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MARY-ANN ORR (article first published : 2000-06-28)

Living with HIV – not dying from AIDS is the poignant title of an exhibition which opens at the Bayside Gallery at the BAT Centre on June 28 to run until July 16 as part of the Amasiko cultural programme of the XIII International AIDS Conference in Durban.

Gallery curator, Sue Greenberg said the work on display is as much a testimonial to the triumph of the human spirit over physical distress as it was a tribute to artists who have recently succumbed to HIV/AIDS related illnesses. “Mary-Ann Orr’s larger than life charcoal drawings testify to her spiritual triumph over the shocking discovery last year that she is HIV positive,” said Sue. “Juxtaposed in this exhibition are ceramics from the celebrated Ardmore Studio which has lost Bonnie Ntshalintshali, Phumele Nene, Agnes Ndlovu and Phineas Mweli to HIV/AIDS-related illnesses over the past two years.”

But while the story of Ardmore and Bonnie Ntshalintshali are already well-documented, the story of Mary-Ann ”Nonjabulo” (“Happiness) Orr remains to be told. A graduate of Cape Town’s Michaelis School of Fine Art, she abandoned the comfort of suburbia on the eve of being diagnosed HIV positive to live in the quiet seclusion of a remote, previously abandoned mission station deep in the rural heart of Zululand.

In this derelict building perched on the foothills of the Ongoye forest, she was confronted by the harsh reality of no running water, no electricity and no sanitation – all of which combined to provide what she calls “my greatest humbling and the dawning of an understanding of the plight of those around me.”

“I am guided by the belief that a greater universal life force, together with the giving of abundant love, holds the key to healing. I have been given a very special gift – the gift of life and creativity. It is mine to use as an expression of my life in love and in light,” says Mary-Ann. “My work is about real life. Sharing real life, the task of growing vegetables, harvesting grass for ceramic pit-firing and sitting in companionship, crafting on the floor. It is about living, loving and sharing the natural, creative, healing powers of our abundant universe. It is with respect and love for the local women who have christened me Nonjabulo that I now sign my work.”

Mary-Ann has dedicated her life to the establishment of a creative healing centre at the mission focussing on the psychological impact of living with HIV – not dying from AIDS. Her aim is to provide a venue and platform for care-giving, primary healthcare, vegetable garden growing, natural healing, traditional healing and spirituality. The proceeds from the sale of her artwork will go into a registered trust to promote this cause.

The exhibition Living with HIV – not dying from AIDS is open daily from 10h00 to 16h00.




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