October 4th, 2012

Portraits From a Grid, 1998

Ink-jet prints on vinyl, stitching, brass ringlets.
Each panel measuring 140 x 60 cm.
Collection: Wits University

1999: Aids Worlds: Between Resignation and Hope, curated by Frank Wagner (Berlin), 12th International Aids/HIV Conference, Centre d’Art Contemporain and Dialogai, Geneva
2006: Figuring Faith: Images of Belief in Africa, curated by Fiona Rankin-Smith, Standard Bank Art Galleries, Johannesburg

I produced the work entitled Portraits From a Grid for an exhibition called AIDS Worlds, between resignation and hope curated for the 13th International HIV/AIDS Conference in Geneva in 1998. At that time in South Africa, which is now more than ten years ago, the subject of HIV/AIDS was still formulated within public discourse in ways that were stigmatizing and derogatory. As a result of this persons with HIV and those suffering from AIDS-related illnesses felt themselves silenced and on the margins of society. For my contribution to the exhibition I wanted to create a visual document about the experiences of such people at that moment in South African history in the hope that in future it will be different. I found a number of people who were willing to be interviewed regarding their experiences living with HIV. These interviews I transcribed and I used the transcribed text in combination with excerpts taken from reports on HIV/AIDS in local newspapers. Since most people I interviewed couldn’t afford to have their identity made known in the context of the installation, which prevented me from using an image of them as part of the work, I asked each person to give me an object that is representative of them as persons or the way in which they live their lives with HIV. The objects people presented me with ranged from precious objects such as fluffy toys and ornaments to a rubber dildo from someone who used it for the purpose of safe-sex education in prisons. Since I couldn’t use the names of the people I interviewed either I devised a code alluding to the gender, age and sexual orientation of the person I interviewed as well as the date and time of the interview. These were stenciled across the photographs of objects on the panels.
A year after the exhibition in Geneva I presented the work in South Africa. Before installing the work I called each person I interviewed during the making of the work. A number of them had by then passed away1, which made me realize that the work was becoming a memorial to those nineteen people I interviewed in producing the work, apart from being a testimony to the injustices done to them by society towards the end of their lives.
In 2008 the work was destroyed and I was asked to remake it. This afforded me the opportunity to revisit the way the installation was conceptualized and executed and I decided to make some changes, mainly in the way the panels are produced. In the current version of the installation each panel is printed on vinyl2 and made into a banner with brass ringlets in each corner, since I wanted the panels to have associations with acts of protest and mourning in public. The process of digital printing on vinyl allowed me to introduce color in the panels, which I did. Each of the codes printed across the photographs of objects are printed in various bright colors, while the text on each panel that was taken from local newspaper reports on HIV/AIDS is in red.
- September 2011