Campaign by the D.C. Department of Health aims to promote sexual health education without judgment or stigma.
By Ruth Steinhardt
The Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at the George Washington University hosted an art competition and reception Thursday night to launch “Sexual + Being,” a new sexual health campaign by the D.C. Department of Health.
The contest featured pieces by Corcoran students and local artists exploring issues of objectification, intimacy, sexual choice, gender identity and other sexual issues.
“Sex is good,” D.C. Health’s Michael Kharfen told a laughing, enthusiastic crowd at the Flagg Building. “That’s coming from your local department of health.”
Mr. Kharfen, who is senior deputy director of D.C.’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD, and TB Administration (HAHSTA), said Sexual+Being is aimed at encouraging people to be proactive and educated about sexual health—without the judgmental tone of many such public health campaigns.
“We want to change the conversation from one that’s about disease to one that’s about health and well-being,” said Mr. Kharfen, who won a Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation Award in 2013. “Our message is that sex is a natural part of the self.”
Samantha Steen, the program manager of community engagement at the Cocoran, said the campaign “gets people comfortable with discussions on sexual health and empowers them to explore sex and body positivity, gender roles and sexuality.”
“Artists and designers featured in this exhibition explore sexual identity and highlight the importance of sex education” she said.. This unique collaboration reinforces the Corcoran's mission to promote creativity and expression in order to drive positive social change.”
Inside the Flagg Building on Thursday night, one wall of the gallery displayed Martin Swift’s “Oscar,” a 7-foot-tall oil portrait whose subject—nude except for a pair of knee-high socks and bowling shoes—hoists a bowling ball in one hand and a cigarette in the other, confronting the viewer unapologetically. On the opposite wall was Alan Schmid’s “How You See Me,” a series of photographs and sound recordings exploring pronoun use across the gender spectrum.
Corcoran students Case Baumgarten, Quincy Mata and Christal Schmid took home cash prizes for their work, while spoken-word performance winners Shaquetta Nelson and Gaelyn Smith performed arresting pieces on redefining sexiness and sexual self-ownership.
“Oftentimes, people see artists’ purpose as just to beautify, not to get involved in problem-solving for the issues that affect us,” Corcoran Director Sanjit Sethi said. “But I think everyone in this room knows different.”