Exhibit highlights 25 years of international AIDS advocacy posters
In the three decades that AIDS has wreaked havoc on gay and straight communities around the globe, activists and governments alike have turned to posters as a tool for education about prevention, treatment and the need for compassion.
‘Graphic Intervention: 25 Years of International AIDS Posters,’ a new exhibit which opens Oct. 1 and runs through the end of the year at the Museum of Design Atlanta, makes a powerful statement about the disease and different approaches to curbing it. “Because these posters come from every continent, what is most striking about them is the variety. Some are provocative and some are not,” says Laura Flusche, MODA associate director.
“They address a wide range of themes, including HIV / AIDS transmission and how to prevent it; care and access to treatment; the stigma related to the people it infects; sexual norms and discrimination; racial and gender politics; hope and compassion,” she says. “And, in their design, the posters cover a wide arc of artistic styles and languages.”
The more than 150 posters that make up the exhibit range from gentle to graphic to haunting to humorous. Condoms and red ribbons are common.
A 1995 poster from India uses a sweet drawing with the caption, “People suffering from AIDS need love. Not disgust, not abandonment, but just love.”
Two 2002 posters from Switzerland use a close-up of the opening of a shell to symbolize a vagina and an ear of corn to represent an erect penis, both with the simple message “Stop AIDS.”
A Canadian poster from 2004 shows a tombstone complete with carved statue of two men engaging in veiled anal sex and the epigraph “AIDS is still circulating.”
“The posters are a way of remembering those who have died due to AIDS — a graphic quilt of a different kind,” collector James Lapides wrote in an essay posted at GraphicIntervention.org.
It is fitting, then, that MODA combines “Graphic Intervention” with an exhibit of panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The 40,000-panel quilt has its national headquarters in Atlanta; different blocks will be shown each month at MODA.
“The panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt serve as a reminder of the painful reality of AIDS, but they also provide catharsis and comfort,” Flusche says.
“Like the posters they are examples of design-related creative efforts that are a direct response to the AIDS crisis,” she adds.
“Graphic Intervention” is curated by Elizabeth Resnick and Javier Cortes, and drawn from the collections of the James Lapides International Poster Gallery and the Massachusetts College of Art & Design.
“The most common theme is prevention and the major device for prevention of transmission depicted is the condom — and display of the condom requires explicit illustrations of male sexuality,” Flusche says. “What is interesting is that the seriousness of the AIDS pandemic has allowed for the depiction of the nude body and sexual acts, sometimes even in countries where they are totally unacceptable.”
The posters are both public service messages and works of art, she notes.
“Posters, by their nature, require a bold visual language,” Flusche says. “Those that are successful grab our attention enough for us to interact with the message that they impart — in other words, their aesthetic informs us, educates us, and sometimes amuses us.”