Globally, women make up more than half of the 38 million people living with HIV. In Australia, however, women are an invisible minority. In 2018, it was estimated that there were 3,370 women living with HIV across the country, or 10% of people who are HIV-positive in Australia. Because of their relatively small numbers, women exist on the margins and still face damaging stigma and significant barriers to having their health and social care needs met.
Positively Women is a community-based arts research study that is exploring what it means to be a woman living with HIV in Australia. The team is also examining how art can influence health and effect change, both for women and for those who view their artwork. To do this, the project has two stages. In the first stage, works of art were created by 10 women living with HIV in Australia through a 4-week virtual workshop in November 2020. This involved a range of activities such as drawing, painting, meditation, gentle movement, and storytelling. In the second stage, the team is exhibiting women’s art for mainstream society and assessing its impacts on knowledge and attitudes toward women and HIV.
The project is a national collaboration of women living with HIV, researchers, clinicians, artists, and members of community organisations who are committed to improving the health and wellbeing of women living with HIV in Australia. Our approach includes a commitment to the greater and meaningful involvement of people living with HIV (GIPA/MIPA) in the research process.
The project is led by the following researchers and organisations: Dr Allison Carter, Kirby Institute, UNSW Sydney; Dr Patricia Morgan, Kirby Institute, UNSW Sydney; Jane Costello, Positive Life NSW; A/Prof Christy Newman, Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW Sydney; Dr Asha Persson, Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW Sydney; Prof Katherine Boydell, Black Dog Institute, UNSW Sydney; Adjunct Prof Deb Bateson, Family Planning NSW.
The project is also supported by a national Community Advisory Board: Katherine Leane, Positive Life SA, Femfatales, National Association of People with HIV Australia; Agatha, Queensland Positive People; Diane Lloyd, Positive Organisation Western Australia; Sarah Feagan, Living Positive Victoria; Michelle Tobin, Positive Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Network; Dr Kirsty Machon and Heather Ellis, Positive Women Victoria; Marcus Bogie, Meridian; Rebekah Lamb, Northern Territory AIDS & Hepatitis Counci; and Jeanne Ellard, Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations.
Meditative Process Art
The project is significant as it involved the development of a new method of arts-based research created by Dr Morgan in collaboration with the project team called Mediative Process Art, or the MPA method. The MPA method combines meditation and art to support participants’ access to somatic experience, memories, and unconscious psychological and emotional experience, which they then express through creative practices such as drawing, poetry, and movement. As it sounds, the MPA method is about what participants feel and understand as they make art, rather than producing a particular kind of art product.
The MAP method utilizes scaffolding, in which participants move from introductory to more complex concepts and tasks. The efficacy of the MPA method results from its iterative cycles of reflection, creation, realization, and application, facilitated by rounds of sharing, meditation, creative practice, and storytelling. The meditation offers in-depth access to participants’ pre-conceptual, somatic, affective, and psychological experience, while the creative practice gives form to this experience. Discussion and storytelling then provide discursive space from which to view, share, and know the newly fashioned personal symbology and its meaning.
This method is effective for exploring psychosocial aspects of individual and group experience, particularly those that follow traumatic events such as a life-changing diagnosis. Importantly, several measures must be taken to ensure building of trust and safety throughout the process. You will see as you explore the exhibition, the MPA method not only provided new insights into women’s lives and wellbeing, but also had positive impacts on the women themselves.
If you are interested to see the library of imagery and the workshop guide we referenced in the workshop, please view below.
We gratefully acknowledge all the women living with HIV who participated in this project and our national team of co-investigators and collaborators for their on-going support and expertise. We are grateful to the Australia Government Department of Health, the UNSW Women’s Wellbeing Academy, and the Australian Human Rights Institute for their funding support. We also thank our website designer, Fernando Prado.