HIV infection rates within the Asian-American population increased by 36 percent between 2010 and 2014, with similar findings in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I think that’s really a symptom of that invisibility that occurs for [Asian-American/Pacific Islander] communities,” Melanie Dulfo, Community Director at APICHA Community Health Center in New York City, told Gay City News. Dulfo believes AAPI communities get forgotten because they aren’t as large as Black or Latinx communities, but also because many view Asian-American individuals as “perpetually a foreigner.”
This poses challenges for Asian immigrants who get confused by the health care system when they migrate to the U.S.
To combat the stigma and advocate for just and equitable HIV care, Filipino artist Niccolo Cosme curated a photo series entitled TAGGULAN, or defense, and features Filipino/a/x activists, social justice icons, and drag artists. The models are positioned in red, and the originals were made with emulsified samples of HIV-positive blood samples on canvas stretched over wood.
“We wanted to humanize the pieces through the actual blood,” said Cosme, utilizing the artwork as a form of a U=U campaign to remind people that undetectable means untransmittable.
During the COVID pandemic in New York, public policy also played a role in HIV increases — since HIV-specific resources were not as available, annual new HIV diagnoses increased by 14 percent between 2020-2021.
“Among Asian and Pacific Islander gay men, there was a drop of 80 percent of people getting tested,” said Dulfo. “Many of our patients were afraid to seek medical care out of fear that COVID-19 could worsen or negatively impact their medical conditions. We are branded as plague carriers.”
Projects like Cosme’s TAGGULAN continue to advocate and shine home for a global victory against HIV.
At the one-night premiere of his photos, Cosme said, “I believe that we are all warriors. And I believe that we can achieve our goals if we work together.”