Its been more than 30 years since the first cases of HIV and AIDS were diagnosed and reported and in that time, public awareness has increased and so has the possibility of a cure. The stigma attached to individuals diagnosed with the disease has dissipated and these individuals aren't treated as social pariahs.
Popular mass media depictions of the AIDs crisis such the Academy Award-winning film Philadelphia starring Tom Hanks and Tony Kushner's epic 8-hour play, Angels in America have introduced the horrors of the debilitating illness and the valiant efforts of resistance in mainstream popular culture. These works introduced the American public to various sexual identities and gave HIV and AIDS a human face. But as the San Francisco-based Center for Sex and Culture's (CSC) recent venture proves -- there was another visual art form that created awareness and inspired social change and perception: the poster.
The poster was the first medium used in the LGBT community to spread messages of hope and education during the hard-hitting years of the AIDS epidemic with slogans like "Safe Sex is Hot Sex" and "Outliving Forecasts of Doom: Keep it Safe." There were images of homosexuality made human and empowering.
"They showcase sexuality, gay lifestyles that are very diverse, identities and languages," said Carol Queen, executive director of the CSC. "There are many, many images of gay men in particular that most people had never seen before these poster began to show up on walls and cities all over the world."
Print posters were truly an essential and integral part of the 1980s and early 1990s era of activism. Now, the CSC is publishing a book that displays parts of their 150 print collection that will also go on public display Friday, Nov. 8.
Buzz Bense, co-founder of Eros, a safe sex club based in the Castro, and a graphic designer himself, donated his personal collection to the CSC so as to be put on display for the public for education purposes and awareness of the epidemic that changed and ended so many lives.
"We don't have safe sex posters anymore. Any public health messages that are delivered are pixels on a website somewhere and they're gone," Bense said. "It has been my tremendous privileged to donate this to the Center for Sex and Culture because I know they will be well taken care, well used and now with this current project the wider world is going to have the opportunity to learn from them, see them in what I can see as a monument to our survival in this particular time."
To accomplish the Center's publishing goal, they created a Kickstarter campaign that successfully raised their goal of $7,000 before their Nov. 5 deadline.
"One of the things that is so important about the fact that these posters will be put into a book is that many people think they know what the AIDS era was like but the fact is there are many details that are being lost in memory," Queen said. "We can't let that happen, we can't understand our path in the future without knowing what our path in the past has been. And those things meet in the present and they meet in this project."