Why beauty is a great weapon in the fight against HIV/AIDS
A series of articles by guest writers for World AIDS Day
Part of AVERT's World AIDS Day 2012 campaign, ‘Reflections on the Epidemic’ are a series of articles by guest writers.
Our guest writers range from global leaders, writers, experts, activists, physicians and people personally affected by HIV and AIDS; and they represent various countries, experiences and backgrounds from all over the world.
We are grateful to all our guest writers for their effort and the diverse and insightful viewpoints that they contributed to the world’s response to HIV and AIDS.
You can also see all articles and writers in this series at the end of every article.
My first fundraiser for HIV/AIDS research was organised with my art collective Beauty without Irony (BWI) in 2001. The event was called ‘Designers Do Denim’ and involved the entire Belgian fashion industry plus some famous rock stars and Ministers of State.
BWI is a collective consisting of artists, designers, musicians and other creatives who want to help make the world a better and more beautiful place by using their talent for engaging and innovative campaigns. When we put on ‘Designers Do Denim’ I was still a fashion editor but I didn’t find my job very fulfilling any more. So when I found out that I could take on social issues this way and still work with the nicer people in fashion –and other creative industries- and forget about the others, I slowly but surely switched to doing just that.
A year after ‘Designers Do Denim’ I founded the NGO ‘Designers against AIDS’ (DAA), as HIV prevention is a matter close to my heart. Some close friends of mine died of AIDS - plus as a mother of two teenagers I figured that prevention was essential if we were to get the figures of new HIV infections down. Reaching out to young people seemed the smart thing to do, as they’re still forming their attitudes towards their future sex lives – and if safe sex will be a normal part of life, the fight against HIV will be won after a few generations!
Some people didn’t understand the link between BWI and DAA, but in fact it’s easy, like two sides of the same coin: if you want to make the world more beautiful, you can either add more beauty to it (BWI) or try to take some ugliness away, or to prevent it from rearing its ugly head (DAA). It’s my belief that when people appreciate and love their life and the beauty that surrounds them (nature, health, family, love…) they’re less likely to f*ck it up, if you pardon my French.
We use elements from pop culture (music, film/video, fashion, design, art, social media, celebrities…) to reach out to young people, with the message that safe sex is the right thing to do and not only that: it’s fun and cool. If a celebrity like Katy Perry, Rihanna or Pharrell Williams tells a teenager this, s/he is more likely to believe them than if parents or teachers do - sad but true.
The first four years of DAA were a real struggle financially - we had great artists working with us and cool slogan T-shirts, condom wrappers, ring binders and other material, but we seriously sucked at selling. So one day I picked up the phone, called H&M HQ in Stockholm, proposed that we put our talents and network together and hey presto: ‘Fashion against AIDS’ was born! A collection and campaign that we did for 5 years (2008- 2012) worldwide in over 40 countries, which helped to put the issue of safe sex (back) in the minds of young people all over the globe.
25% of sales of the FAA collections went to 4 charities suggested by me to H&M: the MTV Staying Alive Foundation, the United Nations Population Fund, youthAIDS and DAA. With that money the charities could create new programs targeted at youth and it’s my most proud achievement to date to make that happen!
With our part of the H&M donations we founded the first ‘International HIV/AIDS Awareness Education Center’ (IHAEC) in Antwerp, Belgium that’s been operational for over 2 years now. Here we work with creative young people from all over the world on effective and fun campaigns and projects that show their peers that a healthy life and respect for their own and their partner’s body and way of thinking is a very good thing indeed. We usually have 4 international students at a time staying with us for up to 2 months (they also live here during that period), plus 1 or 2 Belgian interns and it’s great to see them getting inspired after a few weeks and finding out that what they do can make a difference - this is very important for youth, especially in uncertain economic times such as these.
I’m very happy with the way my life and career turned out in the end and proud of the campaigns and projects that we create together in our centre. The only thing that could make it even better is finding a regular source for funding the centre, as worrying about where our next meal is coming from is not really helping our creativity flow. But I’m sure we’ll find a solution to this - we always have so far - and I wouldn’t change my life for anything in the world. The only reason for me to stop fighting against HIV/AIDS would be if the fight was won. And that fine day can’t come soon enough!
Ninette Murk is the Founder and Creative Director at Designers Against AIDS and Beauty Without Irony. Ninette founded both NGO’s in 2001: DAA as a tribute to her assistant, Peter, who died of an AIDS-related illness; and BWI as a reaction to a jaded and cynical outlook that the fashion universe (in which she worked in as journalist) was adopting. 11 years later, both foundations are going from strength to strength, with DAA successfully collaborating with leading and popular fashion brands, designers and celebrities. BWI is relaunching in early 2013 as a creative platform for social change and has an international exhibition coming up in Essaouira (Morocco) that will see Moroccan and international artists unite in an effort to inspire and help local disadvantaged youth find a profession.
If you’d like find out how students experience their stay at the International HIV/AIDS Awareness Education Center, take a look at their blog.
AVERT’S media gallery has many more examples of the use of design to raise awareness about HIV prevention.
Image copyright: Fashion against AIDS, photos by Thomas Vanhaute
Meeting the challenge of stigma in Iran
Words are not enough: Where is the genuine support for an AIDS-free generation?
Going beyond the silver bullet approach
A new generation of awareness
Mothers at the forefront of change
A few simple actions against AIDS
The reality of beginning the end of AIDS
In the balance — HIV and the Law
Striving for an AIDS free generation of adolescents
A broken unity: An American reflection on the epidemic
Universal access for people who use drugs: Not just a pipe dream
In pursuit of a cure
The future of antiretroviral treatment
Ending paediatric AIDS
A future of possibilities
Riding the waves of HIV
The Paediatric HIV response in the context of AIDS optimism
HIV/AIDS Care begins at home
HIV/AIDS in Uganda: Myth to reality
Why beauty is a great weapon in the fight against HIV/AIDS
HIV Walk, unravels the epidemic
The importance of Parliamentary voices in the AIDS response
Women breaking the stereotype
Resources for a rights based approach to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic
AIDS - It’s not over
Backing the community response
Gogo-getters become elders
Getting to zero
The search for common humanity at the heart of the AIDS response
AIDS is still hot in India
Why involve women with HIV?
All opinions expressed in 'Reflections on the Epidemic' do not necessarily represent those of AVERT.