Ranging from sex-positive to shocking, the arresting images included in Up Against the Wall: Art, Activism, and the AIDS Poster take us back to another time — when HIV was a deadly virus and health organizations were desperate to get prevention messaging out to those most at risk.
By today’s standards, many of the older posters’ imagery and text may seem outdated, or even stigmatizing, but in many ways they also show how far we’ve come.
1988, Toronto, Canada, created by Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care
“As a gay man living in New York City at that time, I lost many close friends and colleagues,” recalls Up Against the Wall co-editor Donald Albrecht. “Working on this poster project has been a bittersweet experience…. I and my colleagues could not help but see the long shadow cast by AIDS on the current pandemic, specifically regarding the negative effects of misinformation and inaction.”
date unknown, Atlanta, Georgia, created by AIDS Atlanta
“Dr. [Edward C.] Atwater, the person who built this collection…saw the posters as social history, and I agree,” says Up Against the Wall’s other co-editor, Jessica Lacher-Feldman. “The sheer number of posters is an indication of just how urgent it was, and is, to make people aware of their own responsibility in keeping themselves and others safe, and to share compassion, dispel myths, and offer hope. Younger generations need to understand, and I hope that the lens of COVID-19 will make a difference, that the AIDS pandemic remains something that we all must take responsibility for, in keeping ourselves and those we love healthy.”
circa 1991, Boston, Mass., created by Massachusetts Department of Public Health
“Still seen on the street and subway, posters now freely circulate on websites and social media, and pop up on smartphones and mobile devices,” adds Albrect. “HIV poster-making will thus continue. HIV posters will morph in lockstep with medical advances, knowledge, and perceptions of HIV until the disease is eliminated.”