Who Will Design London’s First Permanent HIV/AIDS Memorial?

Five artists have been shortlisted for the project, which will be located near the site of the U.K.’s first dedicated AIDS ward

Princess Diana with healthcare workers
Princess Diana opened the first dedicated ward for patients with AIDS and HIV-related diseases at London's Middlesex Hospital in 1987. John Shelley Collection / Avalon / Getty Images

Five artists have been shortlisted to design London’s first permanent HIV/AIDS memorial, which is set to be unveiled in 2026. The monument will be located near the former site of Middlesex Hospital, where Diana, Princess of Wales, opened the United Kingdom’s first dedicated AIDS ward in the mid-1980s.

The charity AIDS Memory U.K. (AMUK) is organizing the project, which is partially funded by a £130,000 (around $165,000) grant from London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan.

“The reason why we have memorials, we have statues, is because they make a difference; they remind people about our history, but also they encourage people to ask questions,” Khan told the magazine Gay Times’ Conor Clark in December. “What happened with this condition? Why was it that there was such a loss of life? What is the role of stigma going to play in relation to people suffering in silence going to receive treatment?”

Princess Diana shakes hands with AIDS patient
Princess Diana was photographed shaking hands with an AIDS patient on April 9, 1987, an act that helped reduce stigma around the disease. Anwar Hussein / WireImage

When Diana opened the AIDS ward in 1987, the stigma surrounding the disease was pervasive. That spring, she was famously photographed shaking hands, ungloved, with a patient, a public rebuke to the false notion that HIV could be transmitted by touch. For this moment alone, Diana has been credited with reducing stigma and shifting public opinion around the disease.

The shortlisted artists are Anya Gallaccio, the Turner Prize nominee known for using organic materials such as fruit and plants; Ryan Gander, a multimedia artist who has worked in sculpture, film, performance and more; Harold Offeh, who highlights forgotten historical narratives through performance, video and photography; Shahpour Pouyan, a ceramicist who draws from his Iranian heritage; and Diana Puntar, who interrogates social systems in her sculptures and immersive installations. All five live or work in London.

A panel of 11 judges—including National AIDS Trust chair Jane Anderson, theater director Neil Bartlett, artist Rana Begum and AMUK founder Ash Kotak—will review each artist’s proposal before announcing a winner this summer, per Artnet’s Jo Lawson-Tancred.

“This group of acclaimed and very inspiring artists, with their diverse practices, each bring a different perspective to the memorial,” says Kotak, as reported by BBC News’ Josh Parry.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic began in the early 1980s, and more than 40 million people have since died, according to UNAIDS, the United Nations agency dedicated to fighting AIDS. Since a peak in 2004, worldwide AIDS-related deaths have been reduced by 69 percent. 

In London, Khan has publicly committed to ending the transmission of HIV within the city by 2030 through a combination of testing, education and prevention in the form of widespread access to PrEP, a medication that reduces the risk of contracting HIV.

“I’m proud that London is leading the way in tackling HIV globally, and we are doing all we can to address the stigma related to the virus,” says Khan, per BBC News. “This permanent memorial will ensure we remember those affected and honor the ongoing fight against HIV and AIDS.”

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