The trauma and legacy of AIDS in LGTBI memory between America and Spain

Carlos Caselles

Madrid, Dic (EFE).- “Memories of HIV/AIDS in Ibero-America” is an exhibition that examines the cultural history of HIV/AIDS through testimonies from the LGTBI community. It opened in Madrid on Friday on World AIDS Day.

The exhibition, a joint project of Archivo Arkhé (Arkhé’s Archive), a cultural organization with offices in Colombia and Spain, and the State Coordinator of HIV and AIDS (CESIDA for its initials in Spanish), provides an overview of the cultural production around the disease over the last forty years, from 1978 to 2019.

The route that starts in Mexico, passes through Spain and Colombia, and ends in Venezuela, aims to celebrate the work of Latin American activists in advancing LGTBI rights and to recount the social and political difficulties they faced in the 1980s and early 1990s, the hardest years of the HIV epidemic.

The exhibition includes photography, painting and advertising, but also performance art, press clippings, sculpture, and poetry.

Some of its most outstanding works include the posters for the famous Spanish campaign to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, “Póntelo, póntelo” (Put it on, put it on), and the painting “Ignorance = Fear / Silence = Death” by the American Keith Haring.

Also noteworthy are the towels by Colombian David Lozano, printed like shrouds with the naked bodies of eight users of the Ulises sauna, a major meeting place for homosexuals in Bogota in the 1980s.

The fight against both stigma and the disease

The arrival of AIDS forced the LGBTI collective to fight a “double fight”, said Pedro Felipe Hinestrosa, co-founder and director of Arkhé’s Archive to EFE.

The achievements of queer activism in the 1960s and 1970s, including the decriminalization of homosexuality and the open fight against discrimination, were frustrated by the disease, which from that moment on “became the most violent weapon against activism,” said Hinestrosa.

According to the World Health Organization, in 2022, approximately 39 million people worldwide were living with HIV and 630.000 people died from HIV-related illnesses.

The LGBTI community needs to remember

The exhibition offers a “unique” opportunity to reflect on the history of LGTBI struggles, according to the exhibition’s curator, the critic Halim Badawi.

Badawi, whose collection of queer documents includes more than 50.000 unique items, defends the importance of these spaces in the history of the collective.

“Memories of HIV/AIDS in Ibero-America” can be seen at Arkhé’s Archive headquarters in Madrid until Feb. 28. EFE


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