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Professor Sarah Flicker to participate in Ottawa Café Scientifique on HIV and Aboriginal Youth

Professor Sarah Flicker to participate in Ottawa Café Scientifique on HIV and Aboriginal Youth

Is it really such a stretch to think of art as a sort of medicine, or at least as a healing tool that can literally affect our health? wrote the Ottawa Citizen March 23:

Expand the definition of art as a health tool, and consider it as an essential link, as a bridge between those who heal and those who need healing. The art becomes a shared language, and if culture gets involved the artistic process becomes symbolic. It builds trust, which fosters communication, which lays the foundation for a discussion about, for example, preventing HIV

That's how art is used by Sarah Flicker, a professor in [the Faculty of Environmental Studies] at York University, who studies HIV prevention in aboriginal communities across Canada and uses art to get the interest of young natives.

Flicker is one of three professors who will be a part of "Café Scientifique," a public roundtable of sorts that will consider how the arts are being used in health programs these days [organized by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research].

. . .

Flicker starts by telling me that aboriginals represent three per cent of Canada's population, but have nine per cent of HIV infections – and at a younger age. Flicker's project is to find ways of having a meaningful conversation about HIV with young natives. Problem is, some native communities are not interested in "traditional research methods." Enter art.

“From theatre to photography to carving to hip-hop,” she says, when I ask her what types of arts her project has employed. She adds throat singing to the list, and graffiti at the Kahnawake Mohawk reserve near Montreal.

“Using the arts in our particular project has been tremendously successful,” she says. “It’s fun, it’s participatory, it helps build pride and self-esteem. . . It really helps them relate to culture and tradition, in a way that’s non-threatening.”

Using contemporary or traditional art forms — created by the young natives, with the guidance of artists brought in by the project — enhances recall of the health information, she says. It also builds skills, as the artists pass on their own knowledge and inspirations, and many young natives have their first opportunity to handle photographic equipment or real artist’s brushes.

“We were just astonished with the creativity we had unleashed,” Flicker says, as the research visited reserves from B. C. to Atlantic Canada. “What’s incredible is how the themes have resonated from community to another.”

They resonated so well that the art of some communities is used in others to get the health message across — such as a hip hop song composed by young natives in Kettle Creak, near Sarnia. Another group made a stop-motion film, using photography to show how HIV was affecting their community. “It’s in their words that art is healing,” Flicker says.

You can see the art of her project at The Café Scientifique will begin at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 23 at Mambo Nuevo Latino, 77 Clarence St. in the Byward Market. “The idea is to make health research accessible to the public,” Flicker says.

Posted by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, research communications officer, with files courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin.