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					                           Women Making Change Through Art:
                 Voices From The STITCHES Doll Project For HIV+ Women

                         Presentation at Brescia University College
                           “Women Making Change” Conference
                             London, Ontario - March 7, 2008

Kathleen Gerus-Darbison
Masters Candidate, Sociology
University of Windsor
Director, Stitches Doll Project
18012 Rose Ct.
Macomb, MI 48044
Phone: (586) 226-8603


       The Stitches Doll Project is a community-based initiative that provides the opportunity for
women and girls to express their feelings about living with HIV/AIDS through creating a doll that
speaks for them. In a very personal and powerful way, women and girls are able to tell their
stories both visually and verbally, through their dolls’ and monographs. Their stories poignantly
call attention to the variety of social factors (e.g., poverty, domestic violence, racism, sexual
abuse and assault, ageism, and substance use) that put women at risk for contracting HIV.

      Once completed, dolls are returned to the project and become part of a traveling exhibit
where they carry the message of their makers to the larger community. Through public displays
and the Stitches website, the dolls reach out to their audience. The colourful dolls capture
people’s attention and draw them in, providing viewers with an opportunity to hear the heartfelt
words of each doll maker.

       Dolls from the collection will be displayed and discussed. Using the data from the Stitches
doll project, this paper will examine how women deal with their HIV status, what factors put
them at risk, where they find support, and the importance of having a “voice” to educate others.
By creating a doll, the women artists engage in a form of personal and public artistic expression
that ensures that the life histories of women and girls living with HIV/AIDS are recorded and
remembered. Their efforts also help advance public education efforts by challenging cultural
beliefs regarding “the face of AIDS” and ultimately who is at risk for acquiring the virus.

      In the book “Using the Creative Arts in Therapy” by Bernie Warren, he describes the
transformative effect that creative expression can have on individuals (1993). Throughout this
paper are excerpts from his book. I believe he also describes the effect that works of art can
have on people who view them. As unique as the artist is who creates, the responses evoked
from the art are equally intimate and personal.

    Creative expression has long been known to have healing properties (Warren, 1993).
When words are unavailable to us, like young children who lack the proper vocabulary to
express themselves, or when words are simply inadequate – creating something with our
hands can have a profound impact on us. Creative expression bypasses our mouths. We don’t
need to “find the right words.” We can just let the images come forth. We become conduits to
our inner selves without hindering the expression with words. This paper will discuss a
particular artistic outreach program for HIV+ women. You will be able to see the impact of this
type of expression on both the creators and the viewers.

         Many years ago I found that making small clay sculptures helped me deal with my
feelings. I had lost a child during pregnancy and no one else seemed to understand how
devastating this was to me. Months went by and I ended up at a workshop weekend with a
bunch of other women for an unrelated reason. One of the projects we did was working with
clay. I began to shape my formless lump. Before I knew it there was a reasonable representa-
tion of a female figure with a huge hole in her lower abdomen and a very sad look on her face.
Somehow letting her out made me feel better. I don’t understand how it works, but I don’t have
to. I just know it does.

        My feelings, surrounding this long ago event, are where the idea for the STITCHES Doll
Project was born. At the time I worked as an education specialist doing HIV prevention educa-
tion. My co-worker was a very creative person. She and I talked for months about what type of
project we could do to help bring awareness to women’s issues. Finally we hit on the idea of
making dolls. It came from the desire to bring ART and LIFE together in a meaningful combina-
tion by creating a doll that speaks for its maker in a safe, and if necessary, anonymous way.

        It was a very humble idea at first. We only knew a handful of HIV+ women at that time.
How would this rather innovative outreach project evolve? How would we handle the logistics of
doll making workshops and educational displays? How would we reach larger numbers of
women? But those concerns were answered as we began our initial invitations to take part in
the project.

