Almost a decade ago, when Art for AIDS International’s primary concern was encouraging professional artists to respond to the growing HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa, an opportunity came forward to host a workshop with students from the London District Catholic School Board. While this was not our primary focus, we leaped at the opportunity to engage young people through art and teach them a bit more about issues related to HIV/AIDS and social justice generally. Little did we know, however, that not only would the students respond with incredible passion and enthusiasm during these first few workshops, but, that they would also produce incredible and engaging works of art during them as well. It was for this reason that we immediately shifted the focus of our project away from our International Portfolio toward helping young people get creative in understanding and addressing HIV/AIDS in their own community and abroad. Since these first workshops, we have been privileged to host nearly 200 workshops with over 10,000 students from across Canada, South Africa, Mozambique, the Netherlands, Uganda, and the United States.
With upcoming workshops scheduled in Durban, Vancouver, Toronto, and London, as well as upcoming exhibitions and fundraisers in Spain, South Africa, and multiple Canadian shows, we felt it necessary not only to share our impression of the workshops with you, but also the impressions of those that ultimately matter most: the participating students.
Below you will find four statements written by past participants, all of whom have moved on and become active members of their community. Please enjoy and, whether or not you have been to a show, or attended a workshop, we encourage your comments below!
“Since becoming a volunteer with Art for AIDS International a little over a year ago, I have had the opportunity to participate in two workshops with Hendrikus Bervoets. As a young woman who grew up in a small rural town social justice issues including the HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa and around the world was not a hot topic. It wasn’t until coming to University in London that I became more aware and interested in these issues and wanting to help in whatever small way that I could. This desire brought me to Art for AIDS and wanting to become involved in the organization. Over the last year I have become involved in the many events that Art for AIDS does in the community as well as spending a lot of my free time in the gallery but it wasn’t until I participated in workshop that I got to see first hand how Hendrikus and Art for AIDS truly inspires young people to want to change the world. Not only does Hendrikus teach an art technique that allows everyone to express their own creativity without any artistic training which is a great feeling but you also get to see and feel the passion he has not only for Art for AIDS and what Art for AIDS is trying to do but for helping young people understand that through art you can make a difference.”
“While reflecting on my experience of participating in an Art for Aids workshop, I am overcome with a number of different feelings, emotions and memories. Volunteering in the Art for Aids gallery, as well as having the opportunity to participate in a personalized workshop has proven to be a very rewarding experience for myself, and has truly made quite an influence in my outlook on community, shared togetherness and the on the global issue of the HIV/AIDS virus and its effects on individuals and families (women and children in particular). Uniting individuals from all different walks of life, backgrounds, viewpoints and opinions, the Art for Aids workshop attempts to bring people together to raise awareness and channel student’s creative energies, thoughts and insights into inspirational, thought-provoking collage artwork.
Throughout the workshop process (from start to finish), I felt a strong sense of unity and kinship with my fellow participants. As a group, we worked together in a collaborative effort to 1) listen and understand, and 2) voice our opinions and thoughts through artistic outlets. Fresh ideas and motivational speech combined with intense visual imagery and creative expression encouraged me to be self reflective, innovative and insightful. Working within frames of social justice and equality issues and learning about the daily struggles and hardships of individuals across the globe fostered both feelings of despair and hope within me. All in all, I feel as if my participation within the Art for Aids workshop provided me with an opportunity to take part in a project with admirable and respectable aims (and supporting a worthwhile cause), while also nurturing the global community and shared, united togetherness of the human spirit and human condition.”
“I don’t express myself through words very well so instead, I choose to do so through art. Art has the power speak when words cannot. The first piece of artwork I ever created at an Art for AIDS workshop, it was called “Innocent”. It shows a boy hanging on a tree absorbed in doing things that a child should be doing. He is daydreaming and doesn’t seem to be worried about anything. This little boy is like the victim of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. They are all innocent, often innocent victims in a much larger picture. These children deserve to have the same love, opportunities and life experiences of children who have not been orphaned by this pandemic in Africa. Art for AIDS has allowed me to make a difference by speaking out and not being silent. I can give a voice to women and children who have been silenced by AIDS through the power that art has. The beauty of these workshops is the power it holds in allowing students to express fears and hopes they have about the HIV/AIDS pandemic and other social injustice. As a result of Art for AIDS, art has become a passion that allows me to speak-up and translates feelings and insight I find so hard to vocalize and channel it to produce meaningful art.”
“I have been privileged to attend two the Art for AIDS workshops in the past. They were both equally exciting and fun to participate in. The first time I participated in a workshop was when I was in grade eight at SCCS. I can recall my entire class having a blast the whole time that Hendrikus was with us. At first, Hendrikus told us about the women and children in Africa who are suffering with AIDS and how many people die because of this pandemic. We were all truly touched by what he was saying and by the end of his speech he said that we could all help, and we were thrilled that we could do something to help people who were so far away from us. We were all excited to participate and now that we were able to help with such a wonderful cause, it was that much more exhilarating. We spent the rest of the day going through magazines and cutting out pictures that we liked and a week later Hendrikus came back and we started to make some artwork come together. It was amazing to see all of my classmates’ finished pieces and they were all wonderful. Even the people who didn’t like art or thought they were no good at it, made spectacular pieces of art that were then printed and sold with the proceeds going towards women and children who are suffering with HIV AIDS in Africa.
Two year later, in my second year at LDCSS, Hendrikus showed up once again. I remember being sick the day of the sign up for the workshop but when I got back to school I begged my way into a spot in the art room for another workshop. After Hendrikus collected the prints from LDCSS he said that he would be back in a few weeks with the finished pieces to put in an art show. And a few weeks later we held our first Art for AIDS show at LDCSS. The entire experience was just as amazing, or even better than the first, and I would gladly participate in another one of these workshops in a heartbeat.”
Thank you so much to these students for offering to share the experiences with all of us.
The following pictures were taking at various workshops in Canada, the Netherlands, South Africa, Mozambique, and Uganda.