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Tuesday, July 19, 2016


(“Bongi” – one of the works on the exhibition)

Through Positive Eyes is a new exhibition which builds on the work of South African photographer Gideon Mendel, harnessing the power of the arts to banish HIV stigma, which is on at the Durban Art Gallery to coincide with AIDS2016, the international Aids Conference taking place in Durban.

Award-winning photographer Gideon Mendel and UCLA professor David Gere have, for the last 10 years, been building Through Positive Eyes, a participatory photography project in which people living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) share their stories in the form of photos, video, and narrative. Through Positive Eyes features over 100 photographs, an array of commissioned two-dimensional and sculptural works, and live storytelling documenting the realities of individuals living with HIV across the globe.

In the eighteen months following the Durban opening, the exhibition will travel to the Adler Museum of Medicine at Wits University, Johannesburg (November 1-December 31, 2016), UNISA Gallery in Pretoria (January 15-March 1, 2017), and the Iziko Slave Lodge in Cape Town (April 1-December 31, 2017). Thereafter, it is slated to travel to venues in Europe and the United States.

Through Positive Eyes began as a series of photographic workshops co-directed by award-winning photo artist Gideon Mendel and the Art & Global Health Center of the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA). Mendel is a London-based South African photographer and AIDS activist who has been chronicling HIV and AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa since 1993. Since then his groundbreaking work on HIV and on climate change has been widely recognized, most recently with the inaugural Pollock Prize for Creativity from the Krasner-Pollock Foundation.

The exhibition in its current form has been curated by David Gere (Los Angeles), Stan Pressner (New York) and Carol Brown (Durban).

In his 2003 book, Through Positive Eyes Mendel developed a method for interlacing images of People Living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) with first-person accounts, a potent combination that served to reduce the irrational stigma surrounding HIV. Through Positive Eyes takes Mendel’s image-and-text concept a step further, by putting cameras into the hands of the HIV-positive people themselves, so that they are encouraged to shape their own visual narratives and accompanying stories. The resulting work is especially raw and honest, revealing the deepest thoughts and feelings of PLWHA around the world.

The goal of Through Positive Eyes workshops is to empower HIV-positive people to pursue their own artistic voice and to develop their own individual narratives. Themes in the show include the Burden of Stigma, Alive and Well, What Makes Me Laugh, and Stories My Body Tells.

Since 2007, 122 HIV-positive people in nine major cities have taken part in this unique initiative, contributing to an archive of over 120,000 photographs, thousands of hours of video footage, hundreds of photo-essays, and a wide array of mini-documentaries, all available online at

Workshop locations include Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Mumbai, Bangkok, Port-au-Prince, and London. A group of HIV-positive people from the Durban area is being convened by the AIDS Foundation of South Africa (AFSA) just prior to the opening at Durban Art Gallery. This group of Durban “Artivists”— artist-activists — will share their stories live in the galleries throughout the run of the exhibition, in a theatrical environment created by New York artist Stan Pressner.

Other Artivists contributing works to the exhibition include Adriana Bertini (Brazil), Mandisa Dlamini (South Africa), Daniel Goldstein (United States), Ross Levinson (United States), Gordon Mundie (United Kingdom), and Parthiv Shah (India).

Through Positive Eyes and the activities of the UCLA Art & Global Health Center are made possible through the generous support of the Herb Ritts Foundation. Additional funding provided by the Electronic Theatre Controls, Ford Foundation, Teiger Foundation, UNAIDS, UCLA AIDS Institute, Gere Foundation, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Through Positive Eyes runs in the Durban Art Gallery until September 30, 2016. The Gallery is in the Durban City Hall, entrance in Smith Street (opposite the Playhouse). For more information contact 031 311 2264