Positively Women: A research project using art to express what it means to be a woman living with HIV in Australia
Dr Allison Carter (Project Lead), The Kirby Institute, UNSW
Dr Patricia Morgan, The Kirby Institute, UNSW
Ms Jane Costello, CEO Positive Life NSW
Professor Katherine Boydell, The Black Dog Institute, UNSW
Dr Asha Persson, Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW
A/Prof Christy Newman, Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW
Dr Deborah Bateson, Medical Director of Family Planning NSW, the University of Sydney, and the Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW Sydney
In collaboration with a national Community Advisory Board.
This project was part of the Women’s Wellbeing Academy’s first seed funding round in 2020, receiving $4000.
About the project
The Positively Women research project is a community- and arts-based research project working with Australian women living with HIV, based at the Kirby Institute, UNSW. The project was developed by a group of researchers at the Kirby Institute, women living with HIV, and service providers because of their concerns about the issues that Australian women living with HIV face. They worked together to co-design, implement, and evaluate 10 Australian women’s experience of a 4-week online meditative art workshop. The overarching aim of the project was to explore how the creation of images and narratives by women with HIV about their lives could be empowering and transformative, both for the women and for those who viewed their artwork.
The project had two stages of data collection: first, a meditative art workshop with women living with HIV and second an online exhibition of the art works created in this workshop. Each stage had a specific research objective: the art workshop to explore how the representation of life with HIV through artistic work and storytelling by women can challenge dominant portrayals of HIV in Australia, and tours of a virtual art exhibition to assess the transformative potential of viewing art and reading stories created by women living with HIV.
For more information about this project, contact Allison Carter or visit the webpage.
In the first stage 10 women from across Australia participated in an online four-week meditative art workshop. The women ranged in age from 25–62 years, and time living with HIV, was 5–35 years. The workshops employed Meditative Process Art (MPA), a methodology developed and piloted in this research that combines meditation and art to capture participants’ subjective, embodied and somatic experiences. Across the course of the four weeks the women talked openly about self-determined topics through facilitated rounds of sharing, and after the workshop series they reflected on their experiences in semi-structured interviews.
Phenomenological analysis of workshop discussions and individual interviews confirmed the hypothesis that participating in meditative art workshops could be empowering and transformative. The benefits participants reported were divided across two central themes, those related to sharing and peer support, and those associated with the workings of the MPA method. The former revealed the importance of peer support for women who often experience isolation and marginalisation.
Sharing, discussion and artistic expression of experiences in daily life, the trauma of an HIV diagnosis, the ensuing shame, anxiety, depression, and negative experiences with the medical system offered the means to discharge suppressed emotion. Benefits associated with the MPA method related to participants increased proficiency with the method. This resulted in their increased reflective and symbol making skills, which enabled them to rework negative imagery and ideas, and led to increased agency and the embedding of positive affect.
We found that the service providers, medical students and practitioners and women living with HIV who participated in tours of the Positively Women exhibition reported significant changes in their understanding of life with HIV. Finally, we recommend the use of women-focused contemplative creative programs that emphasis peer support, plus the development of health education programs that address the trauma associated with a HIV diagnosis, the stigma underpinning late diagnosis and the marginalising experiences in the health system that participants described.
Image credit: “We Love with HIV” by Abbie. Supplied by Dr Patricia Morgan