Adriana Bertini [A&U, July 2005], a self-titled artivist (that’s artist plus activist), is headed to AIDS 2014 in Melbourne, Australia, with her condom couture in tow. For nearly two decades, Bertini has been creating and exhibiting vibrant and vital couture dresses, skirts, and suits out of quality-test-rejected or expired condoms as a way to destigmatize the prevention tool and change the dialogue about “what to wear.”
Inspired to combine art and activism by her volunteer work at an AIDS organization in the nineties, Bertini has been raising awareness through condom couture at exhibitions at the United Nations and at International AIDS Conferences, as well as galleries and museums; fashion catwalks; social actions, lectures, and now workshops.
“At the beginning of my work I believed in the power of fashion as an agent of behavior change for condom use and anticipated much from fashion shows and exhibitions to draw attention to condom use,” Bertini, a native of Brazil, tells A&U. “Today I believe we have to popularize the handling of condoms through condom art workshops. [How do we expect] people to change behavior and use condoms effectively if most people are not familiar with the object before intercourse?”
The hands-on workshops engage participants in a learning experience that approaches sexuality as a critical space—a space where questions may be asked and issues, such as negotiating sex and condom use, may be explored in culturally tailored ways. In this way, latex, health and enlightenment are combined in a playful, creative way so that participants can form new feelings about identity and strengthen their self-esteem, particularly in relation to how they understand themselves as agents of change when it comes to caring for—and making decisions about—their own bodies and becoming involved in their own communities. Empowerment is literally self-fashioned.
The expected outcomes of the workshops include the promotion of condom-use by advocating STD and HIV/AIDS prevention; the education of communities and societies at risk; an encouragement of condom-use negotiation; and a demystification of taboos and prejudices related to the topic of sexuality. The condom art workshop as a tool, says Bertini, is especially important in communities where dialogue is difficult because of religion and/or beliefs.
Bertini has brought her workshop to UCLA Art, University of California, Los Angeles; the Parish Community Action Colonial Garden, an NGO in São Paulo, Brazil; and the High School for International Arts Business, Brooklyn, New York, among other sites. Workshops are offered to educational institutions, public and private firms, unions, NGOs, and others involved with the issue of sexuality.
Her other projects include working as a volunteer with Amnesty International since 2011 as a guest artist of its END FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) campaign.
Asked what she is looking forward to at the International AIDS Conference, when five condom dresses will be exhibited as “Dress Up Against AIDS,” Bertini responds: “Having an overview on new methodologies to prevent AIDS in the world. Presenting my work to this critical public for the purpose of learning….Expanding the global network against HIV/AIDS.”