        From the very beginning everyone who heard about it was very supportive. And as the
word spread through the grapevine, more people wanted to be involved. My co-worker and I
organized workshops at local agencies in the Detroit area. We were also savvy enough to get a
blurb in POZ magazine, a national publication about HIV/AIDS, in the year 2000. (POZ, 2000)
This jump-started the national interest in our project from groups in New York, Texas, and other
states. We got requests to send out bunches of plain dolls to individual agencies where they
had positive women support groups. These particular doll making workshops took place without
our direct involvement. They were instead, organized by the resident social workers or facilita-
tors at each location. When the dolls were finished they sent them back to us to become a valu-
able addition to our collection. Often these participating agencies would have a “Going Away”
party for the dolls to commemorate the entire process.1 Currently we have just over 100 dolls in
the STITCHES doll collection for women living with HIV infection. Interested persons can view
them on our website:

        This paper will discuss how the doll project works, some examples of completed dolls,
recurring themes in the monographs that accompany each doll, and feedback from individuals
who view the exhibits. This will give a sense of the impact the creative process has on those
who take part in the doll making and also others who view and experience these beautiful

 Response letters from Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Grand Rapids, Michigan can be viewed in the Appendix

        The doll project is simple. Each contributor to the STITCHES Doll Project is given a
plain rag doll to decorate. She is then asked to submit a monograph that answers the question
“if my doll could talk what would she say?” After the dolls are completed they become part of
the traveling exhibit as well as the virtual display on the website. As stated above, most dolls
are made in a group setting, however, due to geographical or social isolation, some women
create them alone in their own homes.

        This paper also explores how women experience and make use of the project. A con-
tent analysis of the dolls and monographs collected as part of the STITCHES Doll Project re-
veals that contributions to the project are as varied as the individual doll makers. Women ex-
perience the project in a variety of ways. Some doll makers use their participation in the project
to help sort out their feelings, others tell a story, speak of loved ones, talk of death or speak to
the community at large.

“Over the centuries we have created the concept that artistic creation is the responsibil-
ity of a few gifted individuals. In so doing, we have denied the majority of individuals
within our urban and technologically advanced society their birthrights: that as a human
being, everyone has the right to make his or her own ‘unique creative thumbprint’- one
that no one else could make.” (Warren, 1993)

Following are some examples of dolls collected so far. They span the age and cultural divide
and debunk some common misconceptions about who is at risk for HIV infection.


        This doll was made by an 84 year old, African-American, woman who lives in Detroit,
Michigan. She still does speaking engagements educating people of all ages about the risks of
HIV infection. She tells everyone that she got infected at age 72 through unprotected sex, so it
could happen to anyone. She was initially wary about making a doll because she did not want
to identify herself. But once she started thinking about what she wanted her doll to say, she got
over her reservations.

                                                 Name: Alice R.
                                                 Birthdate: June 16, 1924
                                                 HIV Diagnosis: Unknown
                                                 Title: Guardian Angel of Life

                                                 Getting an HIV test is a win-win situation.
                                                 If the test results are negative, you win.
                                                 If the results are positive, you win.
                                                 You know to seek treatment

                                                 Alice is an African-American
                                                 woman living life to the fullest in
                                                 Detroit, Michigan.

       The little girl who made this doll was born with HIV infection. She was 6 years old when
she designed the doll. At that time she was unaware of having the virus. I am still in touch with
her family. She is now 14 years old and doing very well.

   Name: W.D.
   Birthdate: July 11, 1993

   Title: Silkie

   My name is Silkie. I was created and named
   by a Six-year-old named Whitney. She loves
   beautiful things. She designed my dress to
   look like I am an angel who can fly. She
   sewed it herself since she learned to sew in
   school. Whitney goes to a Waldorf school
   which has a handwork program.

   She does not know anything about being
   HIV+ or having AIDS so her life is still very
   carefree and happy like a child’s life should

   She is very healthy and a blessing from God
   to be around.

I was struck by the garden trowel on this doll’s shoulder. Once I read her monograph however,
it all made sense.


