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Rainbow of Hope

Living with HIV - a narrative artwork

18 Panels – acrylic on canvas – 2005

From the dark days of diagnosis, coming to terms with a new normality; knowledge is power, support from relationships, rebuilding life, moving forward with strength

Each panel shows a faceless person or persons at part of their journey. Faceless because of secrecy and shame often surrounding living with HIV. The artists spirit (outlined in white) helping the person move on step by step; reaching out, supporting, lifting, holding

Young people from MADaboutART in South Africa aged between 11 and 25 worked for a year interviewing friends, family and each other; working towards greater understanding of living with HIV. Emotions common not only to HIV but many journeys in life

The result was the Rainbow of Hope – telling a story but making its own story. A journey which has taken its young artists around the world. To London for World AIDS Day 2005, next to the World AIDS Conference in Toronto and then back home to Cape Town for World AIDS Day 2006. It now has a permanent home in our gallery at MADaboutART in Knysna, South Africa

The young artists of MADaboutART got thousands of people around the world talking and thinking about HIV

Artist: Larry

Artist: Oupa, 13

Artist: Ebby, 14

Artists: Joseph, 11
and Aldridge, 13

Artist: Olwethu, 15

Artist: Sharon, 20

Artist: Kenneth, 16

Artist: Jessica, 15

Artist: Mario, 17

Artists: Rieced, 17
and Linden, 15

Artist: Rochelle, 16

Artist: Khaya, 15

Artists: Boniswa, 26
and Siphiwe, 26

Artists: Chantelle, 16
and Shaida, 22

Artist: Andile, 15

Artists: Princilla, 20
and Beaty, 24

Artists: Siphiwe, 26
and Patricia, 17

Artists: Tsepo, 7
and Ntombi, 13

The world around me swirls … pulses with black feelings

Artist: Larry
2005 Acrylic on canvas 

I sit across a small table mute and deaf watching the bodiless mouth explaining some stuff… but I absorb nothing in my state of numbness. Normality melts as I walk out of that door behind which my future stopped. All time is gone. I held it once in my hand but now it has gone. The tears of shock swirl in unstoppable streams. But as my tears drop, each one holds hope. It takes just one ray of light to shine on just one drop of hope in the darkness and the RAINBOW of HOPE begins...

All around they laugh at me; I cannot escape

Artist: Oupa Ndeki 13 years
2005 Acrylic on canvas 

I cannot escape; I am FROZEN in this space… Faces show my different kinds of energy and emotions; some cold as ice. The AIDS ribbon shows I am HIV-positive. People are laughing at me and shouting ‘Go away’. People don’t want to see me. Their words are hurting me. The white dots are my TEARS. I don’t know what’s going on, why people are looking at me. I want to know, ‘why do you people run from me’. As the artist I reach down to pull you up.

Why me? I scream. It can't be true. I want to be a person with Life

Artist: Ebby 14 years

Why, why me?
Why not someone else?
I’m young. Living with HIV. I’m trying to get up. I break the chains. I’m learning to be free. My heart beats. My body shakes and sweats. My ribs tighten around a hot swelling pain but still I rise. I can breathe. I have strength to carry on. Living life one day at a time; building my future and fighting the virus. There are RED RIBBONS in my feet because I live in a positive community. 

Hope grows but judgments hold me back

Joseph 11 years
Aldridge 13 years

My confidence grows. I can see what’s ahead. I want to stand up but doubts still pull me down. The SUN shows I have a brighter future. It shines on a CRYSTAL and forms a RAINBOW, representing a new tomorrow. 

I’m learning fast but may still fall

Artist: Olwethu Bheba,15 years
2005 Acrylic on canvas 

I’m trying to stand up, but I can’t. The MAGNET is trying to pull me up to help me start my future. My HEART is beginning to close up and start to pump and I get more power to help me stand up. My TEARS are falling because I can’t stand up to face my future and life ahead. At first my future looked bleak. I couldn’t see far until my tears fell on the roots of the TREE. Like me, it started to grow.

My life has energy and now some hope

Artist: Sharon Froechlick, 20 years
2005 Acrylic on canvas

I have a dream to be healthy, being there for other people, looking forward and seeing everything positively. This dream will come true with vision in my mind. The shooting star dropping down and flowing into my body making it BIG and helping me fight for my life. Other people around me who are living with the virus are showing us to stand up and think positively; being together for who we are and who we will be in the future. The PUMP fills me with hope, hope that flows into my body, streams through my veins. My life has got energy and hope. I face so many difficulties. People are trying to push me down but I will not fail. No matter what you think of me I can get there in the end. The scales BALANCE … full of FLOWERS. First the flowers were dead but now everything lives, changes and grows. The big RAINBOW surrounds me, giving me the protection I need. It is full of energy from other people. My dream is coming true … to be myself.

