Journalists, musicians, actors, and TV/radio producers discuss art in the fight against AIDS with Allen Roberts, director of the Africa Studies Center
In a project entitled “Cultural Activism,” a nine-member delegation consisting of editors, journalists, actors, musicians, and television/radio producers from Angola and Mozambique visited UCLA on July 28. A key goal of the project was to highlight the role of arts in educational projects, particularly in HIV/AIDS education.
In an animated meeting with Allen Roberts, Director of the African Studies Center, the members of the delegation were introduced to the African Studies Center and its history. Roberts explained that today there are over seventy member of the UCLA faculty who work on some aspect of Africa, making UCLA by far the largest center for African studies in the western United States. Part of Roberts' job as the director, he explained, and one of his most challenging duties, is to serve as a bridge between the multitude of African-related subjects studied at UCLA, from the arts to the sciences. As Roberts, a specialist in cultural anthropology in the Department of World Arts and Cultures, explained, he endeavors to bring the arts into all aspects of African studies.
Professor Roberts discussed UCLA's massive commitment to fighting the scourge of HIV/AIDS. The UCLA School of Medicine, the UCLA AIDS Institute, and many other campus units together constitute, in Roberts's words, “a pioneer institute working towards vaccines.” The HIV/AIDS epidemic is also being tackled by other campus units, including the Schools of Public Health and Nursing and the Department of Social Welfare. In this fight, Roberts envisions his role as coordinating efforts by people from these units to bring art into the battle. “Art,” he declared, “is how people understand things.”
To illustrate this, Roberts spoke of a project that he has worked on, which came about in an unusual way. In the summer of 2000, while in Durban at a conference on the history of religion, he came upon various materials that were left over from an AIDS conference that was held there earlier that year. These materials included baskets that were used to cover beer pots to increase the rate of fermentation. These baskets were unusual because they were made of telephone wires and had the AIDS ribbon incorporated in them. Years prior, the ANC had started interrupting communications as a way of fighting the apartheid regime. As part of this campaign, members of ANC cut telephone wires. Being a practical people, Zulu women used the colorful wires to create these baskets and were able to sell them back to the apartheid government.
Roberts saw these pieces as important because of the way that early African art was being adapted to new circumstances. He also saw the importance that making the baskets were in terms of talking about AIDS and the stigma surrounding it. Making the baskets allowed the women to tell their story and to begin conversations about AIDS without having to do so in a direct way. These observations led Roberts to create an exhibition of African art that began with what the Zulu women were doing.
The musician Evelizio Carlos da Conceicao Jasse commented, “This talk has awakened me to the importance of art in its address of AIDS.” He went on to describe his social role as a musician and his goal of bringing different ethnic groups of Africa together through music.
Julieta Juliao Mussanhane questioned Roberts as to whether he could forsee a time when "discussing" AIDS through the medium of might might lose its effectiveness. Roberts replied that he did not think artists would lose their audiences, but the issue was more a political one. Since AIDS is such a difficult issue, an artist may get in trouble with religious or political groups when including it in their art. That presents artists with a challenging dilemma.
With the hour almost up, Olga da Conceicao Luis Pereira of Mozambican National Television asked, “How do you get your message to children?” Roberts answered that this is a very complicated issue, but one that has to be confronted. What is needed is a radical, even revolutionary, change. Roberts praised Pereira for using an HIV-positive person in her programming directed at children and youths, and said people have to know that people living with HIV or AIDS are not dangerous. Furthermore, children have to be informed about the importance of HIV testing.
The meeting ended with a brief tour of the African Studies Center. In the afternoon, the delegation met with David Rousseve, Chair of the Department of World Arts and Cultures, and sat in on a rehearsal.
The International Visitor Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, brings participants to the United States from throughout the world each year to meet and confer with their professional counterparts and to experience the United States firsthand. The program seeks to increase mutual understanding through communication at the personal and professional levels. More than 186 current and former heads of state, 1,500 cabinet-level ministers, and many other distinguished world leaders in government and the private sector have participated in the program.
The goals of the the Cultural Activism project, sponsored by the International Visitors Program, are to
The visit of the delegation was coordinated by the Delphi International Program of World Learning, and administered locally by the International Visitors Council of Los Angeles.
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Members of the delegation:
Mr. Luis da Costa DIAS
Actor and Leader
Julu Art Company
Mr. Vemba Pedro de MENEZES
General and Cultural News Editor
Luanda Antena Commerical Radio Station
Mr. Lucio Jose da Conceicao CHUMBITICO
Mr. Evelizio Carlos da Conceicao JASSE
Ms. Rosa Maria Jeremias LANGA
Mr. Mario Jose MABJAIA
Marte Producoes / Casa Velha
Mr. Arnaldo Alfredo MACAMO
Ms. Julieta Juliao MUSSANHANE
Editor, Radio Mozambique
Ms. Olga da Conceicao Luis PEREIRA
Children and Teenager’s Educational Programs and Talk Shows
TVM (Mozambican National Television)
Published: Wednesday, August 04, 2004
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