                                                    Born: July 14, 1958
                                                    Date of HIV Diagnosis: Unknown

                                                    I wish I could just take this garden
                                                    tool and take out all of this disease
                                                    out of my body. I am so tired of
                                                    taking medicine and doing laboratory
                                                    tests. However, by God’s grace he has
                                                    kept me alive for 13 years with this
                                                    disease. I know He and the angels are
                                                    watching over me.

                                                    This artist is an African-American woman who
                                                    lives in Houston, TX
This is my doll. It took me 3 months to decide what I wanted her to look like. I used materials
that were all part of me, important to me in some way. They all symbolize something specific.
This is what my doll represented at that time:

Name: Kathleen Gerus-Darbison
Birth date: December 7, 1957
HIV Diagnosis: December 8, 1985
AIDS Diagnosis: February, 1993

Title: Bound

She symbolizes all the important things and people who
have made her what she is today.

She is naked, vulnerable. Except for the ever-present

The wild, colorful hair represents her many moods, fears
and feelings.

Her mouth speaks of AIDS Awareness.

Around her neck and shoulders are the people who love,
support and nurture her.

In her arms she holds her daughter who has witnessed
everything. She is bound and tied by events of the past and

The bed signifies the place where HIV entered her life.
The red box is filled with her husband’s ashes and blood-     Kathy is a white, suburban woman from
stone speaks of his hemophilia.                               Metro Detroit. She is a Mother, Widow,
                                                              Daughter, Aunt, Sister, New Wife, and
The mirror symbolizes the reflection of society.                  an AIDS Activist and Educator.

        At the time I made my doll, circa 1999, my life revolved solely around HIV/AIDS educa-
tion and support. I was a widow and single parent. I had spent my adult life opening my life and
feelings to others in order to educate them about this disease. From looking at my doll, you can
see that I felt very vulnerable. I still feel very much the same about HIV and my place in the
world, however, I now have other interests too. Up until 1998 I did not plan for more than 3
months ahead. This was because I had been told when I was 27 years old that I would be dead
in 2 years. Having to live your life always waiting for the other shoe to drop does not leave a
place for future planning, no vacations, no advanced degrees, etc.

         So when I got remarried in 1998 to a wonderful man that I have known since I was a
kid, it changed my outlook. I finally had someone again that accepted me unconditionally, sup-
ported me in whatever my interests were. Then when the new protease inhibitor drugs came
out and I got a new lease on life, I decided I might be able to pursue my dream of a college
education. My husband and high-school-aged daughter were both 100% behind me. This al-
lowed me to go back and get a bachelors degree in Psychology and start tutoring students at
the local community college. I had always wanted to do this!

       So my life has changed a lot since I made my first doll. Now we are looking at revisiting
some of our STITCHES artists and asking them to create another doll to see how things have
changed for them. This is an exciting endeavor for all of us. When I think about how my doll
would represent me now, I am not sure. She would still be speaking of the issues that face all
women living with HIV infection. That is for sure. I guess I will wait and see what “my girl inside”

This woman died before she could finish her doll. Her support group sisters asked if they could
still submit it to the STITCHES collection. They wrote the following tribute to their friend.

Name: Carolyn Ann Cobbs
Birth date: June 20, 1956
HIV Diagnosis: Unknown
Date of Death: November 7, 2000

Title: CeCe

Carolyn died before she finished her doll,
but her sister gave permission for her doll
to join the “Stitches Doll Project” journey.
As soon as Carolyn began her doll she
said,” She’s got to have a crix belly like
me.”2 All through her illness Carolyn
grieved the changes in her body and talked
about being scared. The doll has a big
heart just like Carolyn, who was always
thinking of others and spoiling us with in-
credible fried chicken. We remember her
wonderful laugh, her warm smile, her
jaunty hats and tremendous strength.

With love from her doll-making sisters of
the Positive Moms Support Group West-
chester County, New York.

Ms. Cobbs was an African-American
woman who lived in Mt. Vernon, NY.

