Art and HIV: it’s time to open up the conversation

Número de Serie uses art and design to spark the ever-crucial conversations surrounding HIV and sexual health. Now they’ve released a non-profit T-shirt – and it’s gorgeous.

Número de Serie has one mission: to spark conversations about HIV and sexual health through art and design.

The non-profit, founded by Mexico City-born Roberto Tovar in 2018, is an online platform selling off-the-wall merchandise – anyone for a woollen Prince Harry-printed blanket or tight red Latino briefs? Sales promote the global fight against HIV through the funding of talks and workshops, with a few parties thrown in for good measure.

It was Tovar’s own HIV+ diagnosis that prompted him to set up the organisation. I started looking into detail in how information is delivered and to whom,” says Tovar. I saw a need to de-alienate sexual health and spread information.”

While sexual health discussions have become less taboo since the prejudice of the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, there is still a fight for awareness and destigmatisation. Sexual health education in British schools is finally being made mandatory from next year – a sobering thought given the tools, facilities and information the UK has had access to up until this point. All of which goes to demonstrate the still-vital importance of organisations like Numero de Serie.

The goal is to continue the conversation on HIV and sexual health,” states Tovar. Yes, thanks to medical advances, HIV is no longer a death sentence and in major cities, HIV infections have reduced drastically in some sectors. But the work doesn’t finish there”.

The fight against HIV, AIDS and sexual health ignorance have long been a thread in contemporary art, with the work of Keith Haring being the most obvious example. Safe Sex (1988) is one of the pop maestro’s many pieces that championed the desperate need for education on sexual health during the AIDS crises. Living and working in New York, Haring campaigned tirelessly until he died of AIDS-related complications in 1990.

As Tovar notes, art had a positive impact when it was needed the most. Keith Haring, David McDiarmid, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, General Idea and the Mexican collective Taller de Documentacion Visual – all are examples of how art and activism worked to give visibility to what was happening at the time.”

Número de Serie has duly tapped into design by releasing a new line of T‑shirts, called The Gerard Kay Series, promoted in conjunction with World Aids Day (1st December) – that were born of a trip to London’s Metropolitan Archives. Searching through the extensive documents, images, maps, films and books about London, Tovar came across a mysterious man named Gerard Kay with no image, and little-to-no information. We basically dived into different boxes, and one of them had only this person’s memorabilia,” Tovar reveals. The items came from all sorts of gay meeting spots, members clubs, saunas, cruise clubs, cinemas and other spaces where men gather to meet other men. And this was during a time where tension and hate towards the LGBTQ+ community were still very common and unpenalised.”

The designs took shape: royal blue, orange or sky blue long-sleeves, embossed with scans of tickets and flyers used to admit gay men to meeting spots in London and Copenhagen mainly. Images of the T‑shirts were then placed onto Google Maps backgrounds according to locations of queer spaces in the 1970s.

Sexy, stylish and provocative, for sure. But the message and goal are serious: to increase funds and awareness.

The sales help fund other activities within Numero de Serie,” explains Tovar. Last year, for example, we ran an HIV pride flag-making workshop with [UK equality and diversity charity] Metro Charity. And we are finalising our programme for 2020 which includes screenings, talks and maybe a couple of parties. Stay tuned,” adds Tovar with an audible smile.

For Numero de Serie’s founder, The Gerard Kay project was a chance to reflect on the immense progress LGBTQ+ people have made to reach this point. So, do the right thing: go online, buy the T‑shirt, wear it with sexy pride – and take a moment to consider the fight for freedom made by so many before us.

Or, to put it in Tovar’s inimitable conclusion: They sucked cock for us to be here sucking cock. I want to think Gerard did.”

The Gerard Kay collection is available to purchase on Número de Series’ website.

More like this

The best of THE FACE. Straight to your inbox. 

00:00 / 00:00