Art for AIDS

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By Yusuf Martin

The severity of the AIDS pandemic remains a prime concern across the world. Although statistics from major monitoring organisations, including UNICEF, UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation report some significant major changes in the virulence of the pandemic in Malaysia, there still remains a great need for awareness of HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), particularly among the young.

In Malaysia, where there are more than 80,000 reported cases of HIV infection, and nearly 14,000 reported cases of AIDS, official international and national organisations – like the Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) spearhead the fight against AIDS. MAC is seen to be in the vanguard of authorities spreading awareness and education concerning the pandemic, within Malaysia, but there also local, non-profit organisations, engaging in the devastating war against HIV/AIDS.

In between film making and music making, last year local artist/musician/academic Kamal Sabran teamed up with a project worker – Dr Ismail bin Lasa, president of Prostar Malaysia (programme for healthy adolescents) – a club raising awareness of HIV/AIDS among youth, to engage in the spreading of awareness about HIV/AIDS.  Together, doctor and artist initiated Art for AIDS (Seni untuk AIDS), and successfully engaged in bringing the anti-HIV/AIDS message home to younger people.

The concept of Art for AIDS may have begun in San Francisco (USA) some fourteen years ago, when a few local artists got together and decided to sell art to help their friends suffering from HIV and AIDS, but it continues worldwide with Malaysia also making its mark.

In 2009, Seni untuk AIDS started in Malaysia as a network of artists, scholars and social activists pooling together ideas and resources to bring AIDS awareness to the general public’s view. Their intent was to raise consciousness, as well as funds, to continue the fight against one of the world’s most crippling virulent diseases – the HIV/AIDS virus.

Known as Fighting AIDS with Art – an online visual art competition and exhibition, the Malaysian Art for AIDS initiative (Seni untuk AIDS) founded a web based art competition which evolved into an exhibition with over two hundred stunning entries. A website poll enabled visitors to vote for their favourite image, or the most effect/striking image and closed with 1,693 votes being registered on the website meter. Prizes were awarded for the top three artworks at a ceremony including the national poet A. Samad Said in Shah Alam, February this year.

Nur Suria Mansor won RM1,000 for her evocative expressionistic work ‘Fading Away’ – a powerful piece full of emotive command, and obviously popular with the website voters. M. Syazwan gained RM500 for the nostalgically resonant image ‘Mangsa’ and Ammin received third, but not least, prize of RM250 for demonstrating, pictorially,  ‘How HIV cannot be Spread’. All the artists and collaborators involved, as well as those who voted, deserve praise for just being involved in this initial project.

However, all art is in a way subjective, and the one work that caught my eye is – Jerit (scream), by Abdullah Hamdan (number 116 on the website). This is a poignant digital artwork, for me saying all there needs to be said about the fight against AIDS, the pain and suffering this disease brings not only to the individual whose body has been invaded by the virus, but for those connected to that individual, friends and family. The top 30 artworks can still be seen online, at http://seniuntukaids.blogspot.com.

That was merely a beginning. On March 28, Perak witnessed the launching of a second initiative concerning art against AIDS. At the Prostar convention, in Bukit Merah, Perak, YB Datuk Rosnah Shirlin bt Hj Abdul Rashid Shirlin helped launch ‘Drop the Hate’, the fresh Seni untuk AIDS project initiative for this new year, concentrating specifically on photography.

Seni untuk AIDS, in this fresh venture, asks everyone, beginner, amateur and professional to send in their best photographic shots for the photography exhibition which closes 12 noon May 31. As last year, there will be cash prizes and certificates available to the winners, and there will be an online exhibition of the received photographs. Entrants are asked to send their photographic images to seniuntukaids@gmail.com by May 31.

As well as a second website – http://seniuntukaids2.blogspot, Seni untuk AIDS can be reached through a Facebook page. Links to Facebook and to the web pages of Kamal Sabran and Dr Ismail Lasa can be found on the aforementioned website if further information is sought regarding both the Seni untuk AIDS project itself, or this year’s initiative.

These initiatives are most important to draw attention to the AIDS pandemic, to facilitate spreading awareness of the disease, promoting ways in which sufferers may be assisted, and helping prevent fresh people from becoming infected in the future.