Accepted paper:

“It really helped me to take a good look at myself”: exploring the transformative and politically meaningful power of arts-based research with HIV positive men and women


Treena Orchard (University of Western Ontario)
Tricia Smith
Warren Michelow (University of British Columbia)

Paper short abstract:

Using qualitative data from a body mapping project with HIV positive men and women in two Canadian cities, this paper explores the innovative theoretical and methodological contributions this arts-based approach offers ethnographers seeking to use art in their research design and practice.

Paper long abstract:

Art has long been a powerful vehicle for political mobilization and social change, perhaps most notably during the early era of HIV/AIDS when it was a vital tool in the expression of identity politics, recognition of sexual and human rights, and the fight for equitable access to HIV medications. Despite the critical role played by art and arts-based activism during these years, comparatively little attention has been paid to the relationship between arts-based research and the HIV movement today. This paper addresses this research gap by exploring the transformative and politically meaningful power of body mapping, an arts-based research approach that involves the creation of life-sized body maps to communicate participants’ experiences, identities, and emotional aspirations related to living with HIV/AIDS. This methodology, along with individual interviews, was employed in our qualitative exploration of gender and the body among poly-substance using HIV-positive men who have sex with men (n=5) and women (n=6) in two Canadian cities. Data were analyzed through critical medical anthropology, art therapy, and feminist geography theoretical frameworks, which provide a novel inter-disciplinary approach to conceiving of the body as a creative and emotive touchstone of human experience. This paper examines three themes that illuminate how body mapping represented a conduit for self-actualization; a stepping stone towards greater involvement in the HIV movement; and personally transformative research experiences among our participants. We conclude with a discussion of how our findings can inform the development of more rigorous arts-based theory and practice in contemporary ethnographic research.

panel P52
Art, politics, ethnography