Thoughts on Why We Fight: Remembering AIDS Activism

Although I did not see the Why We Fight: Remembering AIDS Activism exhibit, the imagery that is available online renders a powerful narration of the ACT UP movement. The exhibit captivates the emotion and urgency that the activist community was experiencing during the 80’s and 90’s.

Many of the images depict community members in protest actions that were directed at government and scientific institutions. It was interesting to note that many of protest images show tensions between activists and police. The depiction of activists confronting law enforcement illustrates a microcosm of the HIV/AIDS community and their struggle against indifference and hostility of the government.

Some of the other images are posters, signs, and pamphlets that display concise, motivating messages. Often the literature called for action to fight the epidemic. These messages emphasize the mission of ACT UP to ignite a fervor in the general population to “act up” and take HIV/AIDS seriously.

The ACT UP movement is one of the triumphs of New York City. HIV/AIDS activism is also such a visible part of NYC’s history as well. However, we must keep in mind that imagery does not tell a story in its entirety but is, however, effective in framing a narrative. When viewing the images collectively, it is implied that the HIV/AIDS activism was a gay, white man’s movement and they are responsible for the changes that happened.

Although many leaders of the movement were gay, white men, there were other noteworthy figures who do not hold the same reverence as Vito Russo and Larry Kramer. There is little representation of cis-women (both straight and queer), the trans community, and people of color even though they played key roles in HIV/AIDS activism. We must also realize that there were movements contemporary to ACT UP beyond the US’s borders. It is important to always question who holds power to tell a story, especially those that are image-based.

Posted in Assignment 8

The Body Website: The Intervention between Academics, Activism, and Media

The Body: The Complete HIV/AIDS Resource


What is The Body?

When first setting out to investigate HIV/AIDS, the amount of information available can be daunting.  The Body: The Complete HIV/AIDS Resource  compiles information for those at risk of contracting HIV, people curious about HIV/AIDS, those who are already diagnosed, and even professionals working in the field could want all into one place.  By placing “The Basics”  right on the first page of the site, users do not have to work hard to find the information they are looking for.  Through the simple use of Web Media, the major topics covered on The Body is accessible to immediately, avoiding the need to trudge through link after link just to get to a relevant topic.  By organizing the welcome page and links to the major information of the website  to be as user friendly as possible, The Body encourages anyone who may be tentative about looking into HIV/AIDS to find what they are looking for.

What does The Body offer?

“The Basics” tabs; What is HIV?, HIV Testing 101, Just Diagnosed, HIV Medication, as well as Side Effects; provide an immediate gateway into what The Body can offer for anyone looking into HIV/AIDS for any reason.  “What is HIV?” offers insight into not only the contraction of the disease, but answers the first questions that anyone who is exposed to HIV asks: Who gets HIV?, How long does it take to feel symptoms of HIV?, How long will I live with HIV?  Answering these and other questions in a succinct, clear manner adds great value to the site as it puts this vital information just one-click away from someone just arriving at the site.  By also going into detail about HIV testing and what it means to have just been diagnosed goes a long way in removing the mystery of HIV for those not as knowledgeable on the topic.  By including links to in depth analysis of the major medications available to those diagnose with HIV/AIDS, The Body caters to a wide range of information seekers and gives the average person a fighting chance to understand what is available to them and what side effects that they may be at higher risk to have.

How is this innovative/accessible?

Utilizing intelligent web design is just one way that The Body uses Media to its advantage.  By linking to new stories, videos, slideshows and infographics on their homepage, The Body incorporates every type of media into their effort to spread HIV/AIDS knowledge and activism.   With the multiple “news centers” on their homepage, The Body provides access to the latest news, activism and “hot HIV/AIDS topics” of today just one click away from arrival on the site.  In the age of instant gratification and media consumption that is today,  this format not only keeps the users attention, but provides one-click path to information relative to them.   By catching the consumers eye and allowing for instant access to what they are looking for, it is less likely that they will become discouraged and give up their search.  In addition to these traditional news sources, The Body has a “Blog Central” that provides valuable access to real-life stories from people whose lives have been affected by HIV/AIDS, from people living with the disease to their family and friends and how it has affected them.

How does The Body take things to the next level?

Along with their information for the everyday user, The Body provides a more technical and industry professional oriented look at their “The Body Pro” website.  Here, The Body provide links to the latest advances in medicine and research for doctors to stay up to date with the latest advancements in HIV/AIDS treatment.  By also providing resources in the  prevention and public policy towards HIV/AIDS, The Body gives those in places of power the latest information available to allow them to serve the community in the most effective way possible.  Taken in conjunction with each other “The Body” and “The Body Pro” combine to  provide everyone from the “new to HIV/AIDS” information seeker to the seasoned professional a streamlined and convenient means to finding the information they need in their fight against HIV/AIDS.

