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The community arts and HIV-AIDS linkages

HIV ribbon

The discourse on issues that relate to HIV-AIDS remains something that has taken predominance in  many years ever since the first case of HIV was discovered in Zimbabwe in the early 1980s.

This has seen many artistes that are alive today and others that are now dead having composed songs, poetry, written books and used different forms of art to illustrate the centrality of having a deeper understanding of issues that relate to HIV and AIDS.

It should also be taken note that the month of December puts into focus World AIDS Day commemorated on December 1; which in Bulawayo was celebrated belatedly on December 8 at Nkulumane Hall with different organisations and artistes collaborating in closing the tap of HIV infection and fighting the stigma that HIV has been associated with.

In this retrospect, artistes have a role in helping communities to understand the centrality of the role of art as an agent that can facilitate the processes of social change to prevent HIV.

This is something that can be applicable in how the artistes can be able to employ a broad range of genres and disciplines of art to reach a wide audience.

Community arts encapsulate the work of communities of people committed to improving their individual and the collective circumstances through the prowess of creative expression, which in the process have made community arts to be instrumental in the facilitation of HIV advocacy efforts.

It is of note that community arts activities like public health advocacy are rooted in the principle of social justice.

In HIV and AIDS advocacy, for example, artistes have demonstrated a commendable ability to regenerate traditional cultural forms to create public participation in health promotion and disease prevention activities, helping people to turn complexity into revelation.

HIV-related community arts have made, and continue to make important contributions to fund-raising for research and care, redressing negative stereotypes concerning HIV and AIDS, protecting the human rights of people living with HIV/AIDS and contributing to health education and prevention.

A critical facet that is of relevance is with regard to how HIV advocacy and awareness has to be premised on addressing the different negative stereotypes which still continue to affect people living with HIV.

HIV and AIDS health education campaigns can be, and have been re-packaged to provide positive images of people affected by HIV and AIDS.

Community arts images can include healthy, vibrant images of people living with HIV and AIDS, reversing an earlier “fear campaign” emphasis on emaciated and feeble victims of HIV and AIDS in earlier public health campaigns.

These new images of people living with HIV and AIDS and their accompanying messages can be designed to engage the audience on a range of prevention options, rather than solely focus on sexual abstinence.

Community arts activities distill the complex science between HIV and AIDS into a format that can be easily understood by the majority of the general public.

For example, in 1988, Visual AIDS was founded to harness artistic talent in addressing HIV and AIDS. The mission of Visual AIDS was to encourage artistic works by people living with HIV and to produce art exhibitions, publications and events to keep HIV and AIDS on the public radar.

Examples of their successful campaigns and events include the “Day With (out) Art” and the now prolific image of the red ribbon as a symbol of the fight against AIDS.

The red ribbon has become associated with HIV advocacy since 1991 when the New York-based Visual Artists Caucus promoted it as a copyright-free consciousness raising symbol on behalf of people living with HIV.

Within health communication and HIV and AIDS communication in particular, there are several strategies through which the message is sent from the source to the receivers- one of them is edutainment.

Edutainment can be implemented through use of different channels and formats. These include soap operas on Television, Live theatre performances and radio dramas. It employs folk theatre, puppetry, story telling, songs, music, mime and folk dances too.

Edutainment has the dramatic appeal that leads to audience involvement. A very important mechanism through which edutainment has its effects is getting people to talk about the issue. So it is audience involvement that actually leads to changes in behaviour.

This demonstrates the value of combining widespread involvement with the strategic application of communication and education interventions to bring about behaviour, attitudinal and social change and more awareness into the issues that orient to HIV and AIDS.

In the competition to effectively pass on information to the local people and especially those at the grass roots, the winner thus could be the strategies which are highly persuasive, exciting and entertaining because they are able to keep their audience.

When designing an edutainment campaign, one has to keep in mind the role cultural values and intercultural differences play when the audience receives the message.

Observation of cultural values plays a very important role in bringing closer to the audience what one is communicating as audience members see it through the angle of their culture and they identify themselves with it.

Basing on this therefore, it would mean that edutainment penetrates communities easily and solves their problems because it capitalizes on culture.

Note should be taken of the challenges that orient to community arts and its involvement in the promotion of HIV advocacy as there is limited funding or structural incentives for community artists and health workers to collaborate. Few funding agencies explicitly encourage such collaboration. Consequently, both sectors tend to operate in silos, more as competitors than as partners, even when addressing the same health issue.

Another factor is that health advocates, who tend to receive more funding than community artists, generally do not work with community artists as equal partners, even when the activity involves a strong community arts input.

Community artists tend not to be involved from the planning stages of such projects and are invariably compensated for less than they deserve, in kind or cash.

Notwithstanding many of the current challenges facing potential collaborations between community artists and health advocates, the evolution of HIV and AIDS activism in a community arts context illustrates how community-based arts might facilitate public health advocacy, influence behaviour change, promote the self-esteem and human rights of people with similar health conditions, and provide a template to strengthen future collaborations on combating HIV and Aids.

Raymond Langa is a musician, poet, orator, writer and founder of Indebo Edutainment Trust.  Follow Raymond on Facebook, Instagram @Millagre Ray L.  Email indeboedutainmenttrust@gmail.com and millagrepapaito@gmail com

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