‘Reluctant medic’ highlights poverty

Hofmeyr works tirelessly to help poor communities

DR CAROL Hofmeyr, founder of the Keiskamma Art Project, this weekend gave an account of shocking poverty in parts of the Eastern Cape, the desolation wrought by HIV/Aids and of dealing with an uncaring government and civil service.

Speaking at a Rhodes University graduation ceremony, the “reluctant medical doctor” turned artist, who became a community saviour through the renowned income-generating art project, said she herself needed to turn to art to save herself after 13 years of helping others.

Hofmeyr – who was awarded an honorary doctorate for her groundbreaking work fighting poverty and HIV/Aids, and for upgrading the quality of life of many people in the Eastern Cape through art – told graduates of the despair that afflicted her when faced daily with overwhelming poverty.

“I have seen more people die than I ever imagined, but I have also seen more resilience in human beings than I believed possible … I feel I have lost something I once had, some way of perceiving the desperation in lives around me with open mind and eyes and heart,” she said.

A talented artist, Hofmeyr had long abandoned clinical practice by the time she moved with her family to the beautiful little coastal village of Hamburg in 2000.

“I had never seen poverty close up. I had never been in homes where mothers wondered what they would find for four little children for supper,” she told graduates.

She went back to work as a primary care medical officer in local clinics and established an Aids treatment centre.

She also initiated the award-winning art project.

Many women became talented embroiderers and artists and benefited from the income generation from their work as well as the joy of producing art and beauty.

One of their award-winning tapestries hangs in parliament.

Hofmeyr spoke of her “dual fascination and horror with life in Hamburg” and the need to tell its stories that had led to the “monumental art works” produced by the many women embroidering in the project.

But she herself had become damaged and had lost something along the way.

In 2010, the project famously exhibited an enormous Xhosa-styled tapestry, the Keiskamma Guernica.

It was inspired by Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, which was an artistic expression of rage against the Nazi air bombing of Guernica, Spain, in 1937.

The Keiskamma Guernica features hundreds of embroidered pillow slips pinned in rows to the wall at the National Arts Festival, each slip containing the medical record of a Keiskamma resident who had died from Aids.

“By 2010 I was angry and hurt by ongoing suffering of the poor, by an uncaring government and civil service, by nurses who abused patients and by all the unnecessary pain and loss,” said Hofmeyr.

Hofmeyr said she herself now needed time to recover and she said art was the only way.

“I thought I could change a whole village, a whole community and whole town.

“It is simple. Human beings make art to find and give meaning, to make sense of things, to heal themselves, to continue to wonder at and to be in awe of this one life and this one world.”

Picture : Kodak Grahamstown

Caption: WARM WELCOME: Rhodes Vice Chancellor Dr Saleem Badat, right, introduces Rhodes University’s new Chancellor Judge Lex Mpati to the audience

Article by Adrienne Carlisle

Source: The Daily Dispatch

Source:  The Daily Dispatch