  This refers to an HIV medication called CRIXIVAN. It causes abnormal fat distribution that manifests in
the abdomen and often a hump across the shoulders.
Through our analysis of the dolls and the responses to the question about what their doll would
say we found several recurring themes. These themes tend to fit into five (5) categories, with
some monographs overlapping several. The five (5) categories are: having a voice to express
oneself and to educate others, the impact of HIV, risk factors, social support, and making sense
of infection. Following will be some examples from each category. We shall begin by discussing
dolls that are meant to educate and warn others.

“The arts can motivate in a way possibly no other force can. It is only through making a
mark that no one else could make, that we express the individual spark of our own
humanity.” (Warren, 1993)

        The knowledge that their dolls speak for them, and will continue to provide them with a
voice to share their stories even after they are gone, appears to be a strong motivating factor
for contributing to the project. So many women speak about a desire to educate and to spare
others the suffering and shame they have gone through. The monographs share many impor-
tant ideas, concerns, warnings, hope, and love with the greater community. Based on our
analysis we found that these types of messages can be subdivided into three (3) categories, all
of which are framed as messages of encouragement and that speak to the importance of taking
care of oneself and of social and individual responsibility. The first encourages the audience to
protect themselves and others from infection. Some of these messages provide the audience
with information on what to do and what to avoid.

                                   Be safe – take care of you.
                     Don’t put yourself at risk; unsafe sex, using IV drugs.
               I used to think I was invincible but that wasn’t the case of course
                                     (Native Hawaiian, Tennessee).

        People around the world take care of yourself – safe sex. (Pac Woman, Texas)

          Teach young people about how to love each other and protect themselves from the
                       harm and dangers in the world (Brenda, Washington).

       The second category encourages those individuals who are at risk to get tested. These
messages are typically practical and hopeful in nature and speak to the benefits of “knowing”
one’s HIV status and of the future for HIV positive individuals.

        Please everyone go get tested! Please practice safe sex. God will find a way to help us
                fight this battle. Also be strong and take your medicine (Me, Virginia).

                         Upon my journey of life I took a HIV/AIDS Test.
                            Nov 1995 my life changed for the better.
                      Because the seeds of growth started coming my way.
                 If a person waters their garden fruits will grow if not it will die.
                         That is how HIV/AIDS is seeking knowledge….
                          Education is the KEY!!! (Knowledge, Texas)
Although the third category is directed toward PHAs3, encouraging them to take care of them-
selves, these messages also speak to a wider audience.

           I am Leslie and living with the virus. I am happy to be living and learning about my life
            with AIDS. I thank God that I am living with this and still have a happy normal life and
                                                   you can too.
                                 Stay healthy and be strong (Leslie, Virginia).
          I encourage anyone who is HIV+ to take charge of things and work at maintaining good
                     Having joy in your life will keep you alive! (Amelia, North Carolina).

                HIV is a virus that says you must take your medicines every day – because
                                  if you don’t you will die” (Ola, New York).

       As we move through the three (3) categories of messages we see the consequences of
not heeding the advice contained in the first type of message and we see the reality of living
with HIV. We also hear messages that are directed to a diverse audience – those who are
negative, at risk, and those who are positive. It is the ability to share their experiences with a
widely diverse audience that appears to drive many girls and women who contribute to the
STITCHES Doll Project. The project bridges the pubic/private divide and in doing so creates a
personal and public outlet of expression. These dolls, pieces of art created by disenfranchised
women, share their creator’s story so that others may benefit from their experiences and hard-
earned wisdom. This is where the doll makers are truly “women making change”.

“Art is not a medicine that must be taken three times a day after meals. However, it can
feed the soul, motivate an individual to want to recover, and in certain circumstances,
cause physiological changes in the body” (Warren, 1993).

          Doll makers tell stories of both positive and negative impacts of HIV. Dolls that say very
little or nothing express some of the most poignant negative effects. For example, both A.S’
“Untitled” (MI) and Silverstar’s (MI) monographs indicate that they “don’t want to talk.” Silver-
star’s monograph however, goes on to tell us that “Last year our support group had 25 women.
Now we only have 13 left.” These responses, although short in length, are nonetheless quite
powerful. In a few words, they can communicate so much. The words give us some insight into
the state of mind of the doll maker and/or her willingness or ability to articulate her feelings. As
Tiffany’s (Texas) monograph states:

                             Because of the mental state of this artist
                            she was unable to express her own feelings
                                   about living with HIV/AIDS.
                                     She simply said “Hello.”

