Up Against the Wall: Art, Activism, and the AIDS Poster

March 6–June 19, 2022

HIV/AIDS Education Posters from the Atwater Collection at the University of Rochester

Up Against the Wall will present approximately 200 of the most visually arresting and socially meaningful examples from the more than 8,000-strong Atwater Collection in the University’s River Campus Libraries Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation. The posters, spanning from 1982 to the present, show how social, religious, civic, and public health agencies have addressed the controversial, often contested, terrain of the HIV/AIDS pandemic within the public realm. Organizations and creators tailored their messages to audiences, both broad and very specific, and used a wide array of strategies, employing humor, emotion, scare tactics, simple scientific explanations, sexual imagery, and many others to communicate powerfully and effectively. Organized into three sections, Up Against the Wall will explore the “who, what, and where” of the HIV/AIDS crisis as reflected in the posters, with designs from various countries and in a multiplicity of languages.

The AIDS Education Poster Collection, housed in the Department of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation, is one of the world’s largest single collections of visual resources related to the disease.

Thank You to our Sponsors

Thank you to our sponsors

This collaborative exhibition and all related activities are made possible through the vison and generosity of donor, collector, physician, and medical historian Dr. Edward C. Atwater, and his family, whose AIDS Education Posters Collection is part of the River Campus Libraries’ Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation at the University of Rochester.

The exhibition is sponsored by Vicki and Richard Schwartz, the Rochester Area Community Foundation’s Lloyd E. Klos Fund, Friends of the University of Rochester Libraries, DKT International, the Gleason Family Foundation, and Trillium Health. Additional support has been provided by the Family of Dr. Edward C. Atwater, Helen H. Berkeley, Canandaigua National Bank and Trust, the Gallery Council of the Memorial Art Gallery, the Anthony J. Mascioli Trust, Suzanne M. Spencer, and an anonymous donor.

Funding is also provided by the Thomas and Marion Hawks Memorial Fund, the Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Fund, and the Nancy R. Turner Fund for Special Exhibitions.

The exhibition is supported in part by awards from the National Endowment for the Arts made possible by Assemblymember Harry B. Bronson, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services MA-245369-OMS-20. The views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The book that complements the exhibition is made possible by William M. Valenti, M.D.


World AIDS Day ★ Thursday, December 2, 2021 | noon-5 pm
Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility: The past is local, the present is global, the future is shared
World AIDS Day takes place on 1 December each year. It’s an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first-ever global health day. Presented at MAG.

Additional Reading