– By Paula Booker (Programme Developer, Auckland)
This Monday night saw a well attended launch for our new Auckland exhibition, Thirty, based on the exhibition curated by Gareth Watkins for Wellington. Our small Auckland team was happily joined by a great turn out from organisations with an interest in raising awareness of HIV AIDS, a number of HIV positive individuals, plus educators and advocates, friends, and many who shared sad personal stories of love and loss through HIV AIDS were in attendance.
The Auckland manifestation of Thirty includes an expanded segment on women and HIV, which complements and contrasts with the original exhibition materials. Over recent months I have been working with organisations that have produced material directly addressing women’s experiences of HIV AIDS to acquisition this content into the collection, where I am glad it will be preserved for future researchers. This interesting experience of working with content producers and advocates highlighted to me that many producers of moving images are still unaware of the archive’s role in preserving their work for future research and viewing opportunities!
The new content to be included in the Auckland iteration of Thirty could be generalised into the following two categories: contemporary and women-focussed. I felt it necessary to include new material as these new items address a gap in the archive’s collection in this area, which in itself reflects broader social and media biases.
The early epidemic of HIV infection and AIDS in New Zealand was highly concentrated among men who had sex with men. They are still the group most at risk of contracting HIV in New Zealand. Accordingly, the majority of high proﬁle education and health campaigns have been targeted to this group. I think is acutely important that these individuals are reached by prevention and awareness campaigns.
New Zealand HIV statistics show an increasing proportion of new infections are between heterosexual individuals. Advocacy groups have worked to raise the public profile of HIV among all sectors of society for many years, as evidenced by the historical awareness campaigns featured in the exhibition. But stereotypes are tenacious, and the commonly held belief that HIV only spreads in communities of men who have sex, or needle users, or sex workers must be dispelled. Other HIV positive men, women and children must also receive timely testing, diagnoses and support to live healthy lives with HIV.
HIV positive individuals in this latter group, which does not have the “risk factors” for HIV are can suffer great discrimination, as a result of their invisibility to a society that has a particular idea of HIV AIDS. Health professionals also need to increase their knowledge of HIV in order to diagnose and support HIV positive people. The experience of my family tells me that HIV positive people outside the “at risk groups” can be invisible to the health system, who are often only looking for signs of HIV among those belong to the “at risk” groups. Yet in 2014, even one singular event of unprotected sex puts any individual, be they straight or gay, at risk of contracting HIV.
I am thankful to Gareth Watkins for his amazing research and for initiating this exhibition, and I’m proud to present it here. I hope that this Thirty will encourage some viewers to consider the disease differently, to understand the burden of stigma and ignorance on those living with HIV and their families, and to then further educate themselves to avoid perpetuating discrimination.
The Thirty exhibition runs until 27 February 2015.