Tate Modern

Intimacy, Activism and AIDS

Natalie Bell Building Level 2 West

© Juan Davila, Love 1988, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art
Photo: Mark Ashkanasy

Artists around the world were at the forefront of the response to the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s and 1990s

In 1981 doctors reported seeing instances of rare infections and diseases in gay men in New York and California. Initially called gay-related immune deficiency (or GRID), it was soon renamed AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) as other groups were affected. Within a few years, HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) had spread around the world.

As doctors struggled to treat HIV-related infections, governments failed to acknowledge the severity of the situation. Myths and misinformation about the transmission of HIV meant those who tested positive experienced stigmatisation and discrimination as they faced their own mortality. Many artists felt compelled to act. They devised means of disseminating information, countering prejudice and demanding action.

The majority of studies on the impact of AIDS on art and culture have focused on white male artists working in New York. This display brings into conversation a wider range of artistic practices and lived experiences from the 1980s and 1990s and includes works about desire, love, loss, sexuality, memory and fear. These themes took on a particular urgency as HIV spread globally.

This display cannot represent the more than 35 million people who have died of AIDS-related illnesses or the 36.7 million people living with HIV globally today. However, we hope that the works assembled here shine a light on the brilliance, beauty and bravery of those whose lives were cut short prematurely.

Curated by Gregor Muir and Kerryn Greenberg


Tate Modern
London SE1 9TG
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