Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Aids in Zambia - photo report by Kostas Kartelias


The photographer Kostas Kartelias was introduced to Poiein kai Prattein when he did together with Maya Fischer the documentation of the ECCM Symposium 'Productivity of Culture' in Athens 2007.  The photos he took of the participants and of the Kids' Guuernica exhibition attest to his amazing ability to capture vital moments. A lot goes into these captured moments in order to release them like freed birds into the air once an image to be seen over and again. That transcendence in time touches upon a quality of continuity and reflects a substance works out still further aspects which even the most observant eye would not perceive so readily and so easily. After all digital photography is making us realize many things escape our attention but once scanning the image taken many more unnoticed details until then can be perceived. Again the amazing ability of Kostas Kartelias is to capture all this footage in need of being assembled in real life over time in one magic like moment. As such the story told by his photos go beyond the mere image and make consequently a life unnoticed till now be present.

After his documentary work in 2007, he undertook upon recommendation by Hatto Fischer a trip to Zambia. Once there he visited Mwiiki Malindima who has been training journalists on how to report about AIDS and who has done a lot of work how to tell the story of those struck by what is consequently a life only half lived.

The recommendation to visit Mwiiki Malindima was prompoted in part by what he wrote in 2005 and which conveys a true sense of a sad state of affairs, namely that people in Zambia but not only there have gotten used to death due to Aids.

From: Mwiika Malindima
Sent: Wednesday, May 11, 2005 11:18 AM
Subject: Re: Africa ravaged by Aids-mwiika



Dear all,
I read with much interest the article 'Africa ravaged with AIDS.' It indeed presents the AIDS scenario here very well. Southern Africa, in which region I live has quite some substantial effects of HIV/AIDS especially on social economic development. My heart bleeds when I helplessly see just how true those words by our leaders here are as it is a holocaust, extermination or annihilation of our people.

The other day, I was walking on the street near our biggest hospital UTH in Lusaka. I met a woman in an her early 30's crying . I asked her what was wrong and where she was going, she told me in her sobbing that her baby had just died in the children's wing so she had to go and inform her mother who was tending her ill father in the adults' ward of the same hospital. The interpretation of this befits when we say the burden of caring for the sick is more on women over here. For she was alone with the baby when he died while her mother looked after her sick father, but where was the rest of the family in this needful time, where was her husband and uncles in our extended family system? This touched me so much that I had to give her what ever little money that I had to help her get home. She had no money and she had to travel about 10-12 Kilometers to inform others at home walking! I couldn't let this happen. This gives a picture of just what is happening.

In the article there is mentioned a woman saying they buy coffins from the money they get out of their cabbage selling venture. This also shows the rate at which the HIV/AIDS is maturing in AIDS here. Many many people are dying every day, overshooting our capacities to even bury them honourably. We have now gotten used to death. We cry and forget but the pain goes on. That AIDS is claiming people in their productive ages, mostly those from 15-40 years. This has serious impedements on our social economic development, to which comes now as well the drought due to an eratic rainfall. We really don't know what is going to become of us.

These are issues so close to my heart and I could really go on to give real examples, but lets keep talking and certainly we shall share more of these problems.



For outsiders to such a half lived, half experienced life, human plight is nearly incomprehensible. Still, small changes in attitudes can go a long way to alleviate some of the worst pains. They are not merely physical, but also of social and personal nature, exclusion from a full life the real impact of AIDS.

For example, a mother can reject completely her child once diagnosed with AIDS. Paul Roux, a doctor working in children's clinic in South Africa, affects the mother-child relationship by making simply an appointment with the mother to come back with the child after six months. The mother is stunned. She had the belief because of her child having AIDS, it will die so soon so why bother still about it, why show it any affection we usually do out of love for both child and life? Resignation takes on many forms. In the case of a mother who has written off her own child, it means that it is no longer worthwhile to bother about the child, to show it any sign of love. Rejection out resignation means just that: no more emotional attention is given to the child. The moment the mother realizes the doctor means it seriously, six months being a long time away, she suddenly gives again her attention to the child. They begin to play.

At another level Mwiika attempts to ensure that journalists do not create a huge divide between those with AIDS and those without, for there is at risk that global society divides itself between the touchables and non touchables. It is an art to show compassion for those affected by AIDS while making sure those in fear of AIDS do not shun away from having normal and natural relationships to those who have but with all the necessary precautions included. The recent campaign in South Africa on the eve of the World Football Match indicates that there is more to responsible sex than simple precautions. It means such solutions need to be found which allow  coming to terms with AIDS as part of everyday life. It does not mean excluding the adoption of precautionary measures but they should not discriminate at random. Therefore, a lot can be learned from these photos in order to discover still further going preventive measures. They have to be wise insofar as any society which does not heed them will let the spiral of ever new AIDS victims get dangerously out of control. This may be due to a lack of health policies and proper information given to everyone in all corners and walks of life but also AIDS comes with soldiers who can get easily out of control when set to rape anew women.

The AIDS issue is huge and has been a challenge not only for Africa, but for the entire world. With the World Football Games coming up in South Africa, voices raise concern about AIDS being contracted by those who forget themselves in frivolous or drunk moments. There has been some controversy in South Africa as to how leading politicians take the issue too lightly. Now some reverse in their attitudes leads to a new public awareness in the sense that the issue is talked about openly and more so in a responsible manner. After all leading figures have a moral and political responsibility on how this health issue is faced by all and not glossed over in an irresponsible way.

When Kostas Kartelias returned from Zambia and showed some of the images, it was like a stunning relief to come finally into touch with a reality until now quite far away for those who have never been to Africa. That continent has more than its share of problems linked to post Colonialisation, globalization, violence, genocides, corrupt politicians and endless attempts to rob the continent of its vast resources without giving a due share to its people often scattered in remote villages or displaced by countless wars which break out over and again like uncontrollable bush fires.

Each photo has a poetic aspect despite the apparent presence of AIDS as the case with the child looking back while sitting beside its mother.

Photo by Kostas Kartelias

Thus it is important to let the photos speak as to what Kostas Kartelias observed while visiting Zambia where about 25% of the population is identified as having AIDS. Unbelievable must be some night scenes with open prostitution spilling out onto the streets and clients lining up in their cars as if heading for a car wash or a gasoline station. Of interest is while a lack of protection seems to prevail in open spaces and means taking a great risk to contract AIDS, every house whether now poor or rich has a fence, a wall or some sort of protection around it as if everyone lives in fear of the outside world.

Certainly the photos of Kostas Kartelias bring the world of Zambia and especially those with AIDS a bit closer to our attention and underlines the fact that the issue of AIDS does exist. A first step to do this shall be the exhibition at the Vakalo School of Art and Design on Lamprou Katsoni 52 from 17th of May until 7th of June 2010.



Kostas Kartelias and Maya Fischer

The story he tells suggests that AIDS can only be dealt with by looking into the very eyes who have but a half life to live. In that sense the poster which announces his exhibition in Athens to open on the 17th of May 2010 is most appropriate.

HF Athens 15.5.2010


For further information about the photographic work by Kostas Kartelias, go to:


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