Wearing the T-shirt: an exploration of the ideological underpinnings of visual representations of the African body with HIV or AIDS

  • Annwen E Bates 2 Locarno Road, Rondebosch 7700, Cape Town, South Africa


The article takes a hermeneutic approach to exploring a selection of visual representations of the African body in relation to the issue of HIV and AIDS in Africa. In particular, it argues that the trope of ‘deficiency' (‘lack'), wherein Africa is constructed as dirty, degenerate, decaying and dying, continues in visual representations aimed at a northern or UK audience. In contrast, examples of public health material aimed at a South African audience present a postcolonial counter-discourse where the African body is empowered rather than deficient. These two assumptions and their accompanying visuals parallel two differing narratives about HIV and AIDS in Africa. The article explores the ideological underpinnings of those narratives in four sections: 1) Paper-thin facts presents certain attitudes about Africa and the African body that have come into currency in relation to colonialism; 2) A matter of mor(t)ality examines the relationship between morality and the mortality of the African body; 3) The legacies endure analyses selected images aimed at a potential donor, UK audience with reference to the ideologies proposed in the previous sections; and 4) Wearing the T-shirt engages with the proposed counter-discourse and its visual representations, as evident in a selection of South African public health material.

Keywords: attitudes, colonialism, images, picture interpretation, socio-cultural expression, speech rhetoric, visual analysis

African Journal of AIDS Research 2007, 6(1): 67–78

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1608-5906
print ISSN: 1727-9445