ARTAID 15 paints hope for women living with HIV

Nineteen renowned Malaysian and Indonesian contemporary artists are exhibiting their work in an exhibition called ARTAID 15, which is taking place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 21-31 August. The exhibition is a collaboration between the Malaysian AIDS Foundation (MAF) and Segaris Art Center and aims to highlight the situation of women and children living with HIV in Malaysia. Led by two of Malaysia’s most acclaimed artists Ahmad Zakii Anwar and Jalaini Abu Hassan, the artists donated 23 original art pieces to be sold for the benefit of MAF’s treatment, care and support programmes.

Ahmad Zakii is a Trustee of MAF and has exhibited his work in more than 40 solo and group exhibitions across the globe. A giant of the Malaysian contemporary art scene, he is also a social activist and founded Life Zone, which runs community homes for people living with HIV. Jalaini Abu Hassan has held more than 20 solo exhibitions and his paintings reflect a Malaysian visual vernacular.

UNAIDS interviewed the artists about what inspired them to participate in the exhibition.


UNAIDS: Why did you want to put together an art exhibition, which put the spotlight on women living with HIV in Malaysia?

Ahmad Zakii : Over the years cases of women living with HIV have been steadily increasing in Malaysia and I think it’s time that the issue is highlighted. One of the hardest things the women face is stigmatization.I thought that if I gathered some of the most prominent artists in the country to rally support and raise funds for the women, we could get some publicity to help neutralize the stigma.

Jalaini Abu Hassan: It’s the right thing to do. I have been involved in many ad-hoc charity exhibitions and one of the biggest was for the Haiyan Relief efforts in 2013. I have also been wanting to get involved directly on the micro level, where the focus would be tangibly specific. This is my chance.

UNAIDS: You are both known as major figures in Malaysia’s contemporary art scene, but you are also known as social activists. Why do you feel it is important for artists to be social activists?

Ahmad Zakii : A lot of artists touch on social issues in their art. That is good as it helps raise awareness but I think it is not enough. To be truly effective one has to actually DO social work and confront the issues head on rather than just addressing it on canvas.

Jalaini Abu Hassan:  I am not a social activist but rather a social commentator . My work largely deals with the socio-political issues. Artists have an influential platform and they can reach the general public as their voices speak (artistically) louder than politicians.

UNAIDS: How does your social activism also inspire your artistic creation?

Ahmad Zakii: My main focus as an artist is to explore spiritual and personal issues. I rarely touch on social issues in my work, but a rare instance when I did was in 2008. I  did a series of 12 charcoal portraits of the residents of Lifezone’s shelter homes and had a fundraising exhibition called Gimme Shelter. The idea was for people who bought the portraits to not only help fund Lifezone, but to bring a portrait of someone living with HIV into their homes. I think it helps lessen the stigma.

Jalaini Abu Hassan: I look at myself not only as a commentator but as a spectator and narrator of my immediate surroundings. Life activities are subject matters that inspire my work.

UNAIDS to Ahmad Zakii: Could you tell us about your work with Life Zone?

Ahmad Zakii :Lifezone runs two major programmes – a shelter home for people living with HIV and the Needle and Syringe Exchange Program (NSEP). Apart from that, we run programmes for the men who have sex with men community, sex workers and transgender groups.

Lifezone was started in 2004 by a good friend, Abraham Pratap. I wasn’t into social work at the time but he somehow managed to get me involved. I was his reluctant partner financing the running of the center, but not really getting involved in its day to day operations. We rented a rundown shop in town to set up the shelter and started with five people who use drugs. Finances were hard so we kept the number of residents small.

In 2006 we were approached by the Malaysian AIDS Council to run a pilot NSEP project in the state of Johor. With that came financing and training, and Lifezone started to grow. But in 2008 Abraham had a stroke and had to retire. I decided to jump in and run Lifezone which I continue to do. From an NGO with two people we now have 50 employees, mainly outreach workers and programme managers running various programs in most of the major towns in Johor.

Malaysia’s AIDS epidemic

There were 100,000 people living with HIV in Malaysia with 6,200 new HIV infections in 2014.There were more than 21 500 people living with HIV, who received life-saving treatment in 2014, which is about one fifth of everyone who is HIV-positive in Malaysia.

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