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HIV – fighting fear with education

20 November 2015 by Matt

Matt and John Walter by a huge pink inflatable sculpture

The launch of the Pug Virus installation.

Not that long ago I met up with artist John Walter as he unveiled his Pug Virus at the Walker Art Gallery. The installation, a massive bright pink representation of the HIV Virus, got me thinking about how HIV and other sexually transmitted infections have been represented in Merseyside across the years.

Many people will remember the information campaigns of the mid 1980s which used icebergs, mountains and falling monoliths to shock and scare people into taking precautions against catching the HIV/AIDS virus. Some of them were documented in the Now+then display, at the Museum of Liverpool earlier this year. These ‘doom-laden’ fear-inducing adverts, shot in blues and greys and black, seem a far cry from the bright pink creation of John Walter. How did we get from one representation to the other? 

stickers with slogan: AIDS - fight the fear with the factsWell, I had a look in the Museum of Liverpool’s collection and I found one innovative response to the initial campaign of fear from the mid 1980s. Local graphic designer Andrew Dineley, who worked for Liverpool Health Promotion Unit, designed this set of stickers with the slogan, “AIDS: fight the fear with the facts”.

The 1980s was certainly a time of fear for many as the HIV/AIDS virus was misunderstood and those living with it often vilified and demonised by the press. By the 1990s the virus was better understood and campaigns moved away from ‘fear tactics’ towards educating people. HIV/AIDS was no longer something to  be exclusively feared, but something to be educated about and prevented.

badge with cartoon illustration of a 'beastie'

‘Beasties’ badge representing genital herpes

By 2003 a lot more was known about the HIV/AIDS virus and in that year Andrew produced a set of figures representing sexually transmitted infections as ‘beasties’, the one here showing genital herpes. Though the characters were portrayed as monsters they no longer had the fearful element that campaigns of the 1980s had.

John Walter’s work is the last in many representations of HIV/AIDS shown across Merseyside in the last 30 years. From fear campaigns to education about prevention, HIV/AIDS has had many incarnations across the region but vital education is still needed. There are a number of organisations across the Merseyside region which work on educating people about HIV as well as supporting people living with it. If you want to know more please contact:

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