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Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology





Bongiwe by Rachel Gadsden


Unlimited Global Alchemy is a collaborative exhibition project spearheaded by artist Rachel Gadsden (UK). Working with the Bambanani artist-activist Group (South Africa), they 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.

This project had its beginnings in an encounter in June 2010 between UK artist Rachel Gadsden and a body-map painting made by South African artist and activist Nondumiso Hlweleon on display at MAA. 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.

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 together with a further series of her artworks and a specially commissioned catalogue. On 23 June at 2:30 there will be a public screening of the films followed by a Q&A with Rachel Gadsden, Nondumiso Hlwele and Thobani Ncapai, chaired by MAA Curator Anita Herle.

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.

Produced by Artsadmin in association with MAA, Unlimited Global Alchemy has been commissioned by the Unlimited programme, part of the London 2012 Festival; launching at MAA and culminating at Southbank Centre during the Paralympic Games in London.

Unlimited encourages collaborations and partnerships between disability arts organisations, disabled and deaf artists, producers, and mainstream organisations to celebrate the inspiration of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and to create original and exciting works. Twenty-nine Unlimited
Commissions have been awarded.

Unlimited is principally funded by the National Lottery through the Olympic Lottery Distributor and is delivered in partnership between London 2012, Arts Council England, Creative Scotland, Arts Council of Wales, Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the British Council.

For more information please visit the Unlimited Global Alchemy website.

Two million years of human history. One million artefacts. Countless astonishing stories.