Using art to increase condom awareness

Using art to increase condom awareness

Condoms, when used correctly and consistently, are safe, inexpensive and highly effective in preventing unplanned pregnancies and transmission of STIs, including HIV. 

For decades, Brazilian artist Adriana Bertini has used her artistic creations to raise awareness on the importance of condom use. Adriana’s art is embedded into the social and cultural fabric. It addresses condom uptake without stigma and discrimination, and challenges taboos around sexual health, sexual pleasure and sexuality education. 

“I hope my art provokes educational debates and helps to overcome the stigma and discrimination related to sexual health that prevents condom use, particularly among youth,” said Bertini. 

Adriana is an internationally recognized artist. Inspired by her volunteer work with children living with HIV in Brazil in the 1990s, she started to use conceptual fashion as a unique form of activism to raise awareness about AIDS and HIV prevention. 

Brazilian artist Adriana Bertini posing with models with her condom dresses
Adriana Bertini posing with models wearing her condom dresses (© Juja Kehl)

Adriana uses condoms that did not pass manufacturers’ inspection as raw material to make pieces of art, including haut couture dresses, sculptures, mobiles, dolls’ clothing, and a series of other artistic experiments using petri dishes, pills and plants to evoke discussion around themes related to HIV/STI prevention and care.

“Condoms are seen very negatively in our societies as a barrier to pleasure. I wanted to convey that condom use should be as natural as clothing. I made everything out of condoms with the aim of introducing them into people’s everyday lives.”      

Recognizing the gap in knowledge and use of condoms in her home country, Adriana became a community educator and social mobilizer by using her multidisciplinary experience to create and coordinate social projects. To support these goals, she co-founded the NGO Instituto Multiverso in São Paulo, which specializes in advocacy for youth through developing and managing opportunities that educate around sexuality and harm reduction. 

Condom art workshops

As an activist and artist, she holds condom art workshops with young people around the globe. These workshops connect plastic arts with sexuality education and health promotion. They focus on the development of garments whose fabric is composed of condoms that would otherwise go to waste due to manufacturing defects. The work provides an opportunity for participants to reflect on self-care through encouraging condom-use promotion and negotiation as well as educating about positive sexuality, stigma and discrimination and gender norms.

Hands touching condoms
Adriana Bertini’s workshop participants feel empowered by having knowledge and understanding of condoms and condom use. (© A. Bertini)

As mentioned by a youth participating in one of the workshops that took place in Brooklyn, New York City, “I actually had never touched a condom before, but I came in and saw everyone else doing it, so I got more relaxed. The more comfortable someone is touching condoms and being prepared, the more relaxed you will feel when you actually need to use it.”

Adriana’s work has been exhibited extensively worldwide and in multiple editions of the International AIDS Society conferences, at which WHO actively participates. 

Artistic interventions and health outcomes 

There is a growing body of evidence suggesting a positive association between artistic interventions and health outcomes and well-being. Benefits have been seen in the areas of health promotion, prevention and care. In 2019, the WHO European office incorporated artistic interventions to advance specific WHO health goals, including universal health coverage, mental health and suicide prevention, maternal health, blindness prevention and quality of care, in addition to historic efforts in HIV prevention. 

Adriana Bertini’s life-long work highlights the use of art as a strategy to raise awareness among those not reached by conventional promotion interventions and to inspire the use by those who inconsistently use them. 

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