A walk through history

June 6, 2001



Organised by Michael Scott, education and community development manager for the Northern Territory AIDS Council, the recently concluded A Walk Through History exhibition presented a historical insight into the prejudices and judgements of HIV/AIDS education programs over the years.

HIV/AIDS education began in the late 1980s with scare campaigns such as the unforgettable advertisements, which featured a shrouded Grim Reaper in a bowling alley knocking down random individuals from a frightened crowd.

One of the posters in the exhibition (from 1987) features a cartoon of a bar filled with people and asks "Which person in this bar has the AIDS sickness?". This poster views casual sex, not unsafe sex, as the risk factor for HIV/AIDS. Another poster in the same series advises people to "Be Safe From AIDS, Stay With One Partner".

Another 1987 poster features Aboriginal people and advises that "You Don't Have To Be A Queenie To Get AIDS". This poster tells the story of the man who has unprotected sex with a stranger in a nightclub, is infected with HIV and then transfers it to the "innocent victim" in the story, his wife. The story ends with a depiction of several graves.

In the mid-1990s there were many posters which advocated that people with HIV/AIDs should not be discriminated against. A poster produced in 1995 asks people to think about love, trust and denial. It features a man and woman in sexual pose, which is almost foetal, contained within a plastic bag that is leaking. Repeated text makes statements such as "I hope I don't get AIDS" and "Sometimes love is totally blind".

In the late 1990s a number of themes around living with HIV were introduced into HIV/AIDS education. A 1996 poster addresses HIV positive men, asking "At what point do you tell him your HIV status?". Posters with a more positive attitude toward sex were also more prevalent in this period, such as one that features a man kneeling in front of another with the text, "If you don't know his name, why would you know his HIV status?".

At the end of the 1990s, and today, there were many posters talking about HIV/AIDS treatments.

A Walk Through History identifies a positive shift in HIV/AIDS education since the mid-1990s, moving from campaigns based on fear of the disease and the advocacy of abstinence to an emphasis on safe sex and programs that are designed in collaboration with people living with HIV/AIDS.

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