Discover over 8,000 AIDS education posters!

In a Boston subway car around 1990, at the start of the AIDS crisis, Edward C. Atwater, MD, noticed a poster showing two hands unwrapping a packet of condoms. Fascinated by illustration’s ability to clearly inform the public about sensitive topics – especially given the dominant discourse 35 years earlier, when he was attending medical school and it was illegal to teach contraception – Atwater obtained his own copy of the AIDS poster. Over the years, he will acquire more than 8,000 others covering 130 countries and 76 languages.

Prior to Atwater’s death in 2019 at the age of 93, the rheumatologist and medical historian donated his posters to the University of Rochester in New York, where they form the poster collection on the AIDS education within the Department of Rare Books, Special Collections and River Campus Libraries. Preservation. Amazingly, the entire collection has been digitized and can be viewed online (

For the first time, an exhibition and accompanying book select the collection to explore the myriad themes, narratives and stories found in the images. Against the Wall: Art, Activism and AIDS Poster until June 19 at the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester. It includes 165 posters, ranging from 1983 to 2018 (although the collection continues to grow, thanks in part to Jessica Lacher-Feldman, the university’s special projects manager).

Throughout the HIV epidemic, posters have remained one of the most popular, direct and cost-effective methods of educating the public, inspiring compassion, inciting protest and, when misused, frightening and stigmatizing. . diagnosis with death, a link that is no longer tolerated.

The posters have a “huge and profound impact,” says Donald Albrecht, the exhibition’s curator, adding that he was amazed by “the wide range of content and styles represented in the posters, from advertising-style graphics to simple hand drawings, from expressions of grief to humor and irony.

The show categorizes the posters into themes such as ‘AIDS is a women’s issue’, ‘AIDS — hidden danger’, ‘I have AIDS. Please hug me” and “Careful enough to love safely”.

In addition, a number of health experts, artists and advocates, including Avram Finkelstein of the Silence=Death collective, Esther McGowan of the nonprofit Visual AIDS, artist Sur Rodney (Sur) and Anthony Fauci, MD, share their cultural and historical ideas on specific posters.

“I hope,” Albrecht tells POZ, “that these posters from the past provide models for action today.”

AIDS Poster Exhibition and University of Rochester Book.

“Get carried away by condoms”, 1990; San Francisco; by the San Francisco AIDS FoundationCourtesy of University of Rochester AIDS Education Collection

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