On this World AIDS Day, our drive and commitment to create an AIDS-free generation remains stronger than ever. In Zimbabwe, U.S. Embassy Harare, the City of Bulawayo and a group of artists took prevention messages to two of the city's most well-trafficked areas, and captured everyone's attention by spray painting it with color, hope, and determination. The U.S. Embassy, with support from the Arts Envoy program and PEPFAR, recruited American urban artist Maxx Moses to lead a team of ten local artists in the creation of HIV-focused murals next to National Gallery of Zimbabwe and outside the Madlodlo Beer Garden.
Moses and his makeshift team were halfway through their work on the beer garden wall when they were approached by an elderly woman. At this beer garden, traditional beer -- made of sorghum -- is sold for forty cents a carton. The gathering spot is famous throughout the region; it can accommodate over 1,000 patrons and is always bustling, even at 9:00 a.m. The woman on her way in inquired about the project. When told they were working on a mural to help raise awareness about HIV and AIDS, she replied, "So you are saying that everyone that goes into this beer garden has AIDS? You are saying that if we drink beer, we will get AIDS?"
Her comments opened an opportunity for a conversation, and reaching people who would not otherwise talk about this topic was the aim of the project. During the week, while Maxx Moses and the crew worked on their pieces, people would stop, watch, ask questions, and offer words of support. They were impressed that the city and the embassy would invest in their neighborhood institution in this way. Almost everyone stopped at the table next to the mural run by the Matabeleland AIDS Council and collected information on HIV, AIDS, and healthy living. At one point, a man who had initially come to the mural to donate a crate of beer to the artists, stopped at the information table. After spending some time talking with the counselors at the table, he gave up on the beer and left the site with a pack of condoms and pamphlets on male circumcision and concurrent sexual partners.
HIV/AIDS is a topic that many people have difficulty discussing. Stigmatism, misconceptions and misinformation compound fear and mistrust, and scare many people from facing this critical topic. The work done by Moses and his team of urban artists is anything but quiet. It is vibrant, colorful, eye-catching and transformative. His works have garnered accolades throughout the United States, as well as in Europe and the Middle East. Here in Bulawayo, his work has the potential to be completely life-changing. As one person commented on our Facebook page:
"From what I saw Today at Madlodlo Beer Garden, when people saw Artists at work including the Man Himself I overheard some asking each other 'What's That All About..?' instead for them to keep asking each other (BOTH YOUNG & OLD) they found themselves at the Table being given Pamphlets about HIV & AIDS, CAN YOU IMAGINE...!!!! Wow! Was so taken aback and felt inspired to an extent of saying to myself 'WHAT A WAY TO SPREAD THE WORD!!!'"
Art is a powerful medium. To quote Maxx Moses, art has the ability to "make people think more deeply, feel more deeply." Urban art -- graffiti -- is exceptional in this. It is art that calls for a response. For some, that response may be angry questions. For others, it may lead to new information that could save their lives. And for others still, it could be that spark of hope in knowing that their community can still change.