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Through the Lens: Grant Helps HIV Positive Women Tell Their Story

October 27, 2016

Photography is one of the most popular mediums of self-expression. Even as technology continues to progress, people from all walks of life are using photography as a means to convey an idea or message. What if, however, this powerful medium could be used to tell a different narrative?
Yasmine Awais, an assistant clinical professor in Creative Art Therapy, is helping others use photography to share their story.
"I've always enjoyed the process," Awais explained. "Photography is very process oriented. Traditional mediums are often instantaneous and can allow one to make a mark immediately. Photography and other process oriented media such as ceramics or print making require you to slow down and follow many steps."
Recently Awais and one of her recent graduates, K.C. Webbling, received the Leeway Foundation Art and Change grant. The grant provides project-based change grants to women and trans artists in the Delaware Valley region to fund social change projects. Awais explained that the grant will be used to help women with HIV to tell their stories and show people what goes on during their everyday lives.
"The positive about HIV today is that treatment is more available," said Awais. "The negative however is that because of this, HIV is viewed as a chronic illness. As a result, funding for grants to help improve the quality of life for people living with this disease is hard to come by."
Awais also helped clarify some of the misconceptions about people living with this illness. "The common thought is that HIV is a white, gay men's disease, but in reality, over the past few years, those most susceptible to HIV are older women of color."
With Webbling as her co-applicant, Awais presented a number of accounts as to how she has used photography to improve the lives of others. "We needed to present around seven stories highlighting how I would be qualified to receive this grant. In K.C.'s capstone, we included the Art and Foundation grant application which outlined my experiences helping public high schools in New York City to use photography as an outlet," Awais said. "I also told the story of my experience in Japan helping as part of a non-profit exchange program for U.S. based non-profit professionals to collaborate with Japanese non-profits. During my time there I showed them how to use black and white photographs to express their opinions on the world around them."
Awais is currently a doctoral student in the Social Welfare program at the graduate center of City University of New York. She hopes to see the grant allow its recipients to feel proud of themselves and the psychosocial skills they possess.