Acceptance I am HIV positive and that is THAT

Artist: Kenneth 16 years

EYES at my back are people who look down at me, gossiping about me, saying I can’t live with HIV and saying bad things about me. I started reading more and more and now I’m reading BOOKS on HIV and AIDS every day. The BOOK in my hand gave me a shock and started me looking after my body and living well. BOOKS at my feet told me there are tablets and medicine at the clinic and hospital. The medicine in my head shows I started taking my tablets and now I feel well and stronger than before. I’m trying to fix the BROKEN ROPE LADDER so that me and my community can live together, and no-one is alone.  

Join me or dismiss me but make a choice for YOU

Artist: Jessica, 15 years
2005 Acrylic on canvas 

Eyes burn into my dark cloud; some bright, others bring pain. Eyes of the world that burn into my back. The gossips bark their biting words… Sticks and stones may break my bones but names CAN also hurt me. Both will surely be a part of my life, but I strive to move forward, walking on fast, almost running. The MIRROR in front of me shows what remains behind. I catch the SUN and for a short time the EYES are smothered by the power of light. They are aflame and they burn in their own judgments of me. They added to the clouds once and I am sure will again but today they are under my control. I don’t run from them, I run to a brighter future. Tomorrow I may feel down again, or maybe not, but one day soon I will turn and face my judgment makers and make them answer my questions. I have power and I have love.

At first I wanted to forget and deny, now I want to learn

Artist: Mario 17 years

I didn’t want to hear or see anything about HIV and AIDS. 
I didn’t want to listen to people who tried to give me advice and information.
The TREE in my head didn’t have power to grow because its roots were broken.
The LOCK prevented me from getting to a brighter future. 
People around me who support, love and encourage me are the KEYS. They are helping me unlock my future. The BOOK holds knowledge about HIV and AIDS. RED is the love of special people. YELLOW is the bright future ahead of me.

Stop! Stop and think. Don't criticise.

Artists: Rieced, 17 years
Linden, 15 years

Why do people treat me badly just for being HIV-positive? When I walk in the street people cross to the other side. They don’t want me near them. They chase me away and close the GATE. People see me as a dangerous SNAKE. They’re scared to be around me. QUESTIONS and RAINDROPS are the discriminations and judgments of people I meet. RED because it hurts. The ROAD is my journey. At first I believed in myself but people came along with their judgments and blame and blew my CANDLE of hope out. Now my CANDLE burns again. Something special in me makes people realise what HIV is all about and with their acceptance my flame burns bright.


My anger is coming out and I’m strong. I’m exploding with joy, relieved to be me.

Artist: Rochelle, 16 years

At first, I couldn’t believe that I’m HIV-positive but now I accept it. I want to go on with my life.I feel relieved. I can face the world again; move on with my life and not look back.The VOLCANO explodes and the anger inside me is gone. Anger had built up inside me because of the hurt, judgements and blame I was facing from others. I’m strong and SMOKE comes out of my nose, eyes and ears. SMOKE shows the power that’s inside me to face people who judge and blame me. I’m strong and happy. WEIGHTS show I can stand up for myself. I don’t care what people say; I am who I am.

A chance to just be normal and move along my path.

Artist: Khaya, 15 years

I’m feeling relieved. When I found out I’m HIV-positive I was in denial but then I decided to go further with life and stand up for myself. I want to see what life is about and feel what other people feel. I’m taking my first step towards love and finding some-one who will make me happy. A person who accepts me as I am. A TORNADO pushes me forward. I’m full of power and confident I’ll find happiness and support and live a big and happy future.

We long for each other. Why should HIV keep us apart?

Artists: Boniswa, 26 years
Siphiwe, 26 years

I trust my partner and I want to open up that I’m HIV-positive. I’m not sure how I’m going to do it. A dark heavy feeling like rain wanting to burst out of a dark cloud. I want to get everything out that’s inside me, out in the open so nothing is hidden. Pouring negative feelings out of my heart until only feelings of love, hope and peace remain. RED RIBBONS in my head show I’m always thinking about my HIV status. Will I be accepted? I want my partner to respect and love me for myself and not my status. The CANDLE symbolises hope, peace and unity between us. It takes away the dark cloud that hangs over my head and lights my way to a brighter future. The love of my partner will light the flame. ROPE symbolises strength and power. Power to lift me up in times of hardship when I feel like giving up. Always pulling me up when I’m down. Half the rope in each of our arms binds us together in love. A TORNADO of love and hearts came so quickly and swept me off my feet. I was so happy to feel free and loved without judgment. It’s powerful and keeps me strong. VEINS symbolise unity of mind. We are both on the same flow, like blood running through our bodies. Our HEARTS are halved because together we will be whole. COLOURS represent a brighter future. I’m strong and at peace with myself and ready to share my love.