        Even with few or no words being expressed, doll makers still pass a message onto the
viewing audience. The actual doll, her image, her facial expression, the way she is clothed or
not, the accessories she has attached to her or that accompany her, etc. tell a story. For exam-
ple, as you can see from the images of Untitled (Michigan), despite the few words shared and
the fact that she is naked, this doll’s message is clear and resonates with us. We hear of the
impact of HIV on the body and the spirit, we feel her pain and suffering.

    Person with HIV/AIDS.
         In terms of positive impacts we see people finding peace, community, and love as they
deal with their HIV status. This is illustrated by monograph comments such as: “Happiness is
living with AIDS and still enjoying a normal life” (Karen Loving, Georgia); “HIV has given me the
ability/tools to see life in a different light” (Grace, Texas); “Knowing you have the virus. But liv-
ing with AIDS is easy for me since I have been fortunate to have a lot of support from my family
and friends” (Egypt, New York). Attitude is also something that is seen as important. In Faith’s
(Michigan) monograph, she talks about attitude when she addresses why her doll is smiling.

       You may ask why Faith is smiling? You live the life you choose--and you can either let all this
       bullshit get you down, or you can wake up each morning, put your best foot forward, and hope
       for love, peace and tranquility to enter your day. And a HUGE sense of humor doesn’t hurt


        There are many underlying issues that put the women and girls at risk for HIV infection.
Although the doll makers come from different walks of life many share a number of characteris-
tics that increase their risk. The overarching issues for women all around the world coalesce
into a daily struggle with sexism, poverty, racism and ageism, poverty. The monographs of the
women artists speak to the intersection of these variables and how they put them at risk.

       Sexism is an important risk factor. Culturally dictated gender roles and expectations typi-
cally place women in an inferior position to men. This is a dangerous place to be as it makes
women more vulnerable to male sexual advances, often feeling unable to refuse unprotected
sex or sexual relations generally. AmFar (November, 2006) reported that 78% of newly diag-
nosed HIV-positive women contracted the virus through heterosexual sexual activity. Through
the dolls we hear stories from women who know they were infected through sexual relations
with their spouse or partner or through sexual violence.

              Met a man, married him. He put his dirty hands all over me. Now I have HIV
                                        (Disco Lady, Texas).

        I am called Phoenix because I have been knocked down to nothing but ashes and rose
           again over my trials and adversities such as sexual abuse, physical abuse, verbal
       abuse, and homelessness. But just when I thought I was soaring high like a bolt of light-
         ning, I was hit with the news that I was HIV positive. I found that this was the hardest
       blow. Thinking that I would not rise this time. This attack came from the man I loved, my
                                     husband (Phoenix, Michigan).

        I am a 40 year-old African-American female who got infected through a sexual assault.
                      I felt my world had been destroyed and I felt utterly alone.
                                         (Goddess, Michigan).

        For many women infected through sexual contact, transmission is indirectly related to
intravenous drug use – that of their partners. We hear from these women, as well as those who
know they were infected as a result of their own drug use behavior. For example, Native Ha-
waiian’s (Tennessee) monograph tells us: “Don’t put yourself at risk; unsafe sex, using IV
drugs. I used to think I was invincible but that wasn’t the case of course.”

       Poverty is one of the main HIV risk factors for women in every country. Women who are
prisoners of poverty often feel they have little choice but to yield to the whims of male partners,
family members, strangers, social service providers, etc. in order to ensure economic security.
Looking for ways to help women become economically independent is the focus of many pro-
grams that seek to improve the situation. As the monograph that accompanies Honey (Show
me the money!!!) (Texas) illustrates, once women are HIV+ economic concerns typically be-
come even more pronounced.

