Background to a Viennese artist’s reaction to the death of a teenage HIV+ activist

In 2009, Vienna-based artist Christoph Holzknecht met Dr Rainer Brandl, a fellow Viennese and a physician with a specialization in HIV care and treatment. Brandl described some of his experiences running an HIV clinic in rural Tanzania and the problems that arose because of corruption in the Lutheran church-run hospital where his clinic operated. Holzknecht was touched by the story of Veneranda Sanga, the youngest member of a HIV+ patient self-help group that was established at the HIV clinic.

Veneranda died at the age of 17 in February 2009 because of inadequate health care at the Lutheran hospital. Holzknecht was angered by the story of her death – that she was targeted by local authorities for harsh treatment because of her activism, that she was largely abandoned by the local authorities even though she was an orphan, and that she was prevented from receiving state of the art care by the incompetence and larceny of church and hospital authorities. But he was most chilled and challenged as an artist by the fact that this teenager saw clearly from the moment that conflict broke out between the patient activists and local authorities that she was living on borrowed time and that her death would come soon. He decided to use his artistic talent to memorialize one young life that was needlessly wasted in the corruption-laden world of “the Business of AIDS”.

The bronze sculpture he has created and is presenting at Vienna 2010 is a memorial for Veneranda and the 70 HIV-patients (most of them activists from the HIV/AIDS self-help group PIUMA) who died unnecessarily since 2006 – not from AIDS but because of embezzlement of foreign aid money designated for health care, because of fraudulent procurement decisions with regard to HIV testing and treatment technologies and because of the denial of the human right to life and proper medical care by corrupt and incompetent church and governmental authorities.

The artist Christoph Holzknecht describes his sculpture as follows: “My sculpture exposes the reality of theft and corruption that forces its way through people's skins, deep into their bodies, with deadly consequences.”

For more information about Christoph Holzknecht visit his provisional website:

For more background on Veneranda Sanga and her death from a Tanzanian perspective, read this article by then BBC bureau chief in Dar es Salaam, Vicky Ntetema:

For more information about the global efforts to support the PIUMA activist group or to communicate with Christoph Holzknecht and Dr. Rainer Brandl, contact the Vienna-based watchdog group PAMOJA:

c/o Fabian Wirnsperger
Marxergasse 23/11
1030 Vienna
Austria/ Europe

Mobile: +43 650 533 88 27

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