We Are Still Here photo and audio exhibition on living with HIV to open in Cliftonville

Becky tells her story in We Are Still Here Photo Mareike Guensche

A photo-story project sharing the stories of people living with HIV in the UK will be exhibited throughout March as part of the Power Of Women festival.

The project is the work of Westgate resident Mareike Guensche who has more than 20 years experience in photography ranging from working as a press photographer in Berlin and for international media and as a stringer for news agency Reuters.

She was joined by Adrian Flint, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Relations at the University of Bristol, and Martin Burns, a writer, HIV/AIDS activist and equality advocate, to bring the project to fruition.

Photographer Mareike Guensche

Mareike, who also studied photojournalism and documentary photography, has previously worked on projects including making the issue of domestic violence in Mongolia visible; breaking down the stigma around HIV and a celebration of the LGBT community.

“We Are Still Here” is a participatory project with the HIV community in the UK, combining photographic portraits with audio interviews.

So far, the project reflects 21 stories and there are efforts to get further funding to continue sharing people’s stories.

Anita Photo Mareike Guensche

The series was supported by The Bristol Photo Festival and the Brigstow Institute, Bristol. It was exhibited at the Photo Festival in Bristol, in London for World Aids Day and at Aids 2022 in Montreal, Canada.

Jonathan Photo Mareike Guensche

Mareike said: “The aim of this project is to share personal narratives and lived experiences of people living with HIV. Even though, from a medical perspective, the virus is not a death sentence anymore and by taking one pill a day the virus load will be repressed so much that its not transmittable anymore, the stigma around HIV is still huge.

“The knowledge about HIV Aids ( and other STIs) needs to be communicated in a wider way, so more people get tested.

“In countries like the UK, where we have access to successful medication, we could eradicate the virus. But to reach this, we have to start talking about HIV again.”

Rahim Photo Mareike Guensche

The exhibition will launch at Cliff’s in Northdown Road, Cliftonville, on March 1 at 7pm and will feature three women speakers talking of their own experiences.

Each picture comes with a QR code, so visitors can download the audio to hear the story.

Emily and family Photo Mareike Guensche

Mareike said: “It works like a podcast, each person tells their own story in their own words. This is why for me the project is so powerful: to make the stories heard works like a bridge, it connects people via shared emotions and allows to have an inside (view) in someone else’s life and feelings.

“I took the pictures during Covid, which was an additional challenge, and travelled all over the UK to get as much variety as I could.

“The exhibition at Cliffs will shed light especially on female participants. Female perspectives are still too often overlooked, same in the HIV community. But being a woman living with HIV brings additional challenges: women are very often late diagnosed, because even when the symptoms are clear a lot of GPs don’t consider HIV as a possibility.

Veritee and Barry Photo Mareike Guensche

“Being able to become a mother and give birth to a child without transmitting the virus is a big win, which needs to be communicated more as well. Therefore, I am very happy to have three women from “Positive Voices” to share their stories at the opening night.

“Only by listening to each other we all can learn and grow.”

Find more on the project at: https://www.wearestillhere.net/

Find NHS advice about living with HIV here


    • If it’s not your idea of a day out then I would suggest not going. What you are supposed to FEEL is perhaps some empathy for those unfortunate enough to have caught HIV. It’s a chance to see the human face of those who live with HIV and are from all walks of life.

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