In South Africa, the ongoing AIDS epidemic is woven into the fabric of the society. Its story is also woven into baskets and is strung bead by bead in other crafts such as dolls and jewelry. The IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, in partnership with the university’s Mathers Museum of World Cultures will share that story with local audiences in the traveling exhibition “Siyazama: Traditional Arts, Education and AIDS in South Africa.”
The Siyazama project, which is named for “we are trying” in Zulu, uses traditional crafts to raise awareness about AIDS in KwaZulu-Natal. The exhibition showcases the beauty of traditional African art forms and their use as a tool for negotiating contemporary cultural, social and economic change in an area where HIV/AIDS is a real and urgent issue. Featuring beadwork, doll making, basketry and wirework, the show explores how South African artists use their work to educate others as well as to cope with the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS in their own lives and communities.
“As a campus-wide unit, the Mathers Museum of World Cultures is charged with supporting all of the schools whose work touches on the complexities of the human condition,” said Dr. Jason Baird Jackson, the museum’s director and a professor of folklore at IU Bloomington. “With the Siyazama project, it is a special pleasure to showcase the teaching, research and outreach concerns of the School of Public Health while also supporting the College’s Themester focus on beauty.
“Siyazama really brings it all together in a compelling way and addresses important questions at the intersection of public health, the social sciences and the humanities. A window on life in South Africa, the exhibition also offers lessons for confronting HIV/AIDS here in southern Indiana,” he said.
The “Siyazama” exhibition has its origins in the South African National Cultural Heritage Project, a partnership led in part by the Michigan State University Museum and Matrix Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences. It draws upon collaborative research led by Dr. Kurt Dewhurst and Dr. Marsha MacDowell of the MSU Museum and arts education professor Dr. Marit Dewhurst from The City University of New York.