“Lost & Found: Safer Sex Activism,” is the inaugural exhibition at the newly renovated ONE Gallery in West Hollywood.
The exhibition, which opens on March 17, examines 30 years of safer sex and harm-reduction activism. It is produced by the ONE Archives Foundation.
While at the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and 1990s widespread public perception linked AIDS to gay men and intravenous drug users, “Lost & Found” reveals how activists sought to educate varying publics about the epidemic. The exhibition addresses the question: What impact did safer sex activism have in the past and what is its impact today on HIV prevention?
While many believe that HIV/AIDS is no longer an issue, HIV infection continues to be prevalent in 2018, especially within communities of color. “Lost & Found “seeks to remember safer sex activism of the past, calling attention not only to extraordinary lives and voices that have been lost, but to knowledge and resources that have been found-which can again inspire, inform, educate, and empower the public.
Using direct, playful, witty, and creative tactics, safer sex activists sought to reach diverse audiences, including gay men, women, transgender individuals and people of color. Rather than stigmatize sexuality, these educational projects often went hand- in-hand with sex positive practices. The exhibition includes posters, comics, brochures, videos, PSAs and safer sex and clean needle kits, among other archival items, revealing how activists and educators sought to disseminate information across cultural, economic, linguistic and class divisions.
The exhibition highlights nearly 100 objects and includes some of the most iconic works of the AIDS crisis such as Gran Fury’s “Kissing Doesn’t Kill: Greed and Indifference Do” alongside many rare items that have never been publicly presented. Also on display are a selection of posters produced in the 1990s by the Oakland-based group AIDS Project of the East Bay, including a poster featuring poet Essex Hemphill; needle exchange kits from Clean Needles Now (CNN), a Los Angeles grassroots organization founded in the 1990s, and a series of explicit posters produced by Color Coded, a collaboration between Gay Men of Color Consortium, Los Angeles (GMOCC) and the Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies (LACPS).
The Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), founded in 1982 and then the largest AIDS services organization, is represented by “Safer Sex Shorts” (1989-90), an imaginative erotic safer sex video intended to reach an at-risk audiences.
The exhibition seeks to connect historical works to the ongoing AIDS crisis through contemporary artist and activist projects like the “Play Smart” condom trading card packets produced by the New York-based organization Visual AIDS featuring contemporary artists such as Kia Labejia, L.J. Roberts and Ben Cuevas.
“Lost & Found” is co-curated by David Evans Frantz, curator at ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries and co-curator of the recent exhibition “Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A.”, and independent curator Hannah Grossman.
Neal Baer, M.D., a consultant in presenting “Lost & Found,” hopes to draw attention to the dire infection rates still prevalent in Los Angeles. Data from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health shows that two out of five African American men who have sex with men (MSM) in L.A. are HIV positive; for Latino MSM, one in five is positive, and one in ten Caucasian MSM is positive.
For decades, the prescription for life was tied to two lines of defense: abstinence or condoms. Even today, with significant health advances to prolong life and prevent infection with medication, many HIV positive people are not in treatment, and young people of color are still being infected at high rates. Baer says, “This show puts the microscope on historical documents and contemporary efforts that illuminate an urgency that still exists.”
The ONE Gallery is located at 626 North Robertson Blvd. in West Hollywood.