Personal connection and creative expression at the International AIDS Conference

Dress made out of condoms by Brazilian artist Adriana Bertini on display in the Global Village at teh International AIDS conference.
Dress made out of condoms by Brazilian artist Adriana Bertini on display in the Global Village at the International AIDS conference.

It feels like Melbourne has been absorbed by the AIDS 2014 conference. Signs all over the city welcome AIDS 2014 delegates to Melbourne. Over 14,000 delegates from all over the world have made their way to the conference for personal or professional reasons, oftentimes both. An amazing atmosphere fills the Melbourne exhibition and convention center, people from many different countries and backgrounds, all eager to learn more about HIV prevention and care, ready to “step up the pace” in their projects and lives back home.

The AIDS 2014 conference showcases an impressive wealth of knowledge and research. But what will stay in my mind are the people that I met and stories that I heard. Young people, for example, like the peer educators who are working n Syrian refugee camps, and a group of Ugandan dancers who are living with HIV. During the opening session of the conference a young woman from Indonesia shared with us her story: As a young woman living with HIV, she lost her partner and is now a single parent, trying to bring up their child on her own despite the lack of support that she has experienced in her community. Her strength and her fight for more involvement of people living with HIV in the HIV response was an inspiration to many of us in the audience.

Condom couture! Bertini's designs encourage conference-goers to think about condoms in a new way.
Condom couture! Bertini’s designs encourage conference-goers to think about condoms in a new way.

Just steps away from the exhibition hall, where organizations including JSI, government representatives, and pharmaceutical companies have their booths, is a smaller, but equally important showcase: the “global village”. Smaller NGOs have their booths here. Some of them sell art work. A lady at one of the booths told me that the organization she works for helps people in Uganda who are living with HIV and are physically disabled. Some of them live in a group; others only come during day time for the activities.

The organization sends the children to school; the adults make crafts—beautiful paintings, earrings, painted stone figures, handcrafted mobiles—to make a living. Another organization sells postcards decorated with village scenes made from dried banana leaves. I had to buy several of these items for family and friends; these items are fine works of craftsmanship and artistry and I am glad to be able to support the artists who made them and the organization that is doing this great work.

A completely different kind of art can be found in the global village as well: The Condom Art Workshop is a project that aims to provoke critical and collective reflection about STDs, HIV and AIDS prevention. The Brazilian artist, Adriana Bertini, produces garments made from condoms that were rejected by industry standards. She uses this artistic medium to demystify condoms and generate new meanings and associations for them in the hope that people will think about them in new ways.

These exhibits and workshops remind me that the global fight against HIV takes many forms and inspires people to ‘step up the pace’ to end the epidemic in many different ways. That’s what it will take to win this fight!


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