The story of the people of Hamburg, South Africa, continues as an art project has created an ambitious new work called The Keiskamma Guernica.

Currently on display at the National Arts Festival in Grahamestown, where the Keiskamma altarpiece was first displayed, the new exhibition bears eloquent witness to the ongoing painful struggle of rural communities dealing with Aids. 

It is a lament for the dead, for the injustices of our health system and the staggering grief experienced in Eastern Cape villages today. 

The central work is the Keiskamma Guernica, based on the 1937 painting Picasso created to tell the story of the bombing of a small village in Spain.

The bombs were dropped by Germans at the request of the Spanish nationalist government, and fell on a market day, when the centre of town was full of women and children from the rural areas surrounding it. 

Picasso's work has since stood as a powerful protest against this incident, an example of all places and times when the most vulnerable are sacrificed by governments concerned only with pursuing their own agendas, and people who have no compassion for the poor.

Unlike the original Guernica, ours depicts not an instant of horror but rather a slow eating away at the whole fabric of a community.

Each day another thread is lost, and suddenly an entire generation has disappeared.  It has seemed that as we stitched in panic and in sorrow against this disintegration, more holes have appeared and gaps that could not be mended.

While the foundations of a new wealthy and privileged society have been built up, we have dug countless graves.

In our villages the suffering do not scream as they do in Picasso's bombed-out scene, rather they ceaselessly mourn, pray and persist, but too often submit to the relentless disease, and die, un-recounted. 

That is why the Keiskamma Trust, in all of our work, strives above all to tell the story of our grief and struggle but also to tell and show that it is also here where  the resilience of our people lives on.

There is such courage and strength in our communities.

There is also profound dignity and faith that survives here, against all the odds, and powerful bonds that remain un-assailed.

Keiskamma Guernica is the same scale as Picasso's original [3.5 metres (11 ft) tall and 7.8 metres (25.6 ft) wide] and is also cast in somber colours.

While Picasso's black, white and grey monochrome is said to have been chosen to reflect the medium - newspaper print - through which Picasso heard of the disaster, the grey brown background of Keiskamma Guernica is formed from the blankets of patients who have stayed at our treatment centre and hand-made felt.

Nearly six million people in South Africa are infected with HIV today. The vast majority of people are unemployed, schools are derelict, and nutritious food is scarce.

Children still die because they cannot access health care, the elderly suffer from treatable conditions and clinics regularly run out of medicines.

The Keiskamma Art and Health Projects have lived and worked in this situation for the past seven years, fighting HIV/Aids and giving hope.

Annette Woudstra is the managing director of the Keiskamma Trust.

Source: Al Jazeera