Coinciding with Black History Month, a stunning exhibit of African art, “Botswana and the Art of the Kalahari,” opened Feb. 3 at Gravers Lane Gallery, 8405 Germantown Ave., and will continue through Feb. 28. About 15 percent of the proceeds from sales of the artwork will help provide income to communities in need and support the Botswana-UPenn Partnership (BUP), which helps to provide high-quality healthcare in the Southern African country.
The exhibit emerged from a friendship between Gravers Lane Gallery director Bruce Hoffman and Philadelphia-based fiber artist Cindy Friedman, who has traveled extensively to Botswana with her husband, Harvey M. Friedman, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Botswana-UPenn Partnership (BUP). (An industrial designer and fashion designer, Cindy’s work can be found in gallery exhibitions and private collections around the world.)
As Dr. Friedman built the BUP program in Botswana, Cindy forged relationships in the country’s arts community, particularly in Gaborone, the capital city, where the couple stays. Her friendships at the National Museum of Botswana, Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture, Kalahari Quilt Shop and Kuru Development Trust led her to bring the first exhibition of Botswana artwork to the U.S.
Cindy said she was instantly captivated by the vibrant colors used by the indigenous people of Botswana, the Basarwa, also known as “The San,” considered one of the world’s oldest cultures. “The San live in the middle of nowhere in the Kalahari Desert,” she said. “Formerly nomads, the painters who are part of the Kuru Development are now stationary in D’Kar, and their work is incredible.”
She shared her enthusiasm with Gravers Lane Gallery director Bruce Hoffman, who helped select the artwork for this exhibition and designated a portion of the proceeds to benefit BUP.
“This was a great opportunity for Gravers Lane Gallery to highlight Penn’s role in helping health organizations in Botswana,” Hoffman said. “We’re thrilled to be able to support both local artists in Botswana as well as BUP’s important work.”
When Penn was invited by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Merck Foundation and the Government of Botswana to train health care workers on the management of HIV-infected patients in Botswana almost 14 years ago, the country had the highest AIDS infection rate in the world per capita, according to Dr. Friedman.
With Penn’s help, Botswana has made major strides in its fight against AIDS. Today, BUP serves as technical advisers for clinical care and education and builds research collaborations with key stakeholders in Botswana. “The fact that we are getting proceed benefits to support our program is absolutely perfect,” said Dr. Friedman.
Comprised of three main partners including the Government of Botswana, the University of Botswana and the University of Pennsylvania, BUP believes that quality medicine should be available to populations in need. The partnership has a budget of about $9 million, with $800,000 from Penn and the rest from U.S. government and private grants. About 250 doctors from Penn in addition to medical, nursing and dental students go to Botswana each year to help provide care, teaching, etc.
Ken Goldenberg, a partner in Gravers Lane Gallery and founder of the mega-successful retail development firm The Goldenberg Group, also has a connection to Africa. Several years ago, he created People Helping People/Kenya after a friend put him in touch with a non governmental organization (NGO) working with HIV-positive children in a town north of Nairobi, Kenya. When the NGO left, Goldenberg stayed.
He has frequently traveled to Igoji, a town about four hours north of Nairobi with one tarmac road, two to three months at a time, where he has worked with nuns from the Little Sisters of Don Orione. The Italian convent was founded in the 19th century to help the “neediest of the needy” and is now comprised of mostly Kenyan nuns. There, Goldenberg has paid to send children to school, help build chicken coops, help to rebuild a school for the handicapped and assist other groups and projects in the health and religious fields.