Women are a woman's best friend. Peruvian photographer Mario Testino immortalized the message in a series of portraits of young African, European and American women who are HIV positive and are fighting the virus and want to help communicate awareness. The cultural center at Cappella Orsini in Rome hosts the visuals that are part of a larger exhibit on HIV and contemporary art closing on December 3.
Sixty works by artists from all over the world give a face to the disease, which has been contracted by at least 40 million people globally according to data provided by the United Nations.
Think about it, 600 people are infected with the virus each hour. Women between 25 and 45 years of age are the most at risk and they are the ones who can do the most to spread the word and promote awareness.
I had two friends and one close acquaintance who died of AIDS, both in Italy. One was my hairdresser who became progressively skinnier as the disease ravaged him over time. The other was a friend of the family who traveled extensively and had a quite liberal lifestyle. He died within weeks of contracting the disease, which manifested in zero immunity in the lungs that literally filled with fluids and suffocated him.
The acquaintance was our family friend's married lover. He also died months later. Before his death, he had to confess his affair so his wife could choose to be tested -- she was negative. She stood by him even during the uncertainty, as she did in his last months; she loved that much.
Women are genetically encoded to have a greater ability to suffer pain, nurture and collaborate. Mothers, grandmothers, sisters, daughters and friends can form strong support networks where communication serves the greater good. The Stephen Lewis Foundation continues to rely on women as partners in their work to fight AIDS in Africa.
The art promotes awareness by creating meaning. We're visual creatures, we need to see, witness, sometimes -- sadly -- experience close to home, to believe and know.