Manipulating metaphors : an analysis of beadwork craft as a contemporary medium for communicating on AIDS and culture in KwaZulu-Natal.
This thesis is an analysis of a creative design HIV/AIDS communication programme named Siyazama (we are trying) that works in association with rural traditional beaded cloth doll makers from KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa. As a reflective thesis it represents a hermeneutic opportunity to ascertain the extent to which an interdisciplinary programme of HIV/AIDS education and training impacted on the lives of the women involved and how their expert skills of craftswomen were employed to understand and address the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic. What began in 1996 on invitation from the African Art Centre in Durban as a simple intervention to upgrade craft techniques and craft construction developed of its own accord into a unique HIV/AIDS intervention in 1999. The communication mode in which the rural women were skilled - beadwork - was long used by women in KwaZulu-Natal as a mode of communication to circumvent the Zulu cultural taboo on discussion of matters of emotional and sexual intimacy called hlonipha. In the modern era of HIV/AIDS, this same mode has been revived and reworked as a means for affecting communication about the many sensitive and taboo issues that surround this disease. There is much scientific evidence which points to the fact that women in this part of the world are far more susceptible than men to HIV infection, largely due to their lower social status, their economic dependence on men and their need to manage the large-scale poverty that affects them and their families. All of this contributes to increasing their vulnerability to AIDS. Ethnographic analysis of the experience of HIV/AIDS amongst Zulu-speaking craftswomen in KwaZulu-Natal has also revealed the nature of the complex cultural belief system that is alive and articulated in the local art and AIDS interface. This thesis describes the myriad ways in which a particular group of rural women of KwaZulu-Natal, owing to certain customary prescriptions, appear as largely silenced on sexual and sensitive relationship issues. Yet, their expert abilities in beadwork have afforded these women the opportunity to express innermost concerns about the epidemic in three dimensional forms. The historical record of KwaZulu-Natal shows us how beadwork was often used traditionally by women to take the place of speaking. The Siyazama Project beadwork exhibit, comprising over 300 pieces of individual beaded artifacts and collected between 1999 and 2005, provides verification of the continued existence of this form of expression. It is an archive of the fields of inquiry which were covered in the Siyazama educational programme starting with 'breaking the silence on AIDS' in 1999 and ending with anti-retroviral therapies (ART) in 2005. The relationship between the beaded crafts and the AIDS educational information which was received during the course of the Siyazama AIDS educational programme is explained through an analysis of this beaded collection. As an in depth qualitative study of the experiences and impact of the HIV/AIDS intervention with women beadworkers from rural communities in KwaZulu-Natal, this thesis represents an attempt to account for how a creative design HIV/AIDS communication programme has impacted on the lives of the women reached by the programme, and how their skills as craftswomen have been utilized to make sense of the local HIV/AIDS epidemic whilst raising awareness about AIDS in their communities. The overall aim of the study is to interpret the effect and effectiveness of beadwork craft as a visual metaphoric mode of expression, and to define the way the project sought to circumvent particular cultural taboos on the discussion of sexuality and other matters of personal intimacy. The study describes some of the common beliefs and attitudes that persisted at the time at which the project commenced and demonstrates how these have been 're-written and re-corded' in beadwork throughout the six-year duration of the intervention. My focus throughout is on assessing the value of this project through proposing the medium of beadwork as a contemporary and unique cultural archive that speaks to the complexities of HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa.