5 May 2008

Uganda: She Fights HIV/Aids With Her Painting Brush

Kampala — She is determined to fight HIV/AIDS and stigmatisation using what she knows best - art. Those who attended her presentation at Makerere University Senate Building in March were mesmerised by her sculptures. They are peculiar, bold, beautiful, sensitive and at the same time humorous.

This is Dr. Lillian Nabulime, a lecturer at the Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Art, Makerere University. In December last year, Nabulime returned to Uganda after completing her PhD in Fine Art at the Newcastle University in the UK. She embarked on her studies in 2001 and it took her six years to complete the course instead of the usual three.

Nabulime was inspired to go for a PhD after seeing her husband suffering from AIDS.

Under the theme: Sculptures that fight taboos against HIV/AIDS, Nabulime uses sculptures, developed through research and experiences of women living with HIV/AIDS, to create awareness about the disease.

Her works carry messages derived from a painful experience of caring for people living with HIV/AIDS and data gathered from a pilot project conducted in the UK. Her presentation aimed at stimulating discussion on HIV/AIDS - how to avoid infection, access to treatment and fighting stigma.

Nabulime says the biggest percentage of HIV/AIDS infection is through sexual intercourse, a subject most people dread discussing openly due to cultural virtues.

"Creating awareness about the disease reduces infection, while supporting those infected reduces stigma and helps them live longer," she says.

Nabulime's presentation showed that sculptures could be an important medium of articulating HIV/AIDS issues in a predominantly patriarchal, multi-ethnic society, with high illiteracy levels, especially among women.

Earlier, Nabulime had wanted to pursue a PhD, but it was not to be soon. However, her husband's illness hastened the idea. While caring for him, she became so stressed that she decided to take a break by going back to school.

"My body became so weak. The doctor said I was in a worse condition than my husband, much as I did not have AIDS," she reminisces.

Although her husband was on antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), he lived in denial and was violent, making communication difficult. Nabulime tried to seek help from friends, but nothing was forthcoming.

"We did not get counselling. Had my husband got good counselling, may be I would not have thought of going to the UK. I handled the burden alone, which made life difficult. If I had remained, I would have died of stress," she says.

In 2001, Nabulime embarked on her three-year course, but due to the stress and grief after the death of her husband in 2005, she broke off for sometime, the reason she took six years. Initially, her research topic was: Developing sculpture that communicate to women, but she changed to: The role of sculptural forms as a communication tool in lives and experiences of women living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda.

The second theme struck her after reading a book titled, Women infected and affected by HIV/AIDS at the Newcastle University library.

"When I read that book, I realised I was affected. I had lost my father to AIDS and my husband was living with the disease. I saw him going through hell for four years," she says.

Nabulime decided to change the topic to HIV/AIDS - the real problem that affected her, as opposed to "sculptures that communicate to women," which is broad. The university administration granted her wish.

"The epidemic was decimating the community around me and I wanted to do something about it. I wanted to give a new face to HIV, especially among professionals, to let them know that with good care, support and ARVs, one can live a long and productive life," she says.

Born in 1963, Dr. Nabulime is a sculptress, who devotes her heart and soul to art. She holds a diploma in education and a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Fine Art from Makerere University.

She has held several exhibitions in Europe and Africa and was on a team of artists who created Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi's monument at Bulange, Mengo. This was in commemoration of the restoration of the Buganda Kingdom and Kabaka Mutebi's coronation.

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