Earlier this year, FCB Health New York kindly offered two posters as a gift to the V&A collection, highlighting a campaign in the USA to overturn a long-standing ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood. Reading ‘Now, more than ever, it’s time for science, not stigma’, men who have sex with men have been barred from giving blood on the presumption of high risk sexual activity and STIs (sexually transmitted infections). The Blood Equality initiative was launched six years ago by New York-based organisations, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, along with FCB Health, and Blood Mirror. They have embarked upon various creative campaigns to shine a light on this issue, including these two posters.
The illustrator Vince Low, who describes himself as a scribble artist, made these two fantastic designs, produced both digitally and on paper for physical distribution and display. Resembling veins and arteries, the visceral, spidery lines result in lively portraits of Lukus Estok and Ryan Koerber. These two men bravely became the (masked) faces of the campaign to stand up to the injustice of having been rejected from donating blood plasma as gay men.
In spring 2020, the U.S government urged American citizens who had overcome Covid-19 to donate their blood plasma as it could be used to help others in hospital build antibodies to fight the disease. As the pandemic unfolded, the outright ban on gay and bisexual men was reduced to proving a three-month period of celibacy. Even having observed this so-called ‘deferral period’, some were still being rejected. The campaign continues and vows not to stop until everyone has an equal opportunity to donate blood. You can find out more about the campaign here.
These activist histories are settling into their new home at the V&A in good company alongside several thousand protest posters accessible through the Prints and Drawings Study Room and online at Explore the Collections. This includes some 300 posters covering AIDS activism and government messaging since the early 1980s including work by David Wojnarowicz, Annie Leibovitz, and Jürgen Baldiga. Next month’s blog will delve into this material in further detail to commemorate World AIDS Day on 1st December. For more information on wider pandemic collecting at the museum, check out the other blog pages here.