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Student photography exhibit on HIV/AIDS epidemic

WSRC hosts first exhibit of undergraduate photography

Published: February 1, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.


Many members of the Brandeis community may not have heard of the Women’s Studies Research Center (WSRC). However, recent exhibitions have solidified the WSRC’s prominence on campus, matching that of the Rose Art Museum.

Last semester, the WSRC played host to the highly publicized and even more highly praised “Tiger by the Tail!” exhibition that featured the works of various female Indian artists. The response generated by the exhibit verified the WSRC as an aesthetic force to be reckoned with. This semester proved to be no different.

The WSRC was abuzz Friday evening as students, faculty, and administration came together to experience the opening reception of “Healing, Community and Transformation: Student Visions from Johannesburg.”

The show featured photographs and linocuts that exposed viewers to Johannesburg and the harsh realities of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The sharp juxtaposition of bright, vibrant color images with large black and white linocuts effectively demonstrated the effect AIDS has had and continues to have in South Africa.

Ethics Center Fellow Naomi Safran-Hon ’08 took the photographs while completing an internship at the Art Therapy Centre. The Centre works with apartheid survivors and victims of HIV/AIDS to provide an outlet from which they can heal and grow via art.

The three sets of images depicted the locations of the art therapy sessions, the orphans taking part in these sessions and the teachers who help them through this difficult time in their lives. Safran-Hon took care to uphold the anonymity of her subjects.

It is perhaps this anonymity that makes the works so profound. Though depicting select individuals at the Art Therapy Centre, these images could easily represent the faceless millions affected by HIV/AIDS.

Safran-Hon is the first Brandeis undergraduate to hold an exhibition in the Women’s Studies Research Center. Dr. Shula Reinharz recounted, that upon meeting Safran-Hon in her first year at Brandeis she said, “one day I’m going to have a show here.” This goal has now come to fruition and could not have been more successful.

The show also featured massive linocuts created by students under the direction of Stompie Selibe. Selibe, a Brandeis International Fellow in 2004, is now an instructor at the Art Therapy Centre. The works were created at the Artist Proof Studio, an art center serving artists who may not have had such learning opportunities available to them otherwise.

The works focused on ubuntu, a South African concept based on the existence of an inherent nature in everyone that creates a universal bond through all of humanity. It was more than impressive to hear that the collection, centered on this unified theme, was created by several students of Selibe.

A striking piece entitled “Celebrating Life” featured strong, outstretched arms cradling an unborn child in the womb. The “Tree of Life” was comprised of human figures, bent and reaching, to form the ancestral roots, trunk and branches of an ever-growing tree.

When asked of her experience working with AIDS orphans in Johannesburg, Safran-Hon simply stated that it gave her “new hopes.” This exhibit has indeed provided new hopes for this promising Fine Arts major as well as the Women’s Studies Research Center.