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Durham University

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Publication details for Professor Cheryl McEwan

McEwan, C. & Nabulime, L. (2011). Art as social practice: transforming lives using sculpture in HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention in Uganda. Cultural Geographies 18(3): 275-296

Author(s) from Durham


This paper explores the possibilities of art as social practice in the
context of the fight against HIV/AIDS. It is inspired by notions of
art as having the capacity to move beyond the spaces of galleries
into an expanded field, and thus beyond the visual and into the
social. The paper examines the potential for sculpture to play a
transformative role in HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, and in
transforming the gender relations that shape the dynamics of the
spread of the disease. These ideas are developed through
discussion of research conducted in Uganda and in the UK, which
sought to develop forms of sculptural practice for HIV/AIDS
awareness and prevention in Uganda. The paper explores the ways
in which a series of soap sculptures are an effective tool in the fight
against the disease, particularly in communities with high rates of
illiteracy and in which discussion of sex and sexuality remains
largely taboo. The paper contends that countering taboo and
facilitating dialogue between women and men, thus encouraging
attitudinal and behavioural change, are perhaps the most
significant impacts that this form of sculpture can make. This is
because while awareness of the disease in Uganda is often high,
having the capacity to discuss and act upon this awareness is often
problematic, largely because of fear, stigma and taboo, and the
unequal gender relations that determine the nature of men and
women’s sexual lives. The paper concludes that the transformative
effects of the soap sculptures are revealed in the ways in which
they challenge taboos, tackle fear and stigma, and facilitate
dialogue between men and women.