By Jillian Lalonde
Art has been used in HIV/AIDS education since the beginning of the epidemic that began in the early 1980s. Art has a way of subtly teaching people, allowing for learning and taking in information without directly acknowledging it. Art can be understood and interpreted by everyone, and therefore a simple way of communicating message with large groups of people.
A study was done in the Choma district of Zambia, lead by Henrik Trykker, where they split the district into three zones. One zone had a drama group along with community health workers to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS prevention. The drama group put on two plays and after each play had a discussion about the content of the play and strategies to protect yourself from getting HIV. They also handed out condoms to those willing to take them at the end of the discussion. The study showed that both men and women in the zone visited by the drama group had a better understanding of the risks of transmission and higher willingness to change their behaviour. Bringing the community together as a whole and having an interactive learning experience through art in the form of drama helped to break taboos and create a better understanding amongst the participants about how to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS.
In the eighties and nineties in North America, art was used as a way to make the general public aware of HIV/AIDS, primarily by activists. ‘Gran Fury’ was a group that branched off of ACTUP New York that used art activism to create awareness with pieces like Silence=Death, a lasting symbol of AIDS activism, represented by an inverted pink triangle, and the “Pope Piece,” which denounced the Catholic Church’s moral objections to condom use and other HIV prevention methods. A Canadian art collective called ‘General Idea’ created an installation piece called One Year of AZT/One Day of AZT that involved five enormous sculptures of AZT pills to represent one day’s treatment on AZT, the first approved antiretroviral drug to treat HIV. The walls of the room in which it was being shown were covered with 1,825 smaller versions of the AZT pills, to represent a year’s worth of AZT. The effect was to show how people taking antiretroviral medication are taken over by medication. This piece gave the people who went to see it an immersive experience, that was more evocative than simply reading or hearing about HIV/AIDS in the media.
Whether it is through a drama group coming into a town, a poster, a slogan, a photograph or a sculpture, the use of art in education helps breakdown barriers people put up when it comes to talking about sensitive or difficult subjects like HIV. You can learn a lot from art, even without being conscious of it. In this way, art activism was, and remains, very effective in educating the general population about HIV.
Come check out some art with the Shag Shop, Wednesday, March 21st at Arts for Awareness. https://www.facebook.com/events/304577262941607 - Hosted by YAHAnet
Art as HIV Education