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New Art Exhibit in Milwaukee Uses Condoms To Create Conversations

Eric Baillies

It is World AIDS Day, and the devastation the disease has caused around the globe is sobering and grim. But there is cause for quite a lot of hope as education and new advancements in medicine help those infected live healthier lives.

Until a cure is found, preventing the disease from spreading continues to be of paramount importance.

One way to do that is by using a condom during sexual activity. That’s easier said than done, though, for all kinds of reasons – social, religious, political and even logistical.

But it was a surprise delivery of 1.2 million French condoms nearly their expiration date that got Milwaukee artist Niki Johnson thinking about innovative ways to talk about intimacy. The result is the group exhibit entitled Preservatif.

Lake Effect's Bonnie North spoke with and Johnson and Milwaukee Magazine's Claire Hanan, who profiled the Preservatif project in the December issue.

Credit Eric Baillies /
Niki Johnson's piece, "Eggs Benedict"

"[Johnson] and another artist Kim Hindman reached out to many artists and asked for proposals to turn this into a group show," Hanan says. "All of the artists were allowed to use as many condoms as they needed to with the theme of the show kind of being sexual health and awareness about that, and also kind of making sure that it's a more comfortable conversation that needs to be had."

Niki Johnson's Eggs Benedict piece caught the interest of a French condom company. The woven portrait of Pope Benedict made out of condoms was created in response to his various statements concerning HIV and sex. The company decided to send their extra products her way.

"We were taking, as a group, what was headed straight for a landfill and giving it another life," Johnson says.

Niki Johnson is the current Pfister Artist in Residence. She and Kim Hindman, who is based in Colorado, are the curators of the Preservatif exhibition. It opens today at The Fortress, which is part of the former Schlitz Brewing Complex in Brewer's Hill. 

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.
Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.