by Shaun Hitte
As you entered the Arcus Foundation’s winter garden last Saturday, the first clue that this was not a typical art event came when you were greeted by a mannequin clothed in a condom dress. The eccentric art continued as you walked past a condom gingerbread house, a condom lamp, and a condom tree.
The condom themed art was the focus of The Smart Art Condom Art Show held in honor of World AIDS Day. Roughly two dozen pieces of art were on display at the event sponsored by the Community AIDS Resource and Education Center (CARES) of Southwest Michigan.
The art ranged from the message-oriented (a condom covered umbrella with the sign “Today’s Forecast: High Chance of Contracting AIDS. Wear your Rubbers”) to the visually attractive ( “Goddess of Fertility,” consisting of a fake head with colorful condom-filled dreadlocks).
Some of the exhibit’s artists were on hand and discussed their projects. Narda Beauchamp, president of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), worked with several other people to come up with the condom based gingerbread village, titled “PFLAGville.” Beauchamp spoke of an initially overlooked part of the condom art process. “I had to give the condoms a bath,” said Beauchamp, explaining that the lubricant on the condoms made them difficult to work with.
Some of the attendees were at the event to support the various gay and lesbian advocacy organizations in West Michigan, and some just came because the idea of art made with condoms sounded interesting. Beka Raven and Holly Benson decided to come to the event when they ran across a flier advertising it. “I saw smiley faces with condoms,” said Raven, who thought it might be an interesting event.
Attendees also had the opportunity to create some condom art of their own at the condom art making table. CARES board member Anne Drummond and her husband Eric worked on a condom Christmas tree ornament . “This is a really fun and different event,” said Anne as she displayed her new artwork that she said might go on their Christmas tree at home.
Kelly Doyle program development manager at CARES said that the shift to a more positive event this year was in response to feedback about past years’ events, such as a memorial at a church, that attendees said were too depressing.
Despite the festive environment and creative condom art, the event had a serious theme – to raise awareness about AIDS and advance the hope that AIDS is an illness that can be stopped. Mixed in with the art were AIDS statistics and facts meant to educate the attendees about the impact of AIDS around the world. Doyle said that a large part of the motivation for the event came from comments her organization has received from teenagers who say that they lack an understanding of HIV. “That scares me,” said Doyle.
CARES Director of Client Services, David Feaster, further explained that the event was also designed to promote the accessibility of condoms. “They (condoms) are not a big deal,” said Feaster.
Condom Art contest winners (as voted by the attendees):
Most Thought Provoking: “Why we have sex” by Jeffrey Angles
Most Creative: “Jizzabell” by Lynda Stewart
Most Humorous: “Dinner for One” by China Tolliver