By Collin Kelley

Thirty years ago, AIDS was first recognized by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since then, an estimated 30 million worldwide have died in the pandemic. There are an estimated 33 million living with HIV/AIDS and 2.7 million new infections each year, according to the World Health Organization.

For the past 25 years, public health agencies, activists and grassroots organizations around the world have joined with artists to spread the word that infection from HIV/AIDS is still deadly and avoidable. The Museum of Design Atlanta’s new exhibition will showcase just how arresting some of those messages can be.

Graphic Intervention: 25 Years of International AIDS Awareness Posters, 1985-2010, which opens Oct. 1, draws from an extensive archive of international public health announcements.  From Papua New Guinea to Denmark, the posters demonstrate the different approaches used for discussion of a socially complex subject.

Some of the posters are not for the faint of heart: a woman with a safety pin through her lips (offering visual context to the original AIDS message “silence = death”), a silhouette of a crow sitting atop an erect penis, a tangle of naked bodies in the shape of a skull. Others feature images of children with HIV/AIDS asking to be hugged and cartoon-style tips for the use of condoms and prevention.

With more than 150 posters on display, the exhibition is sure to “provoke conversation,” said MODA Associate Director Laura Flusche.

“The different approaches taken by the artists and organizations is wildly fascinating,” Flusche said, noting the posters will be grouped by continent to show how regions and cultures used various tactics.

Flusche said the exhibition was important to Atlanta historically because of the anniversary of the official AIDS classification and the years of activism and education that have followed. She also said the exhibition shows how graphic design started to play a role in HIV/AIDS awareness.

“It shows how graphic design became a powerful tool to combat this large issue,” Flusche said.

Graphic Intervention was curated and organized by Elizabeth Resnick, professor and chair of graphic design at the Massachusetts College of Art & Design along with Javier Cortes of Korn Design. Flusche said MODA had worked with Resnick before on the Graphic Imperative exhibition in 2009, which featured posters that explored human rights, environmental issues, literacy.

“When we saw what Elizabeth and Javier had pulled together for Graphic Intervention, we absolutely had to have it at MODA,” Flusche said.

MODA has partnered with The NAMES Project, which is based in Atlanta, to display panels from The AIDS Memorial Quilt as a concurrent exhibition. The handmade panels will be rotated each month of the exhibition and will feature panels made for Atlantans who lost their lives to AIDS.

“We felt it was important to have panels of the quilt here, because it doesn’t get exhibited very often and this is an opportunity for those to see a small part of it,” Flusche said.

A third concurrent exhibition will be The Opulent Object in Wood, Metal, and Fiber: Richard Mafong, Mike Harrison and Jon Riis. The Atlanta artists explore myths, beliefs, and ideals of past cultures and examine issues of identity, life, and the human condition.

Every Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m., MODA will host special Drink & Design events in conjunction with the exhibitions, including a collaboration with the Atlanta Queer Literary Festival spearheaded by local designer and activist, C. Cleo Creech. He has organized an evening of poets on Oct. 20 who have written work in response to posters and is also working with the poster artists and poets to create an anthology.

On Dec. 1, which is World AIDS Day, MODA will be open for a 24-hour event featuring entertainment, education, food and drink and a special cabaret performance featuring music from Gershwin to Gaga.

An opening reception is planned for Oct. 2 at the Woodruff Arts Center (the MODA gallery is just across the street at 1315 Peachtree), featuring comments by the curators and a tour of the show. For tickets to the reception and more information, visit



Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.