There is a fascinating new exhibition at Leicester’s New Walk Museum, curated by Dr Sarah Graham from the School of English. It’s called ‘Spreading the Word: AIDS Posters from Around the World’ and draws on the Wellcome Collection’s massive archive.
This year marks two important anniversaries: it is 30 years since AIDS was identified as a new disease and 20 years since the red ribbon was adopted as a symbol of the fight against HIV and AIDS. Dr Graham is working on a research project called Vital Signs: Representing AIDS which explores the various ways in which HIV and AIDS have been represented in a range of media including fiction, poetry, drama, memoir, film and visual art. The exhibition is the first outcome from this project.
There are 24 posters in the exhibition from the UK, USA, Africa, India and Australia, mostly from the early 1990s. The range of messages they convey is broad: some express the dangers of the disease quite bluntly; some demonstrate protection measures; others make a plea for a supportive attitude towards HIV+ people.
Also evident is the range of organisations which have produced posters, from Government departments to charities such as ACT-UP and the Terrence Higgins Trust. And the approach ranges from deadly serious through informative to, well, Australian superhero Condoman.
Dr Graham originally contacted the Wellcome Trust at the end of 2009 about mounting an exhibition and the Trust has been very supportive of the project as part of their mission is to make materials from their massive collection accessible to the public. New Walk Museum has also been very helpful in providing public gallery space, ensuring that the exhibition is seen by as many visitors as possible.
Although some AIDS posters produced over the years have been quite graphic, Dr Graham has been careful in making her selection suitable for family viewing so visitors to the museum can be assured that they won’t see anything more ‘shocking’ than a condom or two men embracing.
The exhibition is free to visit and runs until Sunday 28 August 2011.