HIV and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Performance Report

This week’s NAIDOC 2022 theme reminds us, ‘We have a proud history of getting up, standing up, and showing up.’

We at LPV have been collaborating for a number of years with colleagues Professor Alyson Campbell, Dr Jen Audsley and Jonathan Graffam at the University of Melbourne on an interdisciplinary project between Theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts and the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection & Immunity. The work has produced a report investigating the value and role of the arts—particularly theatre and performance—in HIV prevention in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The project involved close collaboration with an Advisory Group whose members include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HIV health specialists, artists and activists, as well as team members from organisations Living Positive Victoria; Positive Women and Thorne Harbour Health. The research team had guidance throughout from the University of Melbourne’s Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development. We are delighted that the Report is now housed on the University of Melbourne’s open access site and available to all. It identifies the widening gaps in access to health promotion between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and new biomedical HIV prevention methods.

Key questions driving the research were: what performance work exists already? What can be learned from them in terms of artistic choices and organisational strategies that make them successful in a health context in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities? An aim was to put together background information and context in the hope it might be useful to artists, practitioners or any member of the community looking for evidence to support the value of performance work in this context.

Access the full report here:

Or access the short report here:

Background to the study

• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are over 2 times more likely to contract HIV than non-Indigenous Australians.
• Reported HIV diagnoses are occurring more among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and higher numbers are attributed to heterosexual sex and injecting drug use (IDU) than for non-Indigenous Australians.
• This trend is coupled with an ongoing, concentrated epidemic of STI rates occurring in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities at the top end of Australia: namely, Northern Queensland, Darwin and the Kimberleys.
• Action must be taken to avoid a similar situation to that of Canada, where a concentrated HIV epidemic is occurring within the Indigenous population.
• No data currently exists that could identify the prevalence of HIV in the transgender and gender diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population; this is concerning given it has been suggested that transgender women globally are 49 times more likely to be living with HIV than the general population.
• In the past, theatre and performance have been significant in contributing to discussions and understanding around HIV and AIDS but there has been a notable decline in performance work addressing HIV and AIDS since the early days of the epidemic.
• Considering this, there is a strong case to be made for additional HIV education and other strategies of knowledge-sharing (which include theatre and performance, or artistic resources co-delivered with a performance event) to specifically target Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, IDUs, sistergirls and brother boys and the wider queer community.

What we’ve done so far

• We have undertaken a literature and performance review of the field.
• In the report we work to highlight ongoing discrepencies between HIV prevention and treatment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in comparison to the general population of Australia.
• The report includes a review of sexual health promotions and arts-based interventions that have been used to address Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
• The report also provides a review of theatre and performance work that has taken place by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and companies on the experience of living with HIV.
• We make a case for the arts—specifically theatre and performance work—as a way to address the ongoing stigma that exists for those living with HIV and suggest performance can simultaneously educate and mobilise audiences by generating meaningful, urgent conversations.


Cover Image: Performer Jacob Boehme in Blood on the Dance Floor. Produced by Jacob Boehme and ILBIJERRI Theatre Company, Arts House, Melbourne, June 2016. (Photo by Dorine Blaise.)

Living Positive Victoria acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land where we work and live. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging. We celebrate the stories, culture and traditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders of all communities who also work and live on this land.