2011: Krisanne Johnson

Coming of age for Swazi girls is tough. A tiny African nation of one million, Swaziland is ruled by one of the world's last remaining absolute monarchies. Its age-old tradition of polygamy and its relaxed attitude toward sexuality have met in a devastating combination for women: Swaziland reports the highest percentage of HIV-positive people in the world, with the hardest hit being young women. For every two young Swazi women, one is HIV-positive. Life expectancy has dropped from 61 to almost 31 over the past ten years.

I first went to Swaziland in 2006 to document the coming of age rites of young women living amidst a spreading disease and its victims—women who, even in the face of such staggering odds and deep uncertainty, still possess all the energy and enthusiasm of youth. My goal was to capture the nuances that comprise a human, rather than simply tragic, experience. Over the past five years, the progression of this work has moved from traditional rites of passage to modern youth culture to an intimate look inside the homes of HIV-positive women.

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