Tessa Boffin Research: ACT-UP – AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power

UCA Archives are pleased to have hosted volunteers from Photography at UCA. Josie and Fran talk about their research on the Tessa Boffin Archive

They are looking at publicity material and reviews surrounding the AIDS exhibition Ecstatic Antibodies

ACT-UP originated in America in 1987, the community built from people suffering from HIV and AIDS, also people who were related to people that had been killed by the disease, and even people unrelated to the disease but supportive of the movement.

Our first encounter with ACT-UP was from a letter Tessa Boffin had received from ACT-UP Manchester, handwritten and signed by ‘Andy’, with leaflets of information and some articles of their movements, what stood out for us was the P.S at the end of the letter, reading; ‘This letter is the truth, it is not a rather pathetic attempt at telling a load of fibs!!’ What one of the articles stated was that the group ACT-UP Manchester ‘did not exist when the exhibition was at York’, in America the group were at their peak, protesting various causes for their campaign in our opinion this exhibition and the struggles to show it made the group want to spread globally.

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The main reason ACT-UP got  involved with the exhibition was not because it had anything to do with politics but due to the fact that it wanted to raise peoples awareness of HIV and AIDS, ACT-UP state that ‘we are not that concerned with it (Section 28*). We are not a Lesbian and Gay organization, we are concerned with AIDS and HIV’. This reason was one of the main things that sparked the protests as people just thought the exhibition was sexualised toward the Lesbian and Gay community.

Another thing to add would be that ACT-UP Manchester included with the letter was their own ‘Action News’ in which they discuss their interview with Mr. Royston Footer**. This was when members of ACT-UP convinced him that they were reporters and to get to him to get an explanation of why he had cancelled the exhibition in Salford City’s Viewpoint Gallery, when asked why he Footer said “I decide what is appropriate for a local authority gallery”. When the ‘journalists’ would not let this go Footer realised that he was being recorded and he made an attempt to snatch the recorder from one of the activists and dragged him across the desk “if you print any of this I’ll…” ACT-UP used this for demonstration of the aggression thrown upon them when trying to display calmly.

After this interview the tape was given to Scene Out, which then allowed for the story to make it to Manchester Evening News, when this was seen Councilor Thomas, deputy chair of Saldford Council Arts and Leisure committee, declared that he was unaware the exhibition had been cancelled and then arranged to see Mr. Footer to discuss the situation.

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All in all, one thing that we noticed about ACT-UP was that the group didn’t want the protesting to go out of hand and get into situations that became political; their demonstrations seemed to rock up a fuss everywhere.

 If anybody is wanting to read up about a more in depth history of ACT-UP, we suggest you watching the film that was made; United in Anger: A History of ACT UP the film gives insight into some of the reasons people joined the community and showed the demonstrations they held. Here is a link to watch the film on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrAzU79PBVM

* Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988: The amendment stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.

** Mr Royston Footer was part of Salford City’s Council.

Thank you for reading our post.

Josie Evans and Frances Jackson – Second Year Photography

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