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The Arts

New poster exhibit documents urgency, complexity of HIV/AIDS messaging

"Up Against the Wall: Art, Activism, and the AIDS Poster" is on display at the Memorial Art Gallery through June 19. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

The first major exhibition of the University’s AIDS Education Posters highlights the role of poster art during the global epidemic.

Thought-provoking. Myth-busting. Visually arresting. Painfully blunt.

However you describe it, the new exhibit presented by the Memorial Art Gallery (MAG) and the River Campus Libraries (RCL) at the University of Rochester captures the creative lengths taken to prevent and mitigate the tragedy and destruction caused by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Up Against the Wall: Arts, Activism, and the AIDS Poster is the first major exhibition of the University’s AIDS Education Posters collection, donated by Edward C. Atwater ʼ50 in 2007. Housed in the Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation, the collection holds more than 8,000 posters from around the world, making it one of the largest of its kind in the world.

Featuring 165 posters, Up Against the Wall illustrates the range of strategies public health and advocacy groups took to inform and influence people to protect themselves and others from the deadly virus. The exhibit is split into two sections: “Raising Awareness,” posters that inform and target myths and misinformation, and “Acting Up,” posters that advocate for personal responsibility and aim to inspire safe behavior.

Up Against the Wall is on display until June 19.

HIV/AIDS posters on display against black, pink, and yellow walls.
TAKE NOTICE: Spanning from 1982 to the present, the 165 posters in the exhibition show how social, religious, civic, activist, medical, and philanthropic organizations have addressed the complex, controversial, and often contested terrain of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic within the public realm. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

More about the collection, exhibition, and related events

Avram Finkelstein.Cofounder of Silence=Death Collective to speak on new book

Artist and activist Avram Finkelstein gives a lecture on his new book, After Silence: A History of AIDS through Its Images, as part of the Neilly Author Series.

Edward Atwater with arms crossed and AIDS posters laid out on a table behind him.The collector

Meet collector, physician, and medical historian Edward C. Atwater ʼ50 (1926–2019), the professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center who donated the AIDS Education Posters collection.

Reading AIDS

To extend the life of Up Against the Wall: Art, Activism, and the AIDS Poster beyond its physical exhibition at the Memorial Art Gallery, a book by the same name was created.


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