Feature story

Splash of colors: Exhibit at UNAIDS headquarters by members of People Living with HIV Geneva Association

17 June 2024

Propping up her round thick-framed glasses, Carole Perrette readjusted a painting in the art exhibit at UNAIDS headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. For one month, more than twenty paintings crafted by her art therapy group will grace the sun-smacked lobby.

Ms Perrette, a painter and art therapist, has been leading workshops at the Geneva Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS (PVA) for its members since 2005 (minus a short break to focus on her career.)

She is thrilled UNAIDS is welcoming a selection of her “students’” pastels and vibrant watercolors.

"Completing a piece of artwork is such an accomplishment that this exhibit is an even greater honor,” Ms Perette said.

For painter and PVA member May* the art and painting therapy sessions allow her to feel free.

“We paint, we talk, we express ourselves and it is very liberating...I forget my daily troubles,” she said.

PVA-Geneva offers art therapy sessions weekly to all of its members. For the Director of PVA, the workshops are a key component of the mental health outreach the association does.

“As you can see from the variety of the paintings on display, people express themselves differently... from glorious sunsets to two fish kissing to renditions of blood cells,” said Rocco Senatore.

“Despite this diversity, the art therapy sessions unite the group, and most champion each other’s work,” he said.

Many eagerly attend the workshops because they do not feel judged. Yvan, a painter and PVA member, said he had difficulties coming to terms with his HIV status. “I kept all of this bottled up for a long time. The art therapy is my support network art wise and morally too.”

During a meet and greet session with the artists and UN staff, Mahesh Mahalingam, UNAIDS Chief of Staff, said that art has been used as a longstanding bridge to raise awareness in the HIV response. “Art and artists like yourselves were instrumental in bringing the world’s attention to HIV in ways that has not happened in any other disease,” he said. “Artists have made this disease humane and out of that it led to a movement that pushed for access to treatment for millions of people.”

Nodding approvingly, Dalia, artist and PVA member, turned to the group afterwards and said, “Just like our art therapy sessions, this is what solidarity is all about.”

*Person did not want to disclose full name.