Body Maps

A Memory Box Project

Memory Box is a community outreach programme initiated by the University of Cape Town that works with HIV+ people to encourage expression and contemplation of their experience through writing, painting and other media. In 2003-2003, Memory Box Project and Médecins Sans Frontières began to document the lives of a group of HIV+ women with access to drug therapies through MSF. With the help of Cape Town-based artist, Jane Soloman, the participants created Body Maps- life size images tracing the contours of their bodies that visualize the virus and articulate each individual history. Body Maps is presently a touring exhibition and is being hosted by the Flaten Art Museum Gallery, St. Olaf College in Minnesota from September 17 - October 19, 2004.

Each Body Map image bears the name, the place and the date of birth, as well as the handprints and the footprints of its maker / subject. On the Body Maps, painted representations of wounds, marks and attacking HIV viruses appear together with textual fragments and areas of emotional significance. Each participant has selected a symbol of personal power and hope, often taking the form of a flower or a heart, to embody the optimism of the project. The shadowy forms of the participants' partners hover behind the female images to underline the crucial support and encouragement needed from others.

The Body Maps draw us into a direct dialogue with South Africa's epidemic AIDS problem. We are invited to identify with individual women on a highly personal, emotive basis. But these are ultimately images of hope and beauty that are also used as qualitative research tools as well as instruments for narrative therapy and treatment literacy programmes.

Long Life - Positive HIV Stories, a collaborative book based on the Body Maps and on the accompanying stories they illustrate, profiles the lifes of the Bambanani Woman group. With the participation of the women who authored the art and the related stories, the limited edition prints of the Body Maps are for sale with proceeds allocated to the Memory Box charity.