THE statistics are enough to set the alarm bells ringing. Currently there are more than 88,000 people living with AIDS in Malaysia, many of whom come from underprivileged backgrounds with limited access to basic healthcare.
Those affected are also vulnerable to being marginalised, dogged as they are by the stigma attached to the disease.
There is an urgent need to not only enlighten the public but also reach out to people living with HIV (PLHIV) with health services, care and compassion so they can improve their quality of life.
In 2015, a charity-driven exhibition of paintings, photography and sculptures called ArtAid was organised by the Malaysian Aids Foundation (MAF).
Last year, the event went with the theme Bebas and saw exciting musings from 44 visual artists that netted RM300,000 in sales.
Continuing its efforts in using art to raise and administer funds to support the activities and programmes of the Malaysian Aids Council and its partner organisations, MAF has soldiered on with ArtAid18.
Going with the theme of self, titled Diri, the showcase of works will be about how the artists see themselves.
The list of participating artists comprises established and emerging names while their work depict concepts of being, portraitures, introspection and how they define themselves as individuals and as part of society.
Taking the lead as curator is Ahmad Zakii Anwar, who is also a trustee of MAF. Combining his efforts with artist Noor Mahnun Mohamed, he said there has been resounding support for this year’s initiative thus far.
“Being an exhibition of artists’ self portraits — how artists visualise themselves, you can expect variations, conventional portraitures, or something abstract and conceptual or even playful, depending on how the artists see themselves,” he said, adding that it should be interesting to see.
On the focus being on women living with AIDS, Ahmad Zakii said, “Over the years, there has been an increase of women living with HIV. I think it is time the issue is highlighted.
“One of the hardest things they face is stigmatisation from family, friends and the workplace.
“I thought if I gather some of the most prominent artists in the country to rally support and at the same time raise funds for them, we can get some publicity to help neutralise the stigma.”
His involvement in social activism began with his work at Life Zone, an outfit that provides services to PLHIV in 2004.
Together with friend Abraham Pratap, he helmed two major programmes — a shelter for PLHIV and the Needle and Syringe Exchange Programme.
What started as an non-governmental organisation with two people is now a set-up with 50 employees, mainly outreach workers and programme managers in major towns in Johor.
“A lot of artists touch on social issues in their art. That is good as it helps raise awareness but I think it is not enough.
“To be truly effective, one has to actually do social work and confront the issues head on rather than just addressing it on canvas.”
ArtAid18 will be held at White Box gallery at Publika. It opens from Sept 23 to 27.