We grow stronger in our love 

Artists: Chantelle Yantol, 16 years
Shaida Abrahams, 22 years
2005 Acrylic on canvas 

We grow stronger in love, knowing what might be. Once I felt lost. Love and support were nowhere to be found. Everything felt dark like a misery to me. Nothing and no-one even noticed or cared about me. Everything was dead inside me. I felt like a rose about to collapse or gold that is about to lose its value. Judgments and blame were all I faced. I thought I lost it all, just wanted to hide because to me it felt like life wasn’t worth living anymore. As time went on I met the light of my misery. Everything became light in my darkness. The candle of hope started to burn inside me. Now I can say, everything was dead and came alive once again. I became a better person. Now I believe in myself. I’ve started to rise again. We really find support in each other. Even though I am HIV-positive, he will always be there for me. We give each other a shoulder to lean on. HEARTS show love flowing from each other. He accepts me for who I am and doesn’t push me away for what I have. The ROPE symbolises the strength we both have to go on with our lives. The RED RIBBON shows HIV brings us closer together so the rope will never be broken again by anyone or any judgments. Not even HIV will separate us. The TREE ROOTS are a sign we are strong and won’t give up easily. The CANDLE represents the hope I have found. The VEINS show we feel stronger and find motivation in each other we never had before.

Just to be held through the good and the bad

Artist: Andile, 15 years

Love and hope. RED RIBBONS show our support for each other no matter what.
HIV has brought us closer together. HEARTS around us show how much we love each other. 
Together we can do anything.

Such conflict… the waiting… positive or not I have a right to have a baby 

Artists: Princilla, 20 years
Beaty, 24 years

I need a baby to love. I need to be wanted. Someone to be close to. Someone to hold. Someone to be mine. But to be pregnant and HIV-positive brings so many judgements.

People judging what you have [HIV] and not who you really are. They think because I am HIV-positive I can’t have a baby. They think I’m selfish for having a baby when I know I’m HIV-positive. In my head I’m thinking about not breast-feeding. I’m looking forward to seeing the little one. HANDS around my body are people who support and comfort me. They understand and don’t judge me. CHAINS represent judgements people put on me. The chains are breaking. I’m no longer holding back. I can only move forward by letting go of the negativities inside my body. I’m free. The TREE growing in my brain shows I’m still learning and observing. I have more knowledge than ever. My HEART is wiggly with love and positivity. I’m positive about the future. A future for me and my baby. I feel great and no words can hurt or suppress me. YELLOW indicates my baby is healthy. GREY inside my body shows I’m positive-minded. People must love me for myself not someone they want me to be.

We’re together for life. Our family is strong in its love for each other 

Artists: Siphiwe, 26 years
Patricia, 17 years

I’m not going to cry for all the years I was tied up in chains. Somewhere out there I knew there was hope and that day has come. I’ve found love and happiness. I’m sorry virus but you can’t control me any longer. The CHAINS are broken. People who pointed fingers at me have stopped doing it. The CANDLE is my brighter future, my hope and wish to live longer. RED RIBBONS show I’m living with HIV. I can still live a happy life with my partner and make informed choices and decisions. FOOD, TABLETS and T-CELLS show medication and good diet helps my immune system to fight the virus and keep me well. HEARTS show our love for each other. My heart pumps fast from sheer happiness. 

The RAINBOW of HOPE is in our hands

Artists: Tsepo Jonas, 7 years
Ntombi Mdingana, 13 years
2005 Acrylic on canvas 

We learn. We become involved and HIV, although harsh, can be our teacher; taking us on our journey, reaching our destination with love, courage and support. It is our path. Not some distant place or time but a celebration of NOW. Seeing our humanity, living our pain, living our love, loving our spirit, caring, wearing compassion, holding all in the palm of our hands. Each of us holds that gift of HOPE that we can choose to shine on others and reflect onto to self. OH if we had not had to take that journey and just accepted and followed the rules… OH Well what is done is done. I WILL be ME and YOU WILL be YOU and together we can MAKE A DIFFERENCE.


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