AIDS activists

Researcher in film studies shows new side of AIDS activism

The film expert Dagmar Brunow has carried out studies on the representation of diversity in the global AIDS activism in order to problematise the picture of the activism as white and western. As its starting point, his research uses 700 hours of documentary film from Karolinska Institutet’s Face of AIDS archives. The films portray people who live with the disease, activists, doctors and health professionals – a journey around the world through the diversity of AIDS activism, which still today is important to visualise.

"I carry out research on how we can establish different interpretations of collections of digitalised material, how we can see the films in a new context, from a current perspective. This is one way of bringing something back on the agenda and making our cultural heritage available for new generations while also increasing the diversity in the presentation", says Brunow.

The archive is based on director Staffan Hildebrand's documentary films, which he started he started creating in the 1980s. Hildebrand started in Sweden and then continued to document AIDS activism throughout the world. The archives demonstrate diversity among activists concerning age, gender, sexuality and ethnicity. This representation stands in contrast with the picture in media where a white and western activism dominated; a notion that 'we must help the people of Africa fight AIDS'. "To visualize the diversity of AIDS activism is critical for how we view AIDS today", says Brunow.

"It's important partly from a representational perspective, partly from a public health perspective. What voices are heard? How do we protect ourselves today? AIDS does not feel like a current topic for the younger generation because people today are not dying from it the same way they were 30 years ago", explains Brunow.

To some extent, the diversity surprises Brunow. From a logical point of view, it was not very surprising because AIDS is a global disease, though more commonly occurring in developing countries, but it took a lot of courage to openly be an activist in some countries. In the material, Brunow discovered a struggle to improve conditions for others – despite the fact that people were themselves dying from the disease.

Today, there is antiretroviral therapy to treat HIV infection, but the disease is still lethal. The AIDS issue is a topic of current relevance and there is big interest for it historically, which was demonstrated trough, for instance, the screen version of Jonas Gardell's novel series "Torka aldrig tårar utan handskar" in 2012.

"There are many different ideas and constellations. The idea is to carry out research on the ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) archives in New York. This study is part of the research we carry out within film studies at Linnaeus University. Together with subjects within health and care we are working to establish a knowledge environment within medical humanities, using our collaboration on the Face of AIDS archives as the starting point", Brunow concludes.


Dagmar Brunow, +46470-76 78 41,