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 ’71, June 8
I was a healthy baby. It was at ten months that I contracted polio.
Growing up with a disability, it has been a difficult thing. Kids are so honest and some kids are cruelly honest.
I thought my kids’ father was different.
I didn’t know that he was ashamed of me being disabled and all these things.
When I became pregnant, that’s when the reality came to my life, that this guy didn’t really love me. He didn’t even contribute anything to the upbringing of my children. If it wasn’t for my mom, I don’t know what will I have done.
One of the sisters at the external clinic was curious, you know. She came to me and said, You know what Nomasomi, I’m just curious, how did you become pregnant?
And I said, Huh?
She said, Ja, how did you become pregnant?
I said to her, You know what, give me your husband and watch me making love to your husband. Then you will see how I become pregnant.
I thought no, I’m immune to HIV and all those things; I… I’m not HIV-positive, I was brave and I was positive that I’m not positive. I took the test…
And then they came back positive and then that’s when I said, uh-oh. The depression started from there, because I was very scared to tell my family, even my mom. I was very scared because I was thinking my mom will say… will think that I was promiscuous.
I thought the community will say to me, We just told you, disabled people love men, love sex and all those things, that is why you are HIV-positive. I was really scared of those stigmas, you know. I was being stigmatised from being disabled, and now this HIV it was too much for me. I stood quiet for two years.
When I looked at my kids, I cried secretly. Because I was thinking, I’m going to leave them without a mom, when they are so young.
After I told my mom, there was this family friend who came here as a counsellor. So she counselled her; she used to come and counsel her until she accepted the situation, even my sister and my brother; they talk to her, and eventually she did accept the situation that I’m HIV-positive. And then she used to say, Hey, what will happen to your kids when you die…
I said, No Mama, I’m not going to die now. I won’t let HIV kill me. In fact I will kill HIV. I used to joke about it.
They did accept me completely.
My son Thabo was very angry. I hate my father. I hate him, because he abandoned us. Look at it now, Mama, look now!
And then I said no, please don’t hate your father. But eventually I tried to talk to him and show him that no, HIV doesn’t kill.
Thabang said to me, You know what, Mama? Even though you are HIV, I still love you.
My hope for them is that I wish they can grow up. I wish to see them growing up being responsible men. I don’t want them to see women as an object. And I want them to be responsible fathers to their kids. Not to be like their father. DM