Spring 2003

Sex, death and grinning condoms

Poster Collection 06: Visual Strategies against AIDS

Essay by Nigel Barley. Concept and editing: Bettina Richter,
Lars Müller Publishers, €23

This is a fascinating collection of HIV / AIDS prevention posters from around the globe, collected by Thomas Hill and purchased for the Zürich Poster Collection in 1998. Despite the universality of the themes of sex and the fear of death, there are diverse communication strategies at work.

A simple Kenyan poster says ‘AIDS is not witchcraft / AIDS is real’, while a painting by Aboriginal artist Bronwyn Bancroft creates beautiful patterns from condoms, syringes and counselling circles. A Japanese poster tells a travelling businessman: ‘Have a nice trip! But be careful with AIDS.’ With the exception of Germany and Austria, explicit sexual imagery is rare.

Four posters – from Russia, Bangladesh, France and Guyana – use a grinning, anthropomorphised condom, while US posters resort to broad humour: ‘One cover-up Washington can live with.’

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