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Photographer turns the lens on region’s worst HIV crisis

121204_17
The body of a young woman who died from AIDs is carried to the fire by her uncle to be cremated. Photograph: Andri Tambunan

Jakarta-based photographer Andri Tambunan lived with indigenous Papuans in Indonesia for eight months, documenting Southeast Asia’s most severe HIV/AIDs epidemic, for the award-winning Against All Odds, which will debut at the Angkor Photo Festival tonight at Hotel 1961.

With Against All Odds, which won the inaugural 2011 Reminders Project Asian Photographers Grant, Tambunan wishes to highlight the “hugely under-reported” HIV/AIDS problem in Papua, where the infection rate is 15 times higher than the national average and is the highest in Southeast Asia.  

“I started doing investigations into this project in 2009,” Tambunan says. “My main focus is how the epidemic is transmitted and its effect on the indigenous Papuans... My goal is to put a face to this regional crisis, using images and text to explore some of the reasons why Papuans are contracting HIV, including limited economic opportunities, inadequate health service, low education and also stigma. The project also shows how HIV-positive Papuans try to come to terms with their situation.”

Of the macabre mood of some of the images, he adds: “There’s a lot of death photos. I think that’s really necessary for people to see the impact. I really try to balance the clinical photographs of how inadequate the facilities are in terms of education, with personal stories because I think that’s the best way for the viewer to identify.”

Tambunan says he came across many inspiring stories, including a boy who lost both his parents to AIDS and was living with his grandmother.

“He takes his medication every day, on time,” says Tambunan. “He wants to become a doctor so that he can help others like him.”

Tambunan is also publishing the exhibition in the form of a book and plans to produce a 10 minute multimedia piece in February 2013 for online distribution.

“What’s unique about this project is that the main intention is not just to document but to use this documentation to help the situation in Papua,” says Asia coordinator Jessica Lim. “So the book is going to be delivered for free to NGOs dealing with this HIV and AIDS problem in the area. He’s just trying to give back – it’s not just a story, it’s part of a movement he’s trying to initiate.

“It’s also produced in a different way,” says Lim. “Instead of having individual pictures, they are organised according to different sets, for example we have one panel that’s discussing AIDS and HIV in relation to prostitution, another panel talking about HIV transmitted from husbands to wives. So each panel presents a different aspect of the problem.”

Also opening tonight is Gali Tibbon’s exhibition, Journey to the Jerusalem of Africa, which follows thousands of Ethiopian Christian Orthodox pilgrims en route to the sacred town of Lalibela in Ethiopia’s highlands.

Israeli photographer Gali Tibbon has spent more than a decade covering assignments worldwide: her work features in publications including Newsweek, Paris Match and Time magazine.

Tibbon’s latest show focuses on Ethiopians on pilgrimage to Lalibela, also known as the Jerusalem of Africa.

“Set amidst beautiful landscapes, the sight of devout worshippers clad in white participating in ancient rituals and ceremonies alongside pilgrims gives one a feeling of having travelled back in time,” she said.

“Lalibela is famous for its unique 12th century monolithic churches carved out of ‘living rock’. According to legend, it was built with more than a little help from angels.”

Both exhibitions open at 6pm and will run until December 20, 2012.

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