them onto his drawings. Some of the spaces remain hollow. A traditional Seshoeshoe cloth is neatly cut up and pasted on his drawings just below the faces to illustrate that they are wearing dresses.

MVUZO DHLAMINI: The three different personalities refer to me ‘€“ from my sexuality and the people around my life – the three people that are precious to me now that I’€™m only left with in my life’€¦ It’€™s me. And then, in the middle is Mvuzo the Gay. And then, it’€™s the woman in me. It also represents my mother and my other siblings. In my life, as I’€™ve said, I have three most important people that I’€™m left with – the two have passed away. That’€™s why I have the empty spaces. I think it represents them.

KHOPOTSO: Underlying the intrigue that Mvuzo inspires with his work is a deep-seated need to tell his story openly.

MVUZO DHLAMINI: I’€™m HIV-positive’€¦ The idea behind this was trying to interpret the things that I couldn’€™t tell people in the face. I was trying to show them three different faces’€¦ which represent the hardships that I went through in my life and the suffering that I went through.

KHOPOTSO: Neo Magaca, from Devland ‘€“ a housing project sandwiched between Diepkloof and Pimville, in Soweto – is one of the facilitators who worked with the 30 exhibitors showing their work at Constitution Hill.

NEO MAGACA: The reason why we ran the project is that these people, somehow, they want their memories to be kept; their families to really know, basically, what happened through their lives’€¦ We started by saying that the best way we can let people’€™s memories be remembered ‘€“ the best way was that we put it in a form of art. Yes, hence, we came up with this project’€¦

Basically, why we put it on a public space is that we want other people to see what other people are going through. This is also another way that we can try to help the public to prevent themselves from the whole epidemic’€¦ And also, for them, they simply said to us ‘€œwe want other people to know that this thing is real’€.          

KHOPOTSO: The show is called the Memory Project. It consists of images such as memory boxes, body maps, memory diaries, poetry writings, and some obscure objects. A unique aspect of the exhibition is that not all participants are HIV-positive. Others are people affected by HIV. Neo Magaca explains one such contribution by a teenage boy.

NEO MAGACA: If you can check the body map on your right: It’€™s one guy ‘€“ he’€™s not positive. But, basically, he is saying ‘€œI am affected seeing my brothers and sisters being HIV-positive’€. As you can see on top of his head there is some green paint. He said that the green paint would represent knowledge ‘€“ the knowledge that everyone has to have in HIV and AIDS. And the right hand that he raised, he coloured red, hey. So, what he’€™s saying is that ‘€œlet’€™s stop the whole epidemic’€. And if you can see down in his pants there’€™s a hand and a condom’€¦

KHOPOTSO: On his crotch.

NEO MAGACA: Basically, he’€™s saying that ‘€œwith my hand on my crotch, I just want to protect myself. I’€™ll make sure that I don’€™t take out my hand from my pants because of the whole epidemic. And I’€™ll make sure that the day I take out my hand, I use a condom’€.

KHOPOTSO: Neo Magaca, facilitator in the Memory Project exhibition taking place at the Lekgotla venue in Constitution Hill, Johannesburg. The show is open until the 28th of May.

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