By Katherine Rushworth |


What:“If I Could See Your Face, I Would Not Need Food”
Where:The Gallery at the Ann Felton Multicultural Center at Onondaga Community College
When:Through September 29
Hours:9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, or by appointment
Info: The Gallery at OCC, or 315-498-2401

There are certain medical diagnoses that breed not only fear, but in some cultures, contempt. HIV/AIDS is one such diagnosis, and in Ethiopia, a country with one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world, those living with the disease find themselves ostracized, maligned, and marginalized from the rest of the population and, too often, their families.

An insightful exhibition of anonymous portraits portraying Ethiopians living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) remains on view at The Gallery at the Ann Felton Multicultural Center at Onondaga County Community College through September 29. The show, titled, “If I Could See Your Face, I Would Not Need Food,” is comprised of approximately 20 black and white photographs (borrowed from Light Work) by photographic artist, teacher, and activist, Eric Gottesman. Accompanying almost every portrait is a brief statement by the subject of the photograph addressing the ways in which his or her life has been effected by the HIV diagnosis. They are aesthetically sensitive photos that carry a political punch and are brought to life through the words and voices of each subject.

Gottesman began documenting the effect of HIV/AIDS on the population of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, in 1999. Due to the stigma associated with the disease, his subjects were only willing to be photographed if their faces were not visible. To ensure their anonymity, Gottesman used a professional grade of instant film developed by Polaroid, which allowed the subject to see the image immediately after being photographed. If they were satisfied their privacy would remain intact, they allowed him to retain the image. If not, the negative was immediately destroyed. Gottesman completed the series in 2004 when two subjects finally allowed him to show their faces.

The stories of Gottesman’s subjects range from tragic to redemptive and the title of each photo bears the subject’s name.

There’s “Hiwot,” diagnosed with HIV at the age of 13. She’s afraid to tell her friends for fear of rejection, but her mother knows and has accepted her. Hiwot is seen behind a thin fabric stretched before her; a ghostly image, or a pale silhouette of a young woman living with an unspeakable burden.

“Getu” is portrayed with his back to the camera, an open book in his hands. He tells us his family has ostracized him and forced him out of the family home. His current landlord doesn’t know of his diagnosis, or he would be evicted. He says the most important thing in life is “love and affection.”

“Yeshiwork’s” story is both heartbreaking and not uncommon. The only man she had ever “loved and trusted;” the only man with whom she had ever been intimate, gave her the virus. She stands with her back to the viewer, well-dressed, a purse over her shoulder, the top of her head cropped to accent her anonymity.

And then there are stories that illuminate just how much misinformation, lack of information, or misunderstanding there is about HIV. A young man by the name of “Moges” tells us he was promiscuous in school and now, his girlfriend of eight years is pregnant. She refused to use condoms because she doesn’t believe AIDS exists.

The exhibition closes, appropriately, with the full frontal, fully revealed, portrait of “Meqdes,” who explains that both she and her child are HIV positive. When she was forced out of the home she was renting because of her diagnoses, the landlord cut down the clothes line she dried her clothes on. “Meqdes” captures the essence of Gottesman’s project when she says, “the treatment and words are worse than the disease.” And she sums up the experiences of the 1.2 million people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia when she says of their denouncers, “Their words and acts pierce me. I know it will kill me.”

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One Response

  1. messi

    Ethiopia is not “one of the countries with the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world” as stated here in the text. The prevalence rate among adults is actually 1.2% (with estimated range of 1% -1.5% ) per the link your provided. The time of the record, if completed in 2004, must be before HIV treatment was made accessible for most Ethiopians. Worth to mention it was quite a different and pervasive time compared to current situation. Cheers,


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