World AIDS Day: brutal and humane, the US national AIDS crisis in posters
Back in 1981, a new disease appeared in the United States spreading fear and confusion. The infectious “rare cancer” bewildered researchers and bred suspicion, but the worry was not the same for everyone.
Reactions to the disease, soon named AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), were as varied as the uncertainties about it. Many feared contact with those who were ill. Others, particularly but not exclusively gay men, feared for their lives and the lives of loved ones.
Early responders cared for the sick, fought homophobia, and promoted new practices to keep people healthy.
Scientists and public health officials struggled to understand the disease and how it spread. Politicians remained largely silent until the epidemic became too big to ignore. Activists demanded that people with AIDS be part of the solution.
Takings its title from “Surviving and Thriving,” the book written in 1987 by and for people with AIDS that insisted people could live with AIDS and not just die from it, “Surviving and Thriving: AIDS, Politics and Culture” is the online adaptation of an exhibition curated by the National Library of Medicine.
The project explores the rise of AIDS in the early 1980s, as well as the medical and social responses to the disease since.
“Posters, comic books, and postcards focused on AIDS are as old as the disease itself” notes the exhibition's curators.
“Representing some of the best forms of public health outreach, this ephemera contains images and slogans that communicate a range of ideas about AIDS—from how to prevent it from spreading, to how to care for people with AIDS, to how to talk to children about the disease.”
“Inexpensively printed and distributed, these colorful materials performed a great deal of social and political work over the course of the 1980s and 1990s. Whether originally wheat-pasted on bus stops or the sides of buildings, hung in municipal office spaces, or placed in the waiting rooms of doctors’ offices, these documents provide powerful historical evidence about how people did and did not confront HIV/AIDS.”
From the “Safe Sex is Hot Sex” campaign dubbed too hot to handle during the Reagan era to the “America Responds to AIDS” campaign which promoted the “everyone is at risk” message of AIDS prevention, through the “Fear Mongering” ominous posters which declared in big bold type the danger of “sleeping around” whilst providing little -if any- information on how to prevent the spread of AIDS epidemic, the exhibition presents through posters and visual elements the US national health crisis in pictures.
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