A local Edmonton artist has found a provocative way to make a statement with one of her latest creations. Erin Marie Konsmo has been creating beaded condoms as a way to help Indigenous youth reclaim their right to sexuality and sexual health awareness.
“Condoms, in the way they’ve been presented in Indigenous communities, are about fear, stopping youth pregnancy, and shame,” said Konsmo, who is the media arts and justice coordinator for the Native Youth Sexual Health Network. Konsmo operates mostly out of Edmonton, but travels across Canada, and even collaborates with colleagues in the United States. “It’s very disease control oriented… and about stopping Indigenous youth from having babies.”
Konsmo’s beaded condom workshops focus on sex positivity and even pleasure.
“The things we have a birthright to as Indigenous youth,” she said.
Konsmo runs workshops by request, and also creates condom art on her own time. Some of her designs include a strawberry with seeds and leaves, a corn with corn husks, a blueberry to commemorate wild blueberry season, and a turtle to represent Turtle Island.
“It started off as a joke,” she said, as she launched into a story about Twitter, and what inspired her to start beading condoms.
“A hashtag called ‘Nativer than you’ came out a few years ago. It was Indigenous peoples poking fun at the idea of what makes you Indigenous,” she said.
Konsmo did a sexual health version of the tweets, and one of hers read “My condoms are beaded, not ribbed. #Nativerthanyou.”
Two years later she reviewed those tweets and grew curious enough to try beading her very first condom.
“It was a rainbow condom... The first one that I did. And then I couldn’t stop. I thought, ‘Why wouldn’t we turn this into a workshop?’” she said.
Each session takes about two hours and involves the youth and youth facilitators seated around a table, beading and chatting about all things sex-related.
Some youth have never beaded before.
“For three of the youth (in a workshop in Kahnawake, QB), it was their first time beading… and they did it on a condom. I think that’s an acknowledgement of the fact that we’ve had, through colonization, a lot of our culture taken away from us,” said Konsmo.
“Being able to sit and bead condoms is a pretty big pushback,” she said.
Megan Whyte, a NYSHN youth facilitator from Kahnawake, also received Konsmo’s “teachings.”
Whyte says while there are a lot of laughs when it comes to sitting in a room and beading condoms with strangers, there is also a deeper meaning. She draws parallels between the workshops and the work of artist Nadia Myre, who in 2002 beaded over a copy of Canada’s Indian Act and symbolically reclaimed Indigenous identity.
“We are beading onto a condom to say we have our own ways and our own traditions and our own cultures and our own ways of seeing what sexuality is about,” she said.
Billy-Ray Belcourt, another youth facilitator in Edmonton, says that while art - and the beaded condom project - have become an important political strategy, it is only one aspect of reproductive justice.
Belcourt warned the condoms are not usable.
“They’ve been appropriated as an art form… because there’s a lot of holes in them,” he said with a laugh.