The beauty of vitiligo, the project to combat stigma

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They consider it a sign of the wrath of the gods that was unleashed on a person: in Africa vitiligo is a curse. Some communities believe that when you meet someone living with this condition, the day is ruined: children are taught to go home immediately to purify themselves with herbal medicines, in order to wash away the misfortune.

He tells us about it Martin Senkubuge, a talented Ugandan artist who, instead, has chosen to portray people with vitiligo on his canvases, to combat the social stigma of which they are victims.

“In some African communities, those with vitiligo are even sacrificed by sorcerers, and it happens above all with small children. There is the belief that the soul of these people is perfect to sacrifice to the devil. People living with vitiligo are stared at and pointed at when they are on the street: this makes them feel vulnerable and makes them lose self-esteem. Often, in fact, they end up isolating themselves ».

A situation that led to many cases of school dropout and suicide (especially among children), and many other forms of social injustice, especially in the workplace. “Most people with vitiligo lose their jobs, especially on television or in schools, and are considered incompetent in leadership and politics.”

Where did your interest in people with vitiligo come from?
«It was September 28, 2019, and I had exhibited my works in a collective art exhibition,« Walls Speak ». A lady wanted to buy my painting “Melanin tattoo”, but first she wanted to know its story. I explained that it was about Michael Jackson, bleaching his skin and wanting to go white. She, who knew that the singer had vitiligo instead, replied: “I thought artists did research before presenting their work!”. From that moment on, I decided to delve into the history of Michael Jackson’s vitiligo. “

And what did he discover?
«That he received a lot of criticism from many of his fans, who thought he wanted to change skin color. With tears in his eyes, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 1993, Jackson explained his condition. But if a public figure like him has been so stigmatized, what about less privileged people, who live with vitiligo, in remote villages where they are considered living curses? ».

So he decided to commit to them.
«I have decided to be the visual voice of people with vitiligo. I won a $ 566 small project grant and started portraying the beauty of vitiligo. I remember the day I presented my project to one of my professors, and he told me about a man, father and husband, who lived for over 30 years spreading coal dust mixed with potato leaf sap on his face. sweet. He couldn’t afford the makeup. He always wore long-sleeved shirts and gloves, and wore long, thick clothes even during the hot season. I decided to portray people like him, to give them back their pride ».

How did you contact people with vitiligo who you then portrayed?
«I published a video and posts on my social networks and those of people with vitiligo. I found 60 who lived near Kampala, then I tried to build a relationship of trust with them ».

How can your project help reduce stigma?
«In the times of Caravaggio, Monet, Rembrandt and Leonardo Da Vinci, artists were the mirror of their societies. They captured moments and events, in such a way as to inform us about what was happening at that time. Artists have a keen sense of imagination, which they can use to construct or transform social perceptions ».

How will your project continue?
«More creatives (poets / poetesses, musicians, performing artists, designers, architects) will join me to amplify the message. We intend to partner with different humanitarian organizations, art galleries or accessible spaces to reach the public. We have also just set up the registry Vitiligo Family Link, and we are preparing to celebrate the World Vitiligo Day, as a nation, also in Uganda, on 25 June each year ».

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