HIV in the Classroom

The Body’s combination of introductory information all the to professional topics displays how their site succeeds in the education of all HIV/AIDS information seekers as well as works towards prevention as well as education.  Source


Tagged with: , , , , ,
Posted in Assignment 10

Culture of Science



In AIDS, Sex, and Culture: Global Politics and Survival in Southern Africa,Ida Susser argues that the culture of science is shaped through the male gaze. This gaze has largely influenced how HIV/AIDS is discussed both socially and scientifically.  Although globally, women make up half of those living with HIV/AIDS, their issues are often overlooked and their voices are silenced.

Despite the epidemic being very present in the lives of women, particularly those living in the global south, many prevention efforts focus on men. For example, Susser underscores that although female condom is just as effective as the male condom, public health authorities have put little energy in promoting its usage. Although, the female condom can provide women with greater agency over their reproductive and sexual health, HIV/AIDS eradication efforts largely do not advocate for its access.

Susser ties this male-shaped epistemology to the beginning of the epidemic, when HIV/AIDS was mostly viewed as a gay man’s disease. This hindering perspective, ignored the fact that many women, specifically poor, women of color were dying of the disease. By disregarding that women were being affected by the virus, public health to some extent, had nourished the epidemic.

The male culture of science also manifests itself in the reproductive health of women living with HIV/AIDS. Given that women are often seen as merely “vessels” of a fetus, the humanity and lives of HIV positive women are overlooked. Let us examine the term “mother-to-child” transmission. Mother-to-child transmission blames the mother for infecting her child, while disregarding the fact that uninterrupted access to ARVs is almost 100% effective in preventing perinatal infection. But, because perinatal infection mostly occurs in resource-limited settings, HIV positive mothers are often left without access to ARVs. Instead of holding systemic powers accountable, HIV positive women are implied to be the primary infectors of their children.

The field of clinical science is disproportionately represented by men and thus many times caters to the interests of men. HIV/AIDS activists, however, managed to advocate for the inclusion of women and racial minorities in ARV trials. These actions are discussed in Steven Epstein’s Impure Science. Through self-teaching methods of epidemiology, virology, and biostatistics, activists were able to speak the language of clinical science and question the authority of scientific leaders. These effort yielded successes but there is still struggle to give women equal footing in the HIV/AIDS movement.

Although many strides have been made in efforts to eradicate HIV/AIDS, there is a pressing need to allow women’s interests to be taken seriously. Including women in the global discussion of HIV/AIDS would illustrate a more useful picture of the epidemic. If we make HIV/AIDS a one-sided issue, the virus will continue to take a significant toll on the health of the world.

Posted in Assignment 5

Creating a Visual Argument

8232613881_e9b74f3138_m8233655990_cc8571fc63_z8232608477_fa1ed25ea1_z8232608665_b786807c54_z8232608477_fa1ed25ea1_z 8233673050_94ec1d5b47_z



Posted in Assignment 9

Why We Fight: Remembering AIDS Activism


In reflecting on my visit to Why We Fight: Remembering AIDS Activism, I felt the exhibit comprised a well-curated collection of key moments in the early years of HIV/AIDS awareness and activism, and brought the viewer along in realizing the impact of those collaborations on today’s HIV/AIDS landscape. The curators made the decision to not chronologically order the work, in preference of categorizing content around key issues – changing perceptions, people living with HIV, safer sex, public mourning, activism, and current HIV issues. It highlighted the work of pivotal organizations such as GMHC, Gran Fury, and ACT-UP NY. However, for me, there were holes on both ends of the story – it didn’t touch enough on the impact of the current state of HIV/AIDS research, activism, or awareness, or the loss of a swath of key figures at the beginning of the fight that set the stage for activism.

For example, while I think that pharmaceutical research is pushing along the HIV/AIDS agenda toward a cure, and the disease itself is in many ways considered a chronic illness, there was not enough emphasis on current campaigns around prophylaxis drugs, living with HIV, focusing on current vulnerable populations. Also, when I think about the impact of the loss of those leaders that made significant strides in the infancy of the disease, of course I think about Vito Russo (clearly), but I also think about pioneer care givers, like Ramon Torres, the former director of Saint Vincent’s AIDS clinic, who, upon its closing, spiraled into drug addiction, and acquired HIV. Barring a litany of other early pioneers, it would have been great to not only focus on the strides that have been made, but also to gain an understanding of the undulating landscape of care that has resulted from the disease shifting from acute to chronic state. It is hard to imagine what isn’t there, but since the exhibit was so slanted toward chronicling controversial media and art parallels, it would have been impressive to allude to the loss of key figures.

