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The Art Works in SHAW: Challenges in Raising Awareness

In preparation for Sexual Health Awareness Week (SHAW), students of both the Craft Society and the Arts Society joined artist Frieda van de Poll to create a range of images linked to aspects of SHAW.

SHAW Artwork SHAW Artwork SHAW Artwork

Initially, a trail was projected through campus that would connect the venues where events were taking place. This trail was to consist of a washing line from which hand-knitted and crocheted condoms and dental dams would hang, and was to be installed on railings, between trees and any other convenient objects.

Knitting and crocheting were chosen to emphasise the ordinariness and common use of condoms, and to add a softness to the theme of sexual health, in opposition to its often hard-edged connotations of frightening sickness.

Secret messages were also to hang from the washing line: the anonymous, personal and private thoughts, wishes and experiences of SHAW participants. The messages were tucked into transparent surgical gloves, where they could be read by all, thus opening up experiences to the public.

To complement the trail, extra large condoms were knitted from hazard tape, to ‘protect’ the bollards. The ‘safe’ bollards were to light up at night and contribute to the humorous and playful approach to the subject of STDs.

Pavements stickers were designed by the artist, firstly in the form of stylised giant condoms, but that was vetoed by the university. An alternative sticker with the word SHAW and a single simple arrow was ordered.


On the Monday morning of SHAW, the Deputy Registrar of Warwick University expressed his discomfort with the trail, and forbad any outside display of the images. The concern was that the condoms and dental dams could create the impression that the majority of the population of Warwick University suffer from STDs. There was an Open Day during the week, and visitors might have been put off.

In addition, it was suggested that knitted and crocheted condoms, having holes in them by virtue of the material they are created from, could confuse students who may think they afford protection. The objects potentially counter the aim of SHAW to raise awareness of safer sex practices.

The deputy registrar also argued that the secret messages in the surgical gloves were too explicit; these were only allowed if the items filling them included statistical facts.

At a late stage in the day, the decision was taken to display the objects inside Millburn House, where they decorated the foyer during the final party on World AIDS Day, Tuesday 1 December.




In the run up to SHAW, a sexual health awareness workshop was organised by Dr Roberta Bivins with Westwood School. Students of Warwick University and Frieda van de Poll facilitated the creative aspect of this workshop. The pupils wrote secret messages and created a piece of artwork that was then installed in the bar area of the Arts Centre. The piece showed 32 petri-dishes filled partly with collages inspired by viruses of sexually transmitted diseases, and partly with imagery to do with sexual behaviour.The pupils visited their artwork at the beginning of SHAW; for many this was the first time they had visited the Art Centre or Warwick University campus.

During SHAW, participants of the various academic, artistic and educational events created a similar piece of art. A growing number of petri-dishes was added to the installation each day.

Empty Shop

After the final party, the trail with its knitted condoms, dental dams and surgical gloves was installed in an empty shop space, 22 City Arcade in Coventry, together with the Petri dishes, where it was on show for the Coventry public for a week. Some of these materials were considered too explicit by local shopkeepers who complained; the condoms were replaced by the petri dishes instead. The empty shop space project is coordinated by Coventry Artspace, an artist-led facility that runs an extensive outreach programme in the city.