For the past 6 years for National Youth Week the HIV & Related Programmes Unit(HARP) from the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District have put out an Expression of Interest to youth services to create a dress made out of condoms, which has affectionately come to be known as ‘Connie’ over the years.
This year HARP supplied a $100 Spotlight gift voucher, the model and condoms and the young people at the Thirroul Youth Centre supplied the creativity, design and construction.
Connie is an annual youth arts project in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven, where a group of young people work together to make a dress out of condoms. The dress then goes on tour to community facilities and health services. Connie is an initiative of the HIVand Related Programs (HARP) Unit of the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District.
The HARP team’s goal is to encourage positive environments where individuals and communities feel comfortable to approach issues around HIV and STIs confidently – mindful of their impact, both globally and within their own communities. They work towards creating environments where HIV and STIs are accepted, discussed and prevented without fear, myth, stigma or discrimination, on the grounds that such an atmosphere is key to reducing the incidence of HIV and STIs.
Connie is a conversation starter. Many artworks relating to sex and the body are intentionally challenging for audiences, e.g. grotesque, sexually explicit or otherwise shocking. Connie is not like this: she is designed to attract attention, but at the same time she is pleasing to the eye – translucent, shimmering, unusual, and often described as ‘pretty’, ‘beautiful’, ‘gorgeous’. She will cause controversy, however, and not everyone will ‘like’ the work. The intention is that she is provocative, but not offensive; disruptive, but not disgusting.
Connie’s immediate impact is to increase people’s familiarity with condoms. This is an intended outcome for the artists as well as audiences, as a gateway to opening the conversation not just about condoms, but about a wide range of sexual health topics.
To the extent that these conversations lead to young people making safer sex choices, a range of positive outcomes may follow. Although HARP’s explicit aim relates to prevention of HIV and STIs, there may also be other positive health and relationship outcomes
At best, Connie and the conversations that she creates will give people some ‘condom literacy’ – what they look and feel like, how they smell, what they are for and so on. The higher goal of ‘condom fluency’ – knowing when it is appropriate to use a condom, or how to negotiate use with a new partner, for example – will require further support, as well as life experience.