The curation was far more than pink triangles, bold text, and Keith Haring – where I think the exhibit excelled was in the delivery of portraying the gradual mainstream awareness of the disease, by showcasing work such as the powerful imagery of the Benetton campaign, that included a family at the bedside of their dying son – drawing in the viewer to face the disease at the end of life, with “every day” people surrounding the dying man, suffering similar to Mary’s Passion of Christ. I thought this was an interesting juxtaposition to other religiously-charged imagery, such as ACT UP!’s “Stop the Church” campaign – featuring mock front page imagery decrying Cardinal O’Connors desire to not teach sex ed. I think it’s important to note that the show focused on the issues central to the disease during this time (and even to draw contemporary parallels) – sex workers, drug addiction, the poor. Being able to peruse the public health literature was particularly impactful, including early pamphlets describing how to have safe sex. Being transported back to this time, or remembering it first-hand, it is impressive to think that these leaflets were ground breaking – and life saving. As the exhibit continued, it was interesting to experience other media, such as a short video on DiAna’s hair salon, chronicling grass-roots activism in the South. DiAna, and her partner Dr. Bambi Sumpter, confront the viewer, and share their tale of DiAna’s work – a hairdresser that became increasingly engaged and aware of HIV/AIDS news. As the prevalence and incidence of HIV/AIDS increased, DiAna started to serve as a default sex educator to her customers. DiAna, unashamed, shares her display of free condoms, mixed within bins of hair accessories for sale. In contrast to the funding for national ad campaigns plastered throughout the exhibit, DiAna is forthright in sharing that she was constantly reading and became an oral storyteller – because she couldn’t afford making photocopies of articles she was reading. Clients, getting washed and set or buzzed, are eager to tell the interviewer what they have learned from DiAna – whether it was no sex being the only safe sex, or becoming comfortable with discussing sexual acts with partners. She is quick to reveal teaching aids, and has become a leading grass-roots sex educator. Her partner, Dr. Sumpter, book ends DiAna’s tale by sharing shocking accounts of children having sex, unashamed to share graphic details of their encounter.

Having been a child of the 80s in NYC, and having family members and friends suffer the impact of HIV and AIDS, it was emotionally powerful to “relive” what I would consider a memorial. I vividly remember many of the events that were chronicled at Why We Fight, whether it was the street art of Keith Haring, or involvement in the AIDS quilt. I also remember the now-ignorant, but then, very-real fear around contracting the virus. I think this exhibit was a solid compliment to the global perspectives that we have been discussing in class, particularly as it focused primarily on US-lead grassroots initiatives.

Posted in Assignment 8

Why we fight – Remembering AIDS Activism

I was not able to visit the New York Public Library’s “Why we fight – Remembering AIDS activism”.  But I did explore the website and read what my peers have experienced when they visited the exhibit. From what I have read, the exhibit portrays the actions of activist movements, such as Act Up, and the fight to move HIV/AIDS to the forefront of politics, economics, and health care in the 1980s and 1990s.



For this course I have been looking at HIV/AIDS in Thailand. Thailand is a country that is also fighting for HIV/AIDS rights and battling HIV discrimination. For this assignment I thought it would be interesting to look at the visual culture, art, activism and culture surrounding HIV/AIDS in Thailand. Thailand has politically supported and developed comprehensive prevention programs that have saved millions of lives, reducing the number of new HIV infections. But there have been cuts in prevention and education programs which will likely drive the number of new infections back up. Activist groups such as Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) are working to make sure that these cuts do not happen. NHRC is fighting to protect the rights of Thais living with HIV/AIDS and for effective cultural education and sex education to promote understanding by the public of the epidemic of HIV and AIDS.


Chumpon Apisuk is an activist in Thailand who uses culture and art to fight for HIV/AIDS rights and democracy.  He is the founder of Concrete House, an art and community space and the only performance art venue in Thailand. Apisuk is also founder and director of Asiatopia, an International Performance Art Festival in Thailand.


Apisuks’s “Kumjing dolls” have been travelling the globe and intervening in different cities to incite social change and civil unrest.


Whether it be in the US or abroad, the fight for HIV/AIDS rights, funding, and awareness continues. The use of the visual culture, art, activism and culture proves to be a beneficial way to continue that fight.

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Assignment 8

Key moment of class PH770

Hello everyone, it has been an amazing semester with you all. Click here for my final presentation.

Posted in Assignment 11

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45 other followers