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New York Museum Chronicles Early Days of AIDS in the City

June 5, 2013

The New-York Historical Society will run a retrospective exhibition, "AIDS in New York: The First Five Years," from June 7 through September 15 at the society's Upper West Side museum. It documents the early years of the epidemic and its devastating course across the city. Many of the first cases were detected in 1981. The exhibition will display cultural artifacts, including posters, photographs, clinicians' notes, pamphlets, letters, and diary entries, plus audio, visual, and print media. The New York Public Library, New York University, and the National Archive of LGBT History supplied the materials from their archives for this exhibit.

The exhibit depicts the 1969 Stonewall revolution, which resulted in a sense of gay men's sexual liberation, and the ensuing 1970s decade, which became an era of sexual freedom that stopped in the 1980s when AIDS first was identified. It includes the socially marginalized "four Hs" -- homosexuals, hemophiliacs, heroin users, and Haitians -- through images of their Kaposi's sarcoma lesions, in images of public protests calling for medical research and fighting against the crippling stigma toward people with AIDS, and in a thank you note to friends and family who cared for a dying man.

The presentation portrays the scientific community's response to the growing epidemic, which also was eventually deemed a threat to those in the "general population," through a Kaposi's sarcoma conference transcript from July 1982. The transcript identified when scientists officially suggested that the term AIDS codified what had heretofore been referred to as a "gay-related immunodeficiency disease," or GRID. The exhibition includes a video of the April 1984 press conference during which President Reagan's Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler announced the discovery of HIV, the approaching release of an HIV test, and the expectation that a vaccine would enter human trials within two years.

A photography show titled "Children with AIDS: 1990-2000," accompanies the exhibition, and features 30 black-and-white photographs by Claire Yaffa, illuminating the stories of the youngest affected by the disease. For more information on the exhibition, visit

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Excerpted from:
06.04.2013; Benjamin Ryan

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