Using the Visual Arts to Teach HIV Prevention to Women

By Rob Banaszak on October 12, 2010 in GENERATIONS

by Alana Feldman Soler
General Coordinator
Taller Salud, Inc.

One out of every three Puerto Ricans under 18 years old is sexually active [1] and the island wide average incidence of women infected with HIV through unprotected heterosexual sex is 61%.[2] Because of cultural ideas about the roles of men and women in a relationship with which they have grown up and the issues of power that result from those ideas, young Puerto Rican women simply do not have the tools to communicate effectively about sex, especially with their sexual partners.

Because studies have indicated that teens expect adults to be a main source of information on sexuality and HIV, Taller Salud, Inc., a 30-year-old  feminist based community organization working towards the health and well-being of girls, adolescents and adult women, developed a unique HIV prevention education program called “¡Arte con Salud!” to develop self efficacy among women regarding intergenerational communication and safe sex practices. By employing visual art strategies to address topics usually considered “taboo,” — including female sexuality, HIV/STI prevention and sexual negotiation — ¡Arte con Salud! helps 18- to 40-year-old women visualize new strategies to reduce high risk behaviors and protect their health. Using acrylic paint, collage, drawing, and printing, among others, participating women create full body self portrait silhouettes that help them view themselves in the light of each week’s educational module.  Throughout the program, women are also simultaneously trained to be mentors to young women under 20 years old who form a part of their biological or chosen kinship circles.

¡Arte con Salud! is supported by the third funding cycle of the National AIDS Fund’s grantmaking initiative GENERATIONS: Strengthening Women and Families Affected by HIV/AIDS (GEN III) .

The first pilot session of ¡Arte con Salud! took place during August and September 2010  at the Pueblo del Niño Community in Loíza, Puerto Rico.  Originally adapted from the CDC’s effective behavioral intervention–SISTA, (Sisters Informing Sisters about Topics on AIDS), ¡Arte con Salud! was implemented in five educational sessions–plus an introduction and closing session.

Initial feedback from participants has been helpful and given us ideas about how we will shape the program before the start of the implementation phase.  Throughout the pilot implementation, we have confirmed a need for safe spaces for discussion on topics of female sexuality.  Participating women expressed appreciation for the clarity of expression as well as the trusting, pressure-free environment cultivated during workshops.  Women have described themselves as “astonished” at what they have learned and claim they are seeing themselves and their bodies in new and positive ways.

Some of the most common participant recommendations for program improvement include: less instrumental/classical music in the background; and better use of time in order to maximize artistic creation and an early return home.

We’ll be working on these and other ideas in time for the implementation phase which starts in December 2010.

[1] Pando, José.  Prevalence and Factors Associated with the Sexual Conduct of Puerto Rican Adolescents; 2007

[2] AIDS Watch, Division of Epidemiology, Puerto Rico Department of Health; February 2008.

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