World AIDS Day 1990: Action in Leeds

Gill remembers a demo from her activist days with ACT UP Leeds, which didn't quite go to plan.

Duration 01:40


Animation by Philippa Croft Bayliss, created as part of her Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at Leeds Arts University. Find Pippa on Instagram as @pumpkin_pips.



So what we decided to do, and we did take things very seriously and we were very well-informed, I think, about the actions we did. There is a bit of a funny story to this though… So what we decided to do for World AIDS Day that year was to just make a bit of a splash in City Square, and we wanted to put a banner up in City Square, and then we also wanted to sort of, yeah, create this, I don't know how you'd describe it really, I'll go ahead and describe what we did and that might describe it easier. So yeah, we were gonna throw a banner over the Black Prince statue, which is the huge statue in City Square, and then what we were going to do – we were going to wrap some cling film around the nymph statues, or the statues of naked women that circle City Square and the lamps in City Square.

And why we were going to wrap them in cling film was alluding to this lack of information for women, and we were alluding to dental dams. Now dental dams are small squares of latex that can be used as a protective barrier during oral sex for example, and we just thought that people ought to know more about those and not be ashamed of using them and be able to get ahold of those as well because it was quite hard to get hold of dental dams. And so, by wrapping the statues in cling film, we were sort of making an illusion to that. And also there's all these naked women around City Square and, you know, just point that out. Anyway, the funny bit of the story is that we'd, unlike us, this is really unlike us, we hadn't sort of done as much preparation as we might. I think we all thought we knew the statues in City Square quite well, but actually when we got there on this icy morning, I think it was a Saturday morning, World AIDS Day then. When we arrived we saw that the Black Prince was much, much bigger than we'd thought. We didn't have a ladder with us, I think we'd have needed a twenty foot ladder to get our banner over it. So we sort of had to hang our banner, sort of from the plinth over the bottom, and make the best of it.

And then even the nymphs themselves, were much higher than we'd thought, much further apart, we'd have needed miles of cling film to try and get around them all. We did do a couple, we did cling film a couple and we'd done our press release and sent that out. And I'm pleased to say we still got our message out there, and we still got coverage in the press. But it was quite funny that we had this idea that we'd be flinging this banner over the statue and completely encircling City Square in cling film and it didn't quite work out that way.

So, while we were always very serious, and had a serious message, I think we also had a bit of fun and were able to laugh at ourselves as well. And I think, that's one of the things, as I said at the beginning, we were really united in our anger about what was happening to people who were directly affected, people who were living with HIV and AIDS. But what was happening to everybody and what that was doing, and what that meant was that, you know, people who were living with HIV and AIDS were at that time being told ‘your life is over’ and the bit of life that you have, people are going to make it miserable for you because really, you know, you shouldn't exist. So we came together because we were angry and wanting to do something about it.