How Artists And Scientists Collaborated To Make Art About HIV

At an HIV research conference earlier this year, HIV-positive artists and scientists were paired together to create art for an exhibition.

Two men sit in front of a picture of a sculpture shaped like a penis filled with antiretroviral pills
Kane Race (left) and Kairon Liu (right) discussing Untransmittable. Credit: Beau Newham, courtesy of The National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA)

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This past July, the 12th International Conference on HIV Science was held in Brisbane, Australia. But this wasn’t your typical scientific conference. Yes, findings were presented on the latest in HIV research, but it culminated in a museum exhibition.

12 HIV-positive artists were paired with 12 scientists, and each pair collaborated on a piece of art, largely based on the scientists’ research. One of the pieces attracted a bit more attention than the others. 

Kairon Liu, an artist, curator, and photographer, and Kane Race, a professor of gender and cultural studies at the University of Sydney, wanted to create something that commented on the negative effects of global HIV policy and the current stigma of living with the disease. The resulting piece is titled Untransmittable, a transparent penis-shaped sculpture filled with thousands of expired antiretroviral pills.

Universe of Art host D. Peterschmidt sat down with Liu and Race to talk about the piece they made, why they couldn’t take it over the Australian border, and their hopes for future HIV research.

Universe of Art is hosted and produced by D. Peterschmidt, who also wrote the music. Our show art was illustrated by Abelle Hayford. Support for Science Friday’s science and arts coverage comes from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. 

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Meet the Writer

About D. Peterschmidt

D. Peterschmidt is a producer, host of the podcast Universe of Art, and composes music for Science Friday’s podcasts. Their D&D character is a clumsy bard named Chip Chap Chopman.

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