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Visual Body Maps and 'Mapping Our Lives'

The original body maps produced during this project were exhibited in an exhibition at the South African National Gallery in Cape Town in 2002, as well as travelling to London and New York. After the original body maps were auctioned to raise funds, a limited edition of prints of the originals was produced. These prints have been exhibited internationally and can be found in museums and art gallery collections, as well as private homes. After the long-awaited treatment rollout began, ASRU's research and outreach agenda shifted to a concern with the social context of AIDS. This included researching the social forces which affect people's decisions to disclose their HIV status to others and challenges to their ability to adhere to long-term treatment. In this regard, the 'Mapping Our Lives' initiative proved to be an important site of learning. In addition to body mapping workshops which took place in support groups, other tools including the Visual Body Maps, ‘social maps’ and ‘journey maps’ were developed. These tools were designed to encourage critical reflection on the social context facing participants, and their responses to it. The workshops were both informed by, and in turn informed social science research.

The Visual Body Map is an education tool that depicts the different systems in the human body on layers of acetate in order to facilitate understanding of how the human body functions. This tool was developed to assist the teaching of human biology in schools, clinics and other contexts, such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in HIV/AIDS. A Facilitator’s Guide accompanies the Visual Body Map. ASRU has distributed this tool to a number of organisations involved in HIV education.

ASRU continues to support the use of the materials and methodologies developed beyond the initial Mapping Our Lives project. Materials such as the Visual Body Map and workshop manuals are available on request. A limited edition of prints of the body map paintings are also available to the public. Please contact Kathy Forbes for more information at nondumiso.hlwele@uct.ac.za

There has been continued research and interest in body mapping techniques. In 2007, Annabelle Wienand (ASRU) completed a Masters study on the educational potential of using body maps for HIV literacy training of community health workers. This work has been published as a chapter in The Culture of AIDS in Africa (Oxford University Press, 2010) and presented at the 2007 South African Visual and Art Historians (SAVAH) conference. Elizabeth Mills (ASRU), Dr Hayley MacGregor (Institude for Development Studies) and Nondumiso Hwlele (Bambanani Women’s Group) worked together to update a series of body maps through a project titled ‘Mapping Change and Continuity: Living with HIV as a Chronic Illness in South Africa’. A set of new narratives were collected in 2008 in order to explore key issues around chronic illness, including gender, biomedicine, psycho-social support and health citizenship. Outcomes of this project include a contribution to the ‘Assembling Bodies’ exhibition at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, and two academic papers jointly published by IDS and ASRU. More recently, Nondumiso Hwlele (Bambanani Women’s Group) and Annabelle Wienand (ASRU) attended the 2010 Quest Conference hosted by the York District School Board (Canada) where the use of body mapping techniques with ‘at risk’ youth was explored.

Visual Body Map materials

Here you can download two manuals for educators in PDF format: