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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