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Coventry school pupils use art to brush up on their knowledge of sexual health

Staff and students from the University of Warwick joined forces with pupils from Westwood School in Coventry for a special art project to mark Sexual Health Awareness Week (SHAW). 

Dr Roberta Bivins, from the University of Warwick’s History Department, and Coventry-based artist, Frieda van de Poll, led a creative workshop which enabled the pupils to explore ideas of sexual health and sexual illness.  

Using images from cutting edge bioscience, popular magazines and public health campaigns of the past, the students created a series of petri dish ‘portraits’ which have gone on display this week in Warwick Arts Centre.  

Each petri dish represents a fragment of contemporary knowledge about the causes of sexual ill health as seen through the eyes of young people. 

Dr Roberta Bivins, Senior Lecturer in the History of Medicine and Co-ordinator of the Sexual Health Awareness Week Schools Project, said: 

“The project, as a whole, reflects the interests of Warwick's Centre for the History of Medicine in situating medicine and its history within its wider cultural and social context. We need to encourage young people, like the students at Westwood, to take control of their own health – not only do they have the biggest stake in preserving it, but ultimately, they are the only people who can. I think that if we learn more about how teens perceive sexual health and sexual illness, we can give them the kind of information they really need to protect themselves.  

“What the students have done here is remarkable. They have created very sophisticated visual responses to a whole range of information, from the latest biomedical research on STIs to popular media representations of 'gymslip mums' and 'schoolboy dads'. I think we can have confidence in their abilities. We certainly don't need to 'dumb down' information to get through to them.” 

The SHAW Schools Project is part of a wider programme of events taking place this week covering three strands: Arts, Academia and Activism. The project is designed to allow more people to engage with the idea of sexual health and outreach to a number of groups encouraging the cross-pollination of ideas, research and campaigning.  

Inclusion Officer Amanda Freemantle, who worked with the pupils on the project, said:

“The project reinforces the partnership we have with the University of Warwick on behalf of local schools. In our goal to reduce teenage pregnancy rates by 2010, we hope to continue this work by rolling out more projects like the art project across more schools. It is important for young people to have information about sexual health available to them and to think about their own sexual health.” 

Notes to editors         

  • Further information about Sexual Health Awareness Week (SHAW) can be found at: Sexual Health Awareness Week (SHAW 2009)        
  • Run by and for students, SHAW will explore the dynamics and politics surrounding the personal, national and global issues of sexual health, charting how these change over time and analysing how sexual health communication can be improved. It is an outreach event that will distribute information about sexual health, and that will encourage critical reflection and activism regarding the politics of sexual health (especially HIV/AIDS)         
  • The SHAW Schools Project is just one strand of Sexual Health Awareness Week         
  • Westwood School pupils were joined by locally commissioned artist, Frieda van de Poll, and Warwick student volunteers with interests in teaching and sexual health outreach, to take part in a session which invited pupils to create personal responses to the ideas surrounding sexual health, asking the questions they were too scared or embarrassed to ask, and conceptualising their impressions of HIV, AIDS and STDs         
  • The pupils made tiny works of art inside individual petri-dishes, which have been positioned together in a grid and are now installed in Warwick Arts Centre        
  • Images are available by following the links below [Westwood School student Shannon Abell and Dr Roberta Bivins (Department of History, University of Warwick)]
  • [Westwood School students Mohammed Rafi and Johanna Murphy]        
  • [Westwood School student Katy Oakes browses the art installation in Warwick Arts Centre]

For more information contact 

Natalie Field, Assistant Press Officer

Communications Office, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 8UW


Tel: +44 (0)24 7657 5601  Mobile/Cell: +44 (0)7824 541 142