The message in the image: AIDS poster art

arts / Article

From Lanny Sommese, 1989.

You'll immediate recognize the colorful, cartoonish painting from Keith Haring hanging on the sixth floor of the Wolfsonian-FIU, but there is nothing cartoon-like in the message he had written: "Ignorance = Fear," "Silence = Death," "Fight AIDS, ACT UP." It's one of the numerous posters in this amazing, at times heartbreaking, at times empowering, exhibit called "25 Years of International AIDS Awareness Posters, 1985-2010." Haring himself would die of complications from AIDS in 1990.

From Zimbabwe, 1993.

There are poignant posters from all over the globe, urging people to use condoms, to stop sharing needles, to limit partners, to love but be careful, in a all sorts of languages and visual cues, some grim, some positive, all trying to be informative. For instance, in another brightly colored image, this one from Zimbabwe, the message is to get the facts straight about contracting the disease: you can't get AIDS from shaking hands, eating off of shared plates or mosquito bites. One powerful and unexpected image comes from New Zealand, with two Maori men, faces tattooed, naked and sharing a traditional feathered robe, staring out at us without expression. But almost every other culture and country is also represented here, from Vietnam to Egypt to Cuba. One poster in German reads: "Hans Sleeps Safely with Otto. Felix Is Sleeping Peacefully at Home. His Hans Uses Condoms."

These are spread through several rooms, and culminates in a space covered in the now-ubiquitous symbol of the fight against the disease, the Red Ribbon. Red was chosen "for its connection to blood and the idea of passion — not only anger, but love, like a valentine." In a blank space carved out of the ribbon bedecked wall are some statistics: today, there are 25,771 people living with AIDS in Miami-Dade County.

A well-done touch is the one room dedicated to much earlier posters from the early part of the 20th century, when vaccines were first invented, urging people to get shots to protect against epidemics of an older era. It's a reminder about the continuum, even with the arrival of life-saving drugs, of the fight and the education needed to help defeat our plagues.

"25 Years of International AIDS Awareness Posters, 1985-2010" runs through Sept. 9 at the Wolfsonian-FIU, 1001 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-531-1001; www.wolfsonian.org.

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