 When I have to stop working due to my illness, where am I going to get the money I need for
                            Rent? Food? Telephone? My Cats?
           When the time comes for me to “retire”, how am I going to pay off my
                             Credit card bills? My dental care?
                               Please, show me the money!

        The statements made in the monographs echo the experiences of many other women,
those who are/were not able to protect themselves because of fear of reprisal, poverty, inability
to physically escape, or lack of access to information and resources. The reality of how women
are treated, mistreated, and manipulated by the men they love and trust and by institutionalized
forms of oppression become all too apparent in the stories of the dolls.


        The desire to make sense of their infection is a common theme in project contributions.
A number of the dolls are entitled “WHY ME?” and some version of the question “why or how
did this happen to me?” is prevalent in the monographs. Examples of such statements include:
“She shows the Christian life I always lived.” Angel Unaware (Texas), “What the hell am I doing
here? I am in a wheelchair and I want to get out!, Tbird (NY), “Why do these horrible things
have to happen?” Fancy (NY) In these types of monographs we hear the doll makers thought
processes as they try to make sense of why they contracted the virus. Why Me’s (Michigan)
monograph illustrates this:

                    For someone that has had three sex partners. Why me!
                    I have had two husbands and one sex partner, one time.
                             I was never a street person. Why me!
                                I was always a housewife. Why me!
                    But I still will try to live as long as I can with Jesus help.

        Despite the nature of the question, why me?, we do see some positive outcomes to this
exploration. Although Victory’s (Michigan) monograph starts with “Why? Why? Why? Why?” it
goes on to say, “Let’s get a cure going-on. Let’s get busy. Let’s live until we die. Be happy,
don’t worry.” Based on the doll’s name, Victory, this transformation is not surprising. We find
similar positive, hopeful commentary in the dolls entitled “Hope”, hope for the future, hope for a
cure, and hope for their children. This is evident in the poem “Shattered” that accompanies
Hope (New York). It can also be seen even in those dolls entitled “Why Me” as evidenced in
part of Patricia’s (Texas) monograph: “I’m able to go through life now with the hope of some-
day, saying ‘I AM NOT SICK’”

“…more and more people are becoming aware that being involved in the process of ar-
tistic creation is every bit as important and in many cases more important than the end
product.” (Warren, 1993)


         As illustrated by other researchers, such as Michele Tracy Berger (2004) in Workable
Sisterhood, marginalized women find many ways to get support and advocate for themselves.
The STITCHES doll artists show much the same desire. For many of the women, their lives
were a downward spiral of tragedy, grief, and poverty prior to receiving their diagnosis. Surpris-
ingly, learning of their HIV status served as a catalyst for positive change in their lives and is
facilitated by their support networks. The following monograph excerpts illustrate how women
can feel empowered through the connection and support they find among peers and supportive
family members and friends.

             …Living with AIDS is easy for me since I have been fortunate to have
                          a lot of support from my family and friends.
                    That support alone made me not ever want to give up!
                                       (Egypt, New York).

                                        I’m grateful to be alive!
                  I have met so many good people who have AIDS or are HIV+….
                 May God bring us all together again in joy and health that never end.
                                       (Sister Grateful, Virginia)

       Our analysis of the doll monographs also reveals that faith in god or a belief
in a higher power is an important source of support for many of the doll makers. This is evident
in the following excerpts from the STITCHES collection: “However by God’s grace he has kept
me alive for 13 years” (Untitled, Texas). “But through the love of my family and my faith in God
and prayer I have a better appreciation for Life” (Goddess of Hope, Michigan). ”I’ve learned the
key to life is a positive attitude, FAITH, and GOD as your foundation” (Grace, Texas). A quote
from Phoenix’s (Michigan) monograph provides a nice illustration of the importance of social
          Through the grace of my god, Jehovah, my husband, daughter, and friendship of
         women who I met through the positive support group such as the one at Wellness, I
              have risen again. Stronger and Better than before (Phoenix, Michigan).

