Protective Propaganda

OK, if you see this virus, run like hell!
(Sihanoukville, 2001. Mouse over/click on image for translation.)

Municipal Health Department AIDS is everyone's concern!  -AIDS destroys the root of the whole society!  -AIDS is smokeless, colorless and soundless, but life-threatening!  -All human beings must be aware to protect themselves from AIDS because AIDS is incurable!  Every citizen needs to understand:  1.What is AIDS?  2.Is AIDS curable?  3.What are the methods to prevent the infection of AIDS?

Think getting people up to speed on HIV is a challenge?

It was tough enough in Western society; attempting it in a traditional, conservative Buddhist society has led to a multiplicity of efforts.


Cambodians have been bombarded with all kinds of HIV awareness campaigns, some that are well thought out, some a little less so, like the billboard above. In the wake of 1980s socialist realism propaganda, painted message boards have remained a common means of outreach – now for nonprofits. I’ve been organizing my photos this last week, so let’s look at a few.


08 mr_help




From the BBC, TV screenshot of “Mr. Help“. The prior term for condom was
the clinical-sounding “sanitary envelope”; Mr. Help sounds very close to
Mr. F&*# in Khmer. Explicit, but it cuts to the chase. (2003, if memory serves.
Image courtesy Phnom Penh Post).




06 Route South




Don’t Forget Condoms

To protect against HIV

Above: GTZed billboard, Kampot, courtesy Temporary Dwellings.





05 AnlongVeng


Drink wine; gratify yourself with a woman;
forget to use a condom; get infected with AIDS!

AIDS Fighting Program in Ouddar Meanchey province, funded by SEILA Program. (2003)

This one seems pretty much targeted at the guys.


Anlong Veng

Don’t Bring HIV Into Your Home

“Papa! Our hope depends on you!” (Anlong Veng, 2003)

01 SR
Using condoms is the most effective method to prevent the infection of AIDS!
Provincial Health Department Funded by UNDP/CARERE

(Siem Reap, 2001)

03 AnlongVeng




“Attractive appearance does not mean that there is no AIDS!” AIDS Fighting Program in Ouddar Meanchey province, funded by SEILA Program. (2003)





04 SR





AIDS can kill you!

AIDS is incurable!

But you can protect yourself against AIDS with a condom.

(Siem Reap, 2002. The rusting sign adds a feeling of of creepy decay, like the people are already sick. The sign is now (like many of these), taken down due to weathering.)


Have a safe drive. Protect yourself from AIDS
World Vision, CIDA

(Hands on the steering wheel, buddy! 2003, Route 4.)

A classic t-shirt from Khemara, PSI and Rockefeller. 2005.

Humoristic? Surreal? Hyper-real? Definitions are hard to apply. This kind of nonprofit art is unique and disappearing fast, though. I’ll continue to document it when I can.

tags: cambodia,khmer,HIV,signboard

One Response to “Protective Propaganda”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Hi J, Great photos and comparison of the messages. Quite an achievement of an archive you’ve built up over the years.

    I remember noticing well-designed ads for local condoms in Siem Reap a couple of years ago. They seemed geared towards women rather than men, and also focused on the “just married” market. For example, one billboard w/a photo of a pair of hands at a wedding ceremony….

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