Good Health : Impilo Engcono
BRUNDYN + GONSALVES is pleased to present Good Health: Impilo Engcono, a group exhibition featuring Zwelethu Mthethwa and nine youths from rural KwaZulu Natal. Good Health: Impilo Engcono is the product of the ‘Art in Global Health’ project, organised by Wellcome Collection, part of the Wellcome Trust in the UK. Artist residencies have been set up in six Wellcome Trust-funded research centres – in Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Thailand, Vietnam and the UK – as a way of teasing out some of the more personal, philosophical, cultural and political dimensions of health research. In South Africa, photographer, Zwelethu Mthethwa (born in Durban in 1960) explored the role that communities play in health research. Mthethwa was based at the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies (Africa Centre), a Wellcome Trust-funded international research facility located in Somkhele, 230 kilometres north of Durban. Mthethwa is known for his large-scale portraits that powerfully frame black South Africans as dignified and defiant, even under the duress of social and economic hardship.
Africa Centre is affiliated with the University of KwaZulu-Natal and lies in the heart of a poor and rural region of South Africa badly affected by HIV. The principal aims of the research are to investigate the dynamics of the HIV epidemic, to identify the key factors driving it, and ultimately to develop and test interventions to lessen its impact. Over the past five years, the Centre’s work has generated multiple insights into the HIV epidemic and the impact of antiretroviral therapy (ART). Africa Centre’s success to date has been based on its excellent relationship with the local community and other local stakeholders, whose support and engagement is essential to its work. Importantly, Africa Centre both contributes to and helps to shape the delivery of healthcare in the region.
In this series of photos, Mthethwa emphasises the human faces attached to research data, subverting the dehumanisation inherent in statistics. To ensure that individuals are not isolated from their broader context, locations that shape daily life in Mtubatuba such as taxi ranks, the sugar mill and the coal mine form the backdrops to the portraits. Through this, the portraits emphasise the interrelatedness of the facets of the community into a functioning whole – one that must come to terms with and surmount the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS. However sombre the subject matter may seem, there is always a dominant (and indeed encouraging) impression of perseverance, resilience and hope.
Viewed through Mthethwa’s lens, the project offers the opportunity to visually engage with the community on an intimate level, far more so than an ‘outsider’ position would conventionally allow. This intimacy is emphasised through the participation of nine community youth in the exhibition who were trained by Mthethwa in photographic workshop at Africa Centre in June 2012. The workshop was free of charge, with each participant receiving a digital camera of their own courtesy of the Wellcome Trust, ORMs and Nikon. The visual topic of the workshop was ‘Good Health’ and students were asked to explore this theme through their photography. The resultant exhibition reflects a diversity of approaches, angles and subject matters and provides a rich, real-life interpretation of health in this rural community.
Community participants: Lungani Ndwandwe, Portia Mnyeni, Sebenzile Nkwanyana, Nothando Sabela, Sanele Mbokazi, Siboniso Bhekumusa Sibiya, Sizwe Magcaba, Sinethemba Khumalo and Mpumelelo Mkhwanazi.
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