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On Exhibit: Dress for Success


By Stacey Abarbanel

Published Jan 1, 2007 8:00 AM

Dresses? What does couture have to do with battling the scourge of HIV/AIDS? Plenty, because this terrible disease isn't just fought with science. Art is on the frontlines, too.

That's particularly true at UCLA, where the first cases of HIV were identified in 1981, and where campus arts and cultural leaders are active in any number of ways. Prominent among them: "Make Art/Stop AIDS," an ongoing arts and AIDS awareness and prevention initiative developed by the Art | Global Health Center in partnership with the Fowler Museum at UCLA and AIDS Institute, Artists for a New South Africa, and others.

Now showing at the Fowler Museum and Glorya Kaufman Hall through March 11 are two unusual art installations: Dress Up Against AIDS: Condom Couture by Adriana Bertini and The Keiskamma Altarpiece: Transcending AIDS in South Africa.

Dress Up Against AIDS, at the Fowler, features 14 magnificent garments by Brazilian artist Bertini, made entirely of condoms rejected by industry quality tests. By appropriating an object of protection and using it in a surprising way — to create colorful, sensual clothes — Bertini seeks to raise awareness of and inspire the use of condoms, the critical vehicle for preventing HIV transmission.

"Art has the unique power to educate memorably about HIV prevention — Bertini's condom dresses are simply unforgettable — and to reduce the stigma of HIV/AIDS, which public health experts around the world agree are the biggest challenges we face," explains David Gere, director of the Art | Global Health Center and co-chair/associate professor in World Arts and Cultures.

Inside Kaufman Hall, the monumental Keiskamma Altarpiece was created by 130 women from South Africa's Eastern Cape province — an area hard hit by AIDS. This work (13 feet high x 22 feet long, so tall it could not fit inside the Fowler galleries) commemorates the lives of individuals who have died of the disease and celebrates the community's determination to prevail in the face of AIDS. Based on the famed Isenheim altarpiece created by Matthias Grünewald in 16th-century Germany, this altarpiece's hinged panels feature embroidery, beadwork, wire sculpture, and photographs that depict the impact of AIDS in this South Africa community but also the restoration of hope offered by treatment and support.

Dress Up Against AIDS: Condom Couture by Adriana Bertini. Through March 11, 2007, at the Fowler Museum. The Keiskamma Altarpiece: Transcending AIDS in South Africa. Through March 11, 2007, at Glorya Kaufman Hall (adjacent to the Fowler). Admission is free. Call (310) 825-4361 or visit