History of Medicine
Living With HIV/AIDS
Stigma and discrimination associated with HIV and AIDS are the greatest barriers to preventing further infections, providing adequate care, and alleviating suffering. The stigma surrounding sex, sexuality, and intravenous drug use has prevented millions from receiving information about HIV, how it is transmitted, and how to protect themselves. Discrimination has also prevented people with HIV from being open about their status and getting access to treatment. People with, or suspected of having, HIV have been turned away from health care services, denied housing or employment, shunned by friends and colleagues, divorced from their spouses, and even murdered. Avoiding stigma and challenging norms has partly depended on overcoming the widespread judgment that certain people living with HIV/AIDS are innocent victims, such as child hemophiliacs or heterosexual spouses, while others are "getting what they deserve" because they are either promiscuous, drug users, or otherwise immoral. As the posters below reveal, the effort to address and overcome this distinction has remained a priority in educational campaigns. In the process, popular opinion has moved towards the position that everyone living with HIV/AIDS is an innocent victim.
One of the most recognized HIV/AIDS posters ever produced, this image of a child with outstretched arms accompanied by the message, "I have AIDS, please hug me, I can't make you sick," has become a worldwide icon in the fight against HIV/AIDS discrimination. Inspired by the experience of Ryan White, a 13-year old hemophiliac with AIDS who was barred from school in 1985 and became a symbol of the intolerance that is inflicted on AIDS victims, this reproduction of a child's drawing has a disarming quality that works closely with the textual message. This poster reflected the changed tone of the media coverage of AIDS following Ryan White's courageous battle, which helped shift focus from ignorance and discrimination to acceptance and newfound knowledge of the fatal disease. Designed to evoke compassion, the simple yet powerful message in the poster to the right from 1987 has subsequently inspired a variety of spin-offs used by international AIDS awareness and education programs.
Created by graphic artist Charles Michael Helmken as part of an exhibition to alert the public to the global threat of AIDS in 1989, this poster uses a seventeenth-century painting of Saint Sebastian from the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The image shows Sebastian, who was condemned and persecuted by emperor Diocletian, being rescued by angels after he was fatally shot by Roman archers. By using a famous painting of religious significance, Helmken appropriates Sebastian the martyr, a traditional symbol of the persecution of Christians, as a symbol of suffering for people living with HIV/AIDS. This powerful piece appropriately reflects the emotionally charged subject of persecution and allows the viewer to relate to the experience. Implicitly addressing the negative stereotypes and prejudices against homosexuals and drug users that continued to stymie efforts to slow the spread of the epidemic, the image challenges the stigma and abuse faced by those living with HIV/AIDS.
The poster by James Thorpe was also part of an exhibition by graphic artists to address the problems associated with the global spread of HIV/AIDS in 1989. Appropriating the image of a target from a shooting range, and using a bold shade of red set against black and white, the faceless and two-dimensional image symbolizes the persecution of people living with HIV/AIDS. The artist provides an image of how people living with AIDS see themselves -- as victims hit with a series of personal, psychological, and financial losses. The image evokes a sense of alienation and victimization experienced by people living with HIV/AIDS as they face rejection by friends, family and coworkers.