African Journal of AIDS Research

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Artistic activities and cultural activism as responses to HIV/AIDS in Harare, Zimbabwe

Susan Pietrzyk


Over the last two decades both the number and types of civil-society-led organisations involved in addressing HIV and AIDS have increased dramatically. In many cases, the work undertaken is thoughtfully researched, appropriately focused, and as a result produces positive outcomes. Yet questions can be raised about what civil society engagements involve, particularly at a micro level. An important element concerns the role of the arts in efforts to understand and address HIV and AIDS. This article examines ways that insight, analysis, and action around HIV and AIDS have unfolded through the purview of artistic activities undertaken by cultural activists in Harare, Zimbabwe — that is, arts-oriented engagements occurring beyond the boundaries of formally structured organisations. Artistic expressions, which often concern lived experiences, make clear the complex circumstances surrounding HIV and AIDS, and at the same time seek to act upon those circumstances. Understanding and addressing HIV and AIDS requires more than one form of knowledge. Drawing on data from 21 months of ethnographic research in Harare, I examine artistic expressions as legitimate forms of knowledge and as strategies for intervention.

Keywords: AIDS service organisations; knowledge production; language use; performance arts; poetry; southern Africa; subjectivity

African Journal of AIDS Research 2009, 8(4): 481–490
AJOL African Journals Online