LEONIE MARINOVICH's series of portraits are the catalyst for a discussion in which urban African women speak frankly about the nuances and strategies of living with their HIV status, and of dealing with male violence in their societies.
Marinovich has long been photographing people in rural communities who are living with HIV, and this collaboration with UNAIDS was an opportunity to chat about the things people usually don’t discuss about the virus, and for women of all ages to speak about their life experiences.
One of the most emphasised themes to emerge was that of image, self-image and how women wish to present themselves to the world. The interplay between these intimate confidences and the confident, comfortable manner that these women offer themselves to the photographer’s camera interact in a remarkable way with the stories of their lives and emotions that they present verbally.
Born ’75, October 6
My father never liked me from the beginning.
They said when I was born, I was born unexpected. I came by accident.
I was raised by my grandmother. So it’s where I got love and comfort from; I never got any support from my mother and my father. And we slept with hunger. Until a friend of mine moved in with us. I knew she was a sex worker. She started at age 11 or 12. One day she invited me to a hotel. We were socialising together with white men and after a couple of times going with her, she got me a client.
She just said a friend of mine wants to meet you, and then I said okay… and I slept with that man.
The first night I was a bit drunk, and the second time I was a bit shy. But when I got used to it, it was natural.
He was a white man. He was from Europe; not an African white man. A wonderful guy, and I see that this is the way of earning money. Cheap way of earning money. Then I found out that he was having HIV. He never told me he was HIV positive.
As I passed by the hospital and I just told the taxi driver you can drop me. Now I was ready for it. I was drunk. Because if I did not drink alcohol I could have never tested myself.
Before giving me the results they called my aunt, and told her, No she’s having HIV and, you need to talk with her. Give her support. In my heart I was just thinking, what support will I get from these people? Now I will be crucified.
My father came and said we have heard that you are having AIDS, and we have told you to stay away from the street but you don’t want to stay away. It tore me apart… as a human being. They never even gave me a chance to explain.
My mother forgot that the money which I was buying electricity with brought me to HIV.
The money which she was asking from me to jump a bus to work, had led me to HIV.
It was such a terrible story to remember. Nobody come in, not even my father came in and asked how are you doing. All you get is Let her die because she brings shame in my house. I thought she will become a magistrate or a lawyer one day.
Now look what she has done.
But he forget that he’s the one who’ve neglected to pay my school fees.
I went back to the street because in my mind I have got my HIV from the street. And I will also give it back to the street.
I was very angry.
I would come back from the street drunk, high. Then I would wake my children, and start beating them. I was abusing my children.
One day at the clinic, the nurse told me that if I wanted to see my daughter grow, then I must become serious. Otherwise I would leave that small kid, and she will be an orphan. It’s when I came to my senses.
I’m a very good mother. Sometimes I will stress here and there, but if it comes to children issues I don’t want my children to go through what I’ve gone through in the past.
I want what’s right for them, you know, better education. And I want to see them going to university. That’s my dream.
I’m having enough people who are taking care of me, and then the other support is coming from my boyfriend. He is so supportive. We have been together now for two years. He has been tested. He’s negative. Up to today he is still negative.
And then he has said he wants a baby. He wants, we want, to plan for a baby. DM
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