Comic Velocity: HIV and AIDS in Comics

June 11– July 11, 2021

Opening Event*: Saturday, June 12, 1–5 pm

Comic Velocity: HIV and AIDS in Comics, curated by Paul Sammut for Visual AIDS, explores how artists and activists have used comics to create and shape conversations about HIV and AIDS.

From steamy safer sex booklets and soap opera-style public service advertisements to superheroes and underground zines, comics have long been utilized by artists and advocates to respond to the AIDS pandemic. As a visual and accessible medium, comics are often employed with the goal of democratizing information, engaging broad audiences, and representing communities erased from public health narratives.

Details from Safe Sex (1983) Howard Cruse
Details from Safe Sex (1983) Howard Cruse

The exhibition’s title borrows from scholar Ramzi Fawaz’s writing on the varied emotional intensity of comics, illustrated in the exhibition through juxtapositions in tone and affect. Ranging from the light-hearted anecdotes of Michael Slocum’s Zander Alexander, PWA (1993-95) to James Romberger and Marguerite Van Cook’s urgent and cacophonic depictions of David Wojnarowicz’s writing in Seven Miles a Second (1996), the exhibition represents a broad spectrum of styles and approaches to comics and sequential art.

Comic Velocity collects both historical and contemporary educational material, activist projects and artists’ works that demonstrate how the medium of comics continues to contribute to the public understanding of HIV and AIDS through its democracy, accessibility and immediacy. The exhibition features a selection of items from the HIV Graphic Communication Archive, and the work of creators Alison Bechdel; Howard Cruse; Jennifer Camper; Kate Charlesworth; Chris Companik; James Romberger, Marguerite Van Cook, and David Wojnarowicz; Carlos Sánchez; David Shenton; Michael Slocum and many others.

As part of the exhibition, four newly commissioned comics projects from J. Amaro & A. Andrews, Inés Ixierda & Clio Sady, Carlo Quispe, and Mel Rattue will be available as free take-aways. These new works explore contemporary issues and experiences surrounding HIV/AIDS such as HIV criminalisation, women’s’ anti-stigma activism, and the fear of getting tested. Launched online in summer 2020, these new comics can also be viewed here.

The exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with writing by comics scholar Margaret Galvan, interdisciplinary artist Alexandro Segade, and comics creator Leonard Rifas.

*Gallery occupancy will be limited at all times during the run of the exhibition, in order to minimize risk of coronavirus.