On December 17, 2023, a youth art exhibit organized by the Meeting Targets and Maintaining Epidemic Control (EpiC) project was held at Meta House, an art centre based in Phnom Penh, as an extension of World AIDS Day celebrations. The exhibit focused on the innovations of young Cambodians in identifying rising HIV prevalence among young people (aged 15 to 24 years). It aimed to raise awareness on HIV testing and treatment; to empower and engage youth in the fight against HIV; and to increase community engagement and reduce stigma towards the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community through arts and creativity.

Attendees viewing art at Meta House, an art centre based in Phnom Penh, at a youth art exhibition, an extension of World AIDS Day celebrations. (Photo credit: Saren Chansereywatana for EpiC Cambodia)

Prior to the exhibition, the youth participants were divided into two groups: painting and fashion design. They spent two days in their art workshop to create their pieces under the theme HIV, sexual health, and freedom of expression.

The exhibition was opened by our youth representative Phung Neu Sokhom, along with Bridget Walker, Deputy Chief of Mission of U.S. Embassy in Cambodia, Patricia Ungpin, Country Director of UNAIDS Cambodia, and Seng Sopheap, Country Director of FHI 360 Cambodia.

HIV and STI testing and materials from EpiC partners Men’s Health Cambodia (MHC) and Chhouk Sar clinic were available at a pop-up booth.

Romam Khan Itt, a 20 year-old from Ratanakiri province and an outreach worker for Men’s Health Cambodia, was one of the designers of the exhibition. At the beginning of the workshop he said, “I want to create costumes that embody the indentity of northeastern indigenous people, particularly the Tampuan indigenous people living in Ratanakiri.” “The design will also embed the meanings on elimination of discrimination and violence on LGBTQI+ individuals and equal rights.”

Neou Chandeth, an outreach worker with Men’s Health Cambodia and one of the young artists, said “I want to do a painting about the identity of LGBTQI+ people. A pair of eyes that are full of pain and fear, representing some of us in the LGBTQI+ community who are vulnerable, have experienced stigma, discrimination, and at are high risk for HIV/AIDS transmission. I want to encourage them to take care of themselves, get tested regularly, and use preventive measures when having sex.”

This youth art exhibition was a powerful opportunity for dialogue and reflection, contributing to a better understanding of HIV, addressing stigma, and advocating for a comprehensive support system, including mental health. For example, during the exhibition walk-through the youth participants expressed that the exhibition created a safe space and empowered them to overcome doubt and stigma through the expression of their painting and design.

The Youth Art Exhibition was organized by the EpiC project and funded by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the U.S. Agency for International Development in collaboration with UNAIDS, Khmer HIV/AIDS NGO Alliance (KHANA), Men Health’s Cambodia (MHC) and Chhouk Sar Association.

Featured photo: Youth participants working on their art pieces under the theme HIV, sexual health, and freedom of expression. (Photo credit: Saren Chansereywatana for EpiC Cambodia)