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World AIDS Day: BIPOC and Queer Artists Spotlight

In honour of World AIDS Day, Katwamba, LCF Sabbatical Officer from Arts Students' Union, is highlighting and celebrating 10 BIPOC and queer HIV-identifying artists, that have passed and are living.

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A image showing a Red ribbon to highlight World Aids Day with text 'World Aids Day 1st of December 2

In honour of World AIDS Day, Katwamba, LCF Sabbatical Officer from Arts Students' Union, is highlighting and celebrating 10 BIPOC and queer HIV-identifying artists, that have passed and are living.

What is World AIDS Day?

World AIDS Day is a day to commemorate those who have died from the disease and spread awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by HIV infection. It is also to show support for the people living with HIV. The first World AIDS Day was in 1988 with each year having a theme.

This year’s theme is ‘Let Communities Lead’, highlighting the togetherness in working together as a community to end the spread of HIV and raise awareness. Interestingly, 12 New York artists conceived the Red Ribbon as part of Visual Aids (a New York HIV awareness art organisation). They wanted to create a bold, recognised, widely used symbol to mark this important day.

I hope this inspires you to discover and learn new information about the artists!


  1. Darrel Ellis

Darrel Ellis, an African American painter known for his intimate portraits of family and friends, died at the age of 33. Darrel was influenced by his community when creating his portraits and experimental paintings. Darrel Ellis's artwork did not entirely focus on his illness, allowing the viewer to see how even whilst being with an illness, it was a reminder that those still deserved to have belonged.

        2. Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson was an African American trans activist and drag performer who is known for their activism for LGBTQIA+ rights in America. Johnson sadly died at the age of 46. Marsha P Johnson performed with the popular drag theatre company in America and Europe, often adorning dead flowers in their hair with thrifted clothing. Marsha P. Johnson was admired by artists, notably Andy Warhol, who would often photograph her.  Until recently, Marsha P. Johnson had not been well known for their work in erasing black trans life.

        3. Kia LaBeija

Kia LaBeija, aged 33, is an African American queer woman, activist and multidisciplinary artist practising photography and dance. Kia LaBeija’s photography often centres around self-portraiture, taking the form of characters and shooting in different places within their homes. Kia LaBeija is part of Visual AIDS, an organisation that showcased artists who died of AIDS-related illnesses. For LaBeija, she needs to centre black female bodies within AIDS history.

         4. Arthur Russell

Arthur Russell was queer musician specialising in composition and cello that died at the age of 42. Russel was known for bringing new elements to traditional orchestras. He was also known for being in the underground disco scene. Arthur Russel's sounds can be categorised as deep, heavy and spiritual. Russell could be described as a deep thinker and a Buddhist.

         5. Isaia

Isaia was an African-American fashion designer who identified as a gay man; he was known for his sporty, sleek womenswear that was body-conscious. He sadly passed away at the age of 34. Isaia was inspired by black male designer Wili Smith when entering the fashion industry, and whilst he was not formally trained in fashion design, he had a creative passion for his ideas. During his career, Vogue recognised Isaia as an essential designer in American fashion.

         6. Mykki Blanco

Mykki Blanco, aged 37, is an American non-binary multidisciplinary artist and activist living with HIV. They are most well known for their alternative dance music that often has themes around identity, love and relationships and belonging. As an artist, Blanco refuses to be pigeonholed, often hailing a myriad of identities that they express and talk through within their music. 

        7. Chloe Dzubilo

Chloe Dzubilo was a multidisciplinary transgender artist and activist who died at 51. Their visual work can be described as illustrations that often address themes around gender and sexual identity; they are often humoristic and satirist, which were based on both their own and other negative trans experiences. Dzubilo's work often was fighting against trans-misogyny that was prevalent in the late 1980s.

        8. Angel Estrada

Angel Estrada was a queer Spanish fashion designer that briefly rose to prominence in the late 80s in New York. Sadly, passing at the age of 31 due to AIDS complications, Estrada was known for creating luxurious womenswear with bold silhouettes. Estrada had studied at Parsons School of Design, which soon after had hit the catwalk. His designs were featured on the cover of Vogue in November 1986, which was a massive achievement at the time.

         9. Sunil Gupta

Sunil Gupta, aged 70, is a British-Indian gay photographer and activist. Having migrated from Canada, Gupta found photography to document his life that he felt unrepresented as a south-Asian gay male. His photographic work is known for his sensual documentation of queer encounters. Having been diagnosed with HIV in his early adulthood, Gupta has been advocating for HIV awareness throughout his lifetime.

         10. Affrekka Jefferson

Affrekka Jefferson was a black queer female artist who was HIV positive and unfortunately passed away at the age of 52. Johnson studied Fine Arts at the New York Visual of Arts, where she dabbled in various visual art mediums. Jefferson’s visual artwork can be described as a homage to her African ancestry, often including African iconography. In addition, Jefferson also made works which spoke of her HIV+ positive status.

Please note this list is not definitive, as it aims to represent the gap surrounding the lack of representation of BIPOC in the context of remembering artists. You can check out the VisualAIDS website highlighting underrepresented, both past and present HIV+ positive artists here.

Further information and resources about how you can support:

World Aids Day 

Terrence Higgins Trust


Thank you for reading!

Graphic Design: Marina Marbella

Special thanks to Shane Simpkin for their support in organising this commemoration.


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