Arts and Culture / Magazine Feature

African art display helps fight AIDS

It’s often been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. In the case of the Zimbabwe AIDS Treatment Assistant Project (ZATA), a picture has the potential to save a thousand lives.

Founded five years ago by Denver doctors Thomas Campbell and Robert Schooley in cooperation with the University of Colorado-Denver and the University of Zimbabwe, ZATA has a unique mission: bringing work by Zimbabwean artists to North America to sell and use the proceeds to provide AIDS treatment and clinical care in Zimbabwe, where it’s estimated one out of every four people has the disease.

“There’s plenty of U.S. money for Africa for AIDS drugs, but none of it goes to Zimbabwe because of (President Robert) Mugabe,” says ZATA president Jane Oppenheim. “It’s a very corrupt, broken economic system.”

ZATA purchases artwork from a gallery in Zimbabwe where local artists place their pieces on consignment. Most are selected by an on-site curator but ZATA doctors play a part in the process as well, bringing paintings home with them when they travel to Zimbabwe to work.

“We feel we’re an artists project as much as an AIDS project,” Oppenheim says.

An exhibit of work by ZATA artists is on display through Oct. 31 in the Merle Catherine Chambers Center for the Advancement of Women at DU. It includes paintings, photographs, tapestries, masks, woven baskets and sculpture courtesy of the Chapungu Gallery in Loveland, Colo. Most pieces are available for sale through ZATA.

Some of the work is somber — black-and-white photos of ZATA patients, for instance — while other pieces are bright and lively. Peter Kwangware’s colorful paintings depict the festive feel of the marketplace while three story-quilts created by rural women tell simple tales of village life.

“We encourage people to go look [at the exhibit]. They are never going to see Zimbabwean artwork because tourism is broken down there as well,” Oppenheim says. “DU students, faculty — they have the opportunity of seeing what’s happening in Zimbabwe. It’s not all bad news; they have incredibly talented artists.”

For more information on the ZATA Project or to purchase art, visit

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