Transformation through visual art: a case study in an African village living with HIV/AIDS




Adnams Jones, Sally

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This research is an ethnographic case study that asks the questions “what is transformation?” and “how does art transform individuals and their communities?” The narrative describes key moments in the researcher’s journey to South Africa in search of answers to these questions. Findings describe the village of Hamburg’s developing art practice, and include the artists’ own voices and views on this topic. Hamburg is a Xhosa village in South Africa that has faced many challenges due to the spread of HIV/AIDS. One response to the impact of HIV/AIDS on family and economic structures has been the development of an extensive community-based art practice, including large communal tapestry work. To engage questions regarding how visual art transforms people, the researcher reviewed existing Western and Eastern literature on transformation, and compared this with the Southern ethnographic interviews conducted whilst living in the village of Hamburg, where she joined the women for two months as they made their art. The interviews, which were informed by feminist thinking and community based action research, are deeply moving, and form the data from which conclusions were drawn. It iii  was found that the gritty, embodied nature of this community’s experience with transformative art processes can perhaps stimulate more inquiry into transformative art practice within art education itself, that, to date, does not engage much with a deliberate practice for human transformation. Findings in this study can also broaden the existing, sometimes disembodied, academic understandings around transformation within educational, therapeutic and spiritual discourses, which, to date, include mostly linear, hierarchical models, as well as anecdotal descriptions from mostly White, male perspectives. As yet, there is not much inquiry outside of feminist discourse into women’s transformation, which tends to be more organic and community orientated. The researcher’s findings suggest that literature on transformation through art is needed within art education, which should include female, Black African experiences. The researcher’s conclusions are applied to classroom and studio practice, where she challenges educators, researchers and practitioners within art education to take the link between art and transformation much more seriously, as a powerful technology for growth, empowerment and resilience. Findings can also be applied to other disciplines such as feminism, art therapy, education, psychology and spirituality.



action research, art education, art therapy, arts based research, africa, case study, community based research, community development, change, empowerment, ethnography, feminist methods, Hamburg, HIV/AIDS, Keiskamma Trust, narrative methods, South Africa, tapestry, transformation, visual art, voice, Xhosa