An artist that is relevant to the AIDS movement and who left behind a legacy to the art world is Niki de Saint Phalle. Phalle was an HIV/AIDS activist through the AIDS crisis and her work took the form of sculpture, painting and film. During the times of the AIDS crisis, many people Phalle knew were affected, mainly her gay friends. With the amount of hate and discrimination that was surging, Phalle felt like she had to take part in the fight against AIDS. People were frightened about the disease, and misinformed, some believing AIDS could be caught from a toilet seat or through a handshake. With the lack of sources and information out there about the disease led to Phalle writing and illustrating a book from 1983-1986 called AIDS: You Can’t Catch It Holding Hands, working with Swiss immunologist and AIDS specialist Prof.

Silvio Barandun.  Phalle wrote and illustrated the book in mind of the misconceptions that people believed and the stigma that people with HIV went through, providing very much needed information which was needed at the time. The book was published in 1987 in support of AIDS prevention with many translated copies available.  Phalle used colourful illustrations and childlike handwriting to deliver the information, she liked to send letters filled with drawings and symbols to loved ones and started the book off with a letter to her son. People were scared and uninformed about the disease, the book made information on the disease approachable by humanising it through a joyous tone and mocking the stigma with humour, ultimately educating people and promoting safe sex. Controversy gets people talking about things and opens the discussion, one could argue Niki de Saint Phalle’s book was controversial because for the time it was published, it openly talked about sex, which at the time was taboo to discuss, it was a subject people were afraid to approach.

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Pope John II, an influential figure who served as Pope of the Catholic church from 1978-2005 described condoms as immoral and advised people not to use them, his comments added further to the culture of sexual repression and endangered lives. One of Phalle’s pages titled as “USE A RUBBER” stated “It may Not be your cup of tea but it will save lives”, tackled the condom issue and sent out a straightforward point about the transmission of HIV through unprotected sex, persuading the viewer to use a condom. Whilst the book is explicit, it does dispel lots of myths breaking stigma and provides lifesaving information and it targets its audience in a reachable way.

When the book was first published, profits raised were donated to AIDES, the first French corporation fighting the AIDS crisis. Since its publishing, the book is integrated into the French department of Health and has been disrupted across schools. The foundation Phalle left behind, the Niki Charitable Art Foundation is planning on publishing as many copies of the book as possible.


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