       In most cases, STITCHES doll workshops have women come together to make their
dolls. Sometimes the workshops take place within pre-existing support groups and other times
they bring women together for the first time. In some cases the workshops take place in com-
munity-oriented centers and others in religious-oriented ones. Regardless of whether the
women know each other at the start or whether the group is community or religion based,
STITCHES workshops provide opportunities for socially supportive interaction to take place
and supportive relationships to develop. During doll making workshops women share many inti-
mate feelings and hopes for their lives. One meets women who are spiritual, politically active
and committed to educating others. These women are amazingly resilient and hopeful. They
want to make the world a better place and see their participation in the doll project as one
means of achieving that.


In the autumn semester of 2006, Anthropology students at the University of Windsor in Ontario,
Canada took 23 dolls and became intimately acquainted with them as they designed an
exhibition for World AIDS Day. Their task was to create the theme and title of the exhibit,
handle all the advertising and public relations and to design and set-up the exhibit. Initially
reluctant to tackle such a “touchy” subject as AIDS, the students attitudes changed dramatically
during the weeks of exhibit preparation. The following comments by members of the class and
faculty demonstrate that the STITCHES Doll Project is not something that one can just walk
away from. The dolls and the stories resonate with the audience.

       This doll initiative is awesome! I am so proud to be a part of such a special and revolutionary
       project…. I hope this event will inspire others to reach out and make a difference, it has certainly
       inspired me. Thank you for sharing a piece of the real world with us (Female, age 24).

       Silence=Death. To me this STITCHES project gives women a voice to educate others about the
       HIV/AIDS epidemic. This is such a unique and inspiring exhibit….I will never forget the things I
       have learned on this project. This will be something that will stay with me forever, and that if I
       can touch just one person, show them the reality of HIV/AIDS (Female, age 21).

       Participating in this show has been an amazing experience. To learn about people who are living
       with AIDS and see how AIDS affects everyone has been an important learning experience that I
       hope everyone will get the chance to see. Stitches sends out an important message to women
       that needs to be brought out more. (Female, age 25)

       The exhibit is first rate. It is especially heartening that the topic engaged the enthusiasm not only
       of the organizers, but of the students who put it together. This sort of thing is worth 1,000 pam-
       phlets and other literature of that sort. Keep up the good work. (Male, age 59)

       This exhibit bashes our senses and challenges our feelings. To know that life is soon inexorably
       to be lost and reflect upon it is moving and frightening. (Male, age 60)
“In using the creative arts in health care, rehabilitation and special education settings,
and seeing the resulting growth in self-image, self-esteem and healthy social interac-
tions, society as a whole is being handed a mirror concerning what is possible for all its
members if only they are given the opportunity.”(Warren, 1993)


        Although our initial concept for the project has not changed since its inception, we have
evolved. Over the years there have been lots of people who, after seeing the dolls, wanted to
buy one of our dolls. We said no, they are meant to travel and educate others. However, in re-
sponse to that, we have expanded the doll making to include special edition dolls made by
HIV+ women to raise money for the project. This is something new and we will see if it is well
received in real life. Also oftentimes when we do a workshop, men want to make dolls. Again
we said no. Not because we don’t want them in “the club”, it’s because this project is meant to
speak to the issues that affect women. Living with AIDS and being a woman is a very complex
balancing act. As women we have many expectations placed on us by society. Women are the
caregivers for everyone else. Most often, women take care of the needs of their families and
only when they can no longer ignore health problems, finally seek help for themselves. Also, as
a woman who is infected with HIV, the message you get from the rest of the world is not kind.
There are many people who feel (and say to your face) that you are no longer a human being.
Some feel that you deserve this disease because you did something “bad”. They think that be-
cause a woman has HIV infection she should live the rest of her life alone, not in a relationship,
not having children. As a person who has had many of these comments made to me, I can at-
test to how negatively they affect someone. So for these reasons, and many others, the
STITCHES doll project exists. These women’s stories will live on, after they are gone, to be
sure that they are not forgotten. The dolls will be testaments to the struggles of women in our
world today. Their dolls will continue to speak for them and educate many people for years to

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