New Museum Exhibit Touches on TB

By Joe Velarde

South African photographer Damien Schumann has done more than create a photo mosaic of the living conditions of those suffering with tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. In fact, he has gone the extra mile and transported his audience directly inside the dwelling of someone living with one of these conditions in his latest installation, “Nuestra Casa,” slated to open Jan. 17 at UTEP’s Centennial Museum, in conjunction with the launch of the Nuestra Casa Initiative. 

The exhibition, which will run through Dec. 6, 2012, will feature a shantytown-style home inside the Centennial Museum. According to museum director Bill Wood, Ph.D., the piece is designed to give the viewer a deeper experience.

“(The exhibition) is an immersive experience designed to connect visitors to the human story behind the social and public health issue of tuberculosis through Schumann’s photographic work,” he said.Damien SchumannDamien Schumann

Eva Moya, Ph.D., UTEP assistant professor of social work, created a similar project during the fall of 2009, in conjunction with Schumann. The project, Nuestra Casa, is a collective body of work created by artists and researchers bonding together to create an experience built over several years.

“It’s very important to understand how a disease (like tuberculosis) spreads,” Moya said. “When a family is living in these conditions, under this much stress and relative closeness, the virus will carry easily.”

Moya described the coalescing piece of art, science and study as a large “photovoice,” or a project that steps beyond the boundaries of conventional art.

Three years ago Moya met Schumann at an international AIDS conference in Mexico where the two developed the idea of working together to bring greater public awareness to the social and public health issue of tuberculosis. In 2009, Project Concern International (PCI) secured funding from USAID to hire Schumann for the project and the Nuestra Casa began its tour in El Paso. The tour continued in Mexico in partnership with the National TB Program in Mexico and the support of the State TB Programs in Quintana Roo, Oaxaca, Tamaulipas, and Tijuana, and ending in at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.Nuestra Casa at UTEP in 2009Nuestra Casa at UTEP in 2009

“The project really shines a light on the immense work that has been exhibited by the University and Schumann,” Wood said. “It’s not a regular exhibit where you would just as soon visit it and leave. There is so much more going on beyond the walls within the ‘house.’”

Wood described the piece as a catalyst to a number of other events that will follow, designed to educate the general public on the complexities of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS and raise awareness of the issues through artistic creativity. The Nuestra Casa Initiative includes a year-long series of health and social programming developed by faculty and students in the UTEP departments of social work, anthropology and sociology, and communication, and the Center for Civic Engagement under the leadership of Moya. Her research is focused on social and public health issues including tuberculosis and stigma. According to Moya, over the course of 2012, she and Arvind Singhal, Ph.D.; Lucia Dura, Ph.D.; Guillermina Nuñez-Michiri, Ph.D.; Silvia Chavez, Ph.D.; and Raquel Orduño, in partnership with PCI, the Mexican Consulate, the City of El Paso Health Department, the Alliance of Border Collaborative (ABC) and TB Photovoice, will launch education, research, policy and service activities in support of the Nuestra Casa Initiative.

An opening public reception will be held at 4 p.m. Jan. 19 at the museum. For more information, contact the Centennial Museum at 915-747-5565 or www.museum.utep.edu.