Why Art Matters when it comes to HIV Education [VIDEO]

AIDS Vancouver logoThis post is the first in the "Creating Change Series" by Tasha A Riley, PhD-Prevention Education Coordinator, AIDS Vancouver. This series will discuss links between art and HIV education by highlighting the contributions of various artists to the field of HIV/AIDS education and activism.

Sue Williamson - Adeline, 2000
"Adeline", By Sue Williamson, 2000 | Part of the Artists International Direct Support portfolio, produced by Art for AIDS International

In 2001 I had the unique opportunity to work as a volunteer in Botswana, Africa where I educated local teachers about HIV/AIDS issues so that they could bring back the information into their own communities in their own languages. One of the things I really appreciated about the work I did was the creativity my teachers passed on into their teachings. HIV/AIDS is a difficult issue to discuss because it touches upon some of the most taboo of topics.

People don’t always feel comfortable discussing sex or condom use. In some places, such as Botswana, speaking openly about sex and condoms to one’s Elders can be viewed as a sign of disrespect unless the educator is able to do so in a skilled and creative manner. The teachers I had the privilege of working with were particularly skilled in this area. They recognized that not everyone would be as open to speaking about HIV openly and so they worked together to figure out how to pass on information about how the virus was spread in a way that would not only educate but entertain. There was no end to the creativity these teachers brought to the table. One group of teachers created a series of small skits they would perform weekly in the streets where the central character was a women living with the HIV virus. Another group of teachers put together a beauty contest to raise funds for HIV education.You can imagine the audience’s surprise when each one of the contestants twirled gracefully around on stage only to reveal a sign displaying a different sexually transmitted infection. At the end of the procession, each contestant took centre stage and took some time to inform the audience about that particular STI, what it was and how it could be prevented and treated. The idea was brilliant simply because it not only grabbed everyone’s attention, but it did so in a way that encouraged people to laugh and speak openly about something people were normally too embarrassed to discuss.

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Reflecting on the Art for AIDS Workshop Process

Almost a decade ago, when Art for AIDS International's primary concern was encouraging professional artists to respond to the growing HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa, an opportunity came forward to host a workshop with students from the London District Catholic School Board.  While this was not our primary focus, we leaped at the opportunity to engage young people through art and teach them a bit more about issues related to HIV/AIDS and social justice generally.  Little did we know, however, that not only would the students respond with incredible passion and enthusiasm during these first few workshops, but, that they would also produce incredible and engaging works of art during them as well.  It was for this reason that we immediately shifted the focus of our project away from our International Portfolio toward helping young people get creative in understanding and addressing HIV/AIDS in their own community and abroad.  Since these first workshops, we have been privileged to host nearly 200 workshops with over 10,000 students from across Canada, South Africa, Mozambique, the Netherlands, Uganda, and the United States.

With upcoming workshops scheduled in Durban, Vancouver, Toronto, and London, as well as upcoming exhibitions and fundraisers in Spain, South Africa, and multiple Canadian shows, we felt it necessary not only to share our impression of the workshops with you, but also the impressions of those that ultimately matter most: the participating students.

Below you will find four statements written by past participants, all of whom have moved on and become active members of their community. Please enjoy and, whether or not you have been to a show, or attended a workshop, we  encourage your comments below!Read more