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 ’59, June 7
In 2003, I was very, very sick.
I didn’t suspect HIV, because I had an allergy.
I think I’ve had HIV for many, many years.
Oh, I cried a lot. I cried a lot in 2007. I didn’t have medication, I didn’t want to take the medication, I wanted to kill myself. I don’t know why. I had a lot of problems resulting from my husband’s suicide. In 1998 he hanged himself here in this makhukhu.
And the granny next door comes with me. She takes my hand; I show her – there’s my husband, there. She asks, Why? I say I don’t know, I don’t know what happened. I take the axe, I break the door with it. I go inside.
He used a chair, he’s hanging.
I take a knife and cut the rope.
Then he falls, here, next to me.
I close his eyes.
After we bury him, I have to wear black for a year. I am not allowed to talk to anybody. I don’t have a mother. You’re not allowed to talk. I sat on the floor for a whole year. I’m not allowed to eat with anybody. I can’t talk to anybody, I talk at work. For a year.
It’s 14 years since my husband died. I’m still upset. He loved me; I loved him. He married me; he helped me. I don’t know why he did that. He told me nothing, he didn’t write a letter. I don’t know why he did it. Just, when I got back from the shop, he had killed himself.
It wasn’t difficult telling my children that I had HIV. I just told them. I just told them, because at that time I thought I would kill myself, and I’ll kill the children. We don’t have maize meal, nothing – the children were very little. I would kill the children first and then when I saw they were dead, I would kill myself. My sister saved us; she stayed with us for two days.
The children made me drink the medicine. They would clean, cook, call people to come and pray for me when I was not well.
I am so much better now. DM
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