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portrait of a woman in pale colours on black background

One of the Bambanani portraits which make up part of Unlimited Global Alchemy. Image courtesy Rachel Gadsden

Artist Rachel Gadsden (UK) and the Bambanani artist-activist Group (South Africa) explore the psychology and politics of HIV/AIDS and of life-giving medical regimes in an Unlimited commission, showing in Cambridge, Liverpool and London as part of the London 2012 Festival.
Artist Rachel Gadsden (UK) and the Bambanani artist-activist Group (South Africa) explore the psychology and politics of HIV/AIDS and of life-giving medical regimes as part of the London 2012 Festival.
Unlimited Global Alchemy is celebratory and upbeat yet tackles big issues head-on: the politics of HIV/AIDS, living with chronic health conditions, and surviving against the odds. It is timely; and perhaps could only have succeeded in the atmosphere of a post-apartheid South Africa. It is about access to art in the broadest sense: about participation and about how art can bridge cultural, educational and geographical divides. 

“Heartfelt, irreverent and provocative..[Unlimited Global Alchemy]..vividly conveys the resilience of the human spirit and strength of social action in the face of adversity” Anita Herle, MAA

This project had its beginnings in a chance encounter in June 2010 between UK artist Rachel Gadsden and a body-map painting made by South African artist and activist Nondumiso Hlwele at the MAA Cambridge. Gadsden identified directly with the fragility and hope depicted in the painting – the experience of being kept alive by medical intervention – a shared experience – and was inspired to set about finding this artist. After a long search, and on receiving an Unlimited award, Gadsden had the tremendous opportunity of exploring a shared humanity and artistic interest with Hlwele and five members of the Bambanani artist-activist Group in South Africa.

So the collaboration, Unlimited Global Alchemy, began life in Khayelitsha Township; and over six exciting weeks in October and November 2011 a large number of drawings, sketchbooks and paintings were created, and a series of portraits directed by Gadsden were made with filmmakers Deborah May and
Cliff Bestall.

Fuelled by the politics and myths surrounding chronic health issues – in particular HIV/AIDS – this startling body of work offers visceral and often poetic perspectives on what it means to experience disabling conditions and to fight openly for life in the face of social taboos. At the heart of this life-affirming and timely collaboration is a celebration of survival against the odds.

The results of Gadsden’s unique association with the Bambanani Group now come to the UK, to be shown in June 2012 at the recently reopened and transformed museum in Cambridge – together with a further series of her artworks and a specially commissioned catalogue.

A performance created in response to the Cape Town residency, co-directed by Gadsden and choreographer Athina Vahla, and featuring performers Freddie  Opoku-Addaie and Sarah Chin and Gadsden creating visual art live on stage, premieres at the Southbank in September 2012. They are joined by Michael
Mannion (lighting); Chas De Swiet and Paul Gundry (sound); Mamoru Iriguchi (design).

The catalogue, edited by Andrew Mitchelson and designed by David Caines, carries images of artworks, a DVD and texts including a foreword by South African author Jonny Steinberg. The Bambanani Group, led by Nondumiso Hlwele, are Noloyiso Balintulo, Bongiwe Mba, Thozama Ndevu, Thobani Ncapai and Zodwa Somlayi.

See for full listings.

22 June, 5-7.30pm
Exhibition, films and catalogue launch
Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology (MAA), Cambridge

22 June – 18 August (Tue-Sat)
Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology (MAA), Cambridge
(screening and talk on 23 June, 2.30pm)

30 August, 2.30pm
Screening and talk
Bluecoat, Liverpool, DaDaFest, as part of Niet Normaal

1-9 September, daily
Royal Festival Hall, London : Unlimited Festival

3 September, 11.30am-1.30pm
Royal Festival Hall, London : Unlimited Festival

5 September, 7.30pm
Performance premiere
Southbank Centre, London : Unlimited Festival