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Art Connects HIV/AIDS Community

AIDS, Posters and Stories of Public Health: A People’s History of a Pandemic

March 18, 2024
By August Ryan

The Partnership Comprehensive Care Practice in Center City Philadelphia celebrated 30 years of care with an anniversary art show in late 2023. This collection of work is part of a legacy of using art to make connections and create conversations about HIV/AIDS -- a legacy explored by a National Library of Medicine (NLM) exhibit, AIDS, Posters and Stories of Public Health: A People’s History of a Pandemic.

Partnership professional staff member Taneesa Franks, who curated art by clients, providers and staff for the anniversary show, sees a link to the NLM’s exhibit.

“I believe that creating art is a way for someone to express themselves,” Franks said. “Not only that, but it's also there to inspire and to uplift, and to give people a sense of hope as well as empowerment.”

Partnership Comprehensive Care Practice Anniversary Art Show

On its website for the exhibition, the NLM describes poster-making as a way for artists and activists to inform and protect their communities, as well as for people living with HIV/AIDS to share their experiences and let others with the illness know they were not alone.

Physicians began reporting cases of what we now know as HIV in 1981, and patients typically died within a year of diagnosis. Throughout the decade, stigma, barriers to medical care, and slow government response helped fuel the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Testing would not become available until the mid 1980s, and effective treatment wasn’t available until the mid 1990s.

Thanks in part to the work of activists like the ones whose posters are in the NLM’s exhibit, HIV/AIDS care has changed greatly over time. Today, HIV testing and treatment options are of higher quality and more easily available, helping many to live into their 80s with HIV.

Partnership Comprehensive Care Practice Anniversary Art Show

From the early years until now, art has been a tool for communities affected by HIV/AIDS. Just like many of the artists whose posters are on display through the NLM, the Partnership’s anniversary art show contributors used their work to reach out to viewers.

A Partnership staff member drew from their patient care experience to create their work. They wanted their art to speak specifically to people who have been marginalized for aspects of their identity and/or for their HIV status.

“I know some of our patients feel like they are not enough,” the artist said. “I wanted my art to show that everyone is enough, everyone is loved, everyone is accepted -- regardless of their identity or status.”

Partnership Comprehensive Care Practice Anniversary Art Show

One artist, a mental health professional, also had a message of self-acceptance and self-care.

"My art piece depicts the beauty of what our minds can be if we learn to give our mental health the proper care,” they said. “Our minds are like gardens; It takes a lot of work and care for them to grow and thrive. I enjoy helping my patients learn how to take care of their minds, as well as their bodies, by providing holistic care.”

The National Library of Medicine’s poster exhibit will be on display in the lobby of the Health Sciences Building until March 22. View access hours for members of the Drexel University community and members of the public:

Contact the Partnership Comprehensive Care Practice about seeing their anniversary show’s art, which is on display on an ongoing basis.

The information on these pages is provided for general information only and should not be used for diagnosis or treatment, or as a substitute for consultation with a physician or health care professional. If you have specific questions or concerns about your health, you should consult your health care professional.

The images being used are for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted is a model.

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