Indigenous Artwork Gives Visual Identity to HIV Science Conference

When the International AIDS Society commissioned a local artist for its conference logo, it did more than honor the Indigenous population of host city Brisbane. It helped raise awareness of that community’s challenges with HIV. 

Author: Curt Wagner       

IAS logo with art

The colorful artwork appeared in IAS conference logos, on the website, in emails, videos, and on site in signage and presentation slides.

At the start of the 12th International AIDS Society (IAS) Conference on HIV Science last July at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, conference organizers acknowledged the Yuggera and the Turrbal people as the traditional custodians of Meanjin, or Brisbane, Australia. But organizers began honoring the Indigenous population well before the conference started, by making their traditional art central to the event’s branding.

The biennial conference — which brings together scientists, clinicians, politicians, and activists to share and learn about advances in HIV research that move science into policy and practice — aims to have an impact on the country where each is hosted, Sharon Lewin, president of the IAS executive board, said in a video case study.

To that end, IAS wanted to create a visual identity for the event that would evoke the contributions and experiences of the First Nations community, according to an IAS spokesperson. So organizers reached out to their local partners at the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM), who tapped Leah Cummins, a Mayi-kulan artist from northwestern Queensland, to create a piece of art for the logo.

By the time the more than 5,000 attendees gathered in Brisbane and online, the colorful artwork, titled “Kurrpara Mirndingunyas” or “Three Paths” — appearing on the conference website, in emails, videos, and on site in signage and presentation slides — was embedded in their minds and indelibly linked to the event. As Cummins explained on IAS’ website, her piece tells the story of “the coming together of many people from many places to converge on Meeanjin/Brisbane… to bring ideas and ways of thinking as a holistic approach to healing from modern and traditional medicine.”

Three Paths

The three main circles in the art that branded IAS 2023 signify different parts of the conference, according to artist Leah Cummins.

  • The top circle represents modern medicine.
  • The lower circle is a nod to the traditional knowledge of the First Nations people and holistic healing.
  • The center circle is “where everyone is meeting,” she wrote, and the message stick represents the knowledge to be shared at the conference and in the future.

Read her full description of “Three Paths.”

The fact that HIV infections in First Nations people are a challenge around the world was not only highlighted in the logo wallpaper but was woven into the conference program — including in a plenary session by an infectious diseases epidemiologist and leader in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research, and another session focusing on the experiences of Indigenous and First Nations communities and how to empower them.

The event attracted the attention of the media, helping to raise awareness of how local and regional communities are impacted by HIV — part of the conference’s legacy, according to IAS. Which circles back to the footsteps throughout Cummins’ artwork, representing “the steps we take together,” she wrote, “and what we leave behind as a legacy of a better future for people living with HIV.”

Ripple Effect

Workshops, pre-meetings, forums, art exhibits, and theater works were held by external organizations and individuals around IAS 2023, as part of the IAS Accepted Affiliated Independent Events program. To qualify, the proposed events had to address HIV and AIDS and/or issues faced by people living with and affected by HIV.

Events that IAS accepted were published on the conference website and promoted on IAS 2023 social channels, but the society was not responsible for the organization or final content of those events.

One of the accepted events, held over two days at the Sofitel Brisbane Central, addressed the population organizers sought to highlight from the beginning stages of planning IAS 2023: “Indigenous Peoples Conference on HIV and Hepatitis Health Equity.”

Curt Wagner is digital editor at Convene.

Become a Member

Get premium access to provocative executive-level education, face-to-face networking and business intelligence.