“I am Deliberate and Afraid of Nothing”: Using Body Mapping as a Research Tool to Explore HIV Risk Among Youth in Soweto, South Africa
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In 2012, I used Body Mapping to explore personal experiences of HIV risk among 6 young men and 4 young women, ages 18-19, in Soweto, South Africa. Using a series of arts-based exercises designed to foster participant engagement and knowledge production, and facilitated over the course of four days, participants used the power of art-making to engage in a participant-researcher dialogue about sex, HIV risk, relationships, violence, substance use, the need for trusted mentors, and more. At the end of each art-making day, the Body Mapping participants gathered to discuss their artwork. The participants conveyed that the Body Mapping experience provided a safe, non-judgmental space in which they could challenge their attitudes and understanding about difficult-to-discuss topics. Moreover, the results of the Body Mapping project suggest that HIV prevention measures are not as important as young people’s need for trusted adults with whom they can speak candidly about life’s challenges. The participants also suggested that they require sexual health information and resources based on their lived experiences. Moreover, they articulated that they most needed accessible and youth-friendly communication tools that facilitate honest, non-judgmental, and deliberate conversations about their sexuality, relationships and sexual health practices with trustworthy, reliable adults. Furthermore, the Body Mapping narratives, together with the artwork, offer an in-depth perspective of growing up in post-apartheid South Africa, one in which community leaders, educators and those who connect with youth must challenge their way of engaging with and developing HIV prevention messaging for young people. For youth to better understand HIV risk, adult mentors must be willing to listen to adolescents and young adults and provide them with a safe space in which to talk openly, honestly and without judgment about their risk-taking behavior.