AIDS-Inspired South African Altarpiece Begins U.S. Tour
August 25, 2006
St. James Episcopal Cathedral in Chicago is hosting the first US exhibition of the Keiskamma Altarpiece, a massive work of embroidery, beadwork, appliqué, and photography that expresses both the horror and the hope of those affected by South Africa's AIDS epidemic.
At the cathedral Sunday, Dr. Carol Hofmeyr, the project's originator, said the triptych is the product of six months of full-time work by 120 women and three or four men in the fishing village of Hamburg.
In 2000, she and her husband, Dr. Justus Hofmeyr, moved to Hamburg, where he established an AIDS clinic and hospice. Modern health care was nonexistent in the village, which is 30 miles from the nearest hospital, and where 30 percent of adults are HIV-positive.
Hofmeyr, a native of Johannesburg, hit upon the idea that the geometric embroidery created by local women might help raise money for antivirals and medical care. Two women from England taught the locals European embroidery techniques. The group's first product, likened to Normandy's Bayeux Tapestry, depicted the history of the Eastern Cape Province from ancient times until the end of apartheid in 1994.
The Gruenwald Isenheim Altarpiece of 1515 in Colmar, France, which was created in response to the mysterious killer affliction St. Anthony's Fire, inspired the Keiskamma work. The women copied the exact dimensions of the Colmar original, but replaced images of Christ and the saints with scenes from the epidemic: a dying young man covered in sores; grandmothers raising small children.
The Keiskamma Altarpiece, which is named for a river in Hamburg, will be on view at the cathedral through Sept. 20. It will then be displayed at UCLA, which helped underwrite the tour, and possibly other locations as well.
For more information, visit www.keiskamma.org.
08.21.2006; F.N. D’Allessio
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.