Tres Amigos: Mexico City, Frida Kahlo, and HIV Science

Nonconventional has been a theme running through this year's International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science. Sessions focus on emerging research and groundbreaking HIV treatment options, but there’s also a reminder that people living with HIV are often stigmatized by their communities and the healthcare system.
Tres Amigos: Mexico City, Frida Kahlo, and HIV Science

Liz Millar with two IAS Conference volunteers.

By Liz Millar, MPH, MEASURE Evaluation

Mexico City, Mexico—The Museo de Frida Kahlo (Frida Kahlo Museum) is a popular tourist destination here in Mexico City, and it’s easy to see why. The Casa Azul, or blue house, stands out as a unique and beautiful place to see artwork and learn about various aspects of Frida Kahlo’s life. Frida’s paintings, especially her self-portraits, are well-known in popular culture, as are her many identities as a Mexican woman who embraced traditional culture and dress, as a differently abled woman, as a political activist, and so much more. Frida often chose to defy conventional culture, including gender norms and a binary concept of sexuality. Images of Frida permeate Mexico City, and it’s clear she means a great deal to a large number of people.

Frida has also been visible here at the International AIDS Society (IAS) Conference on HIV Science (July 21–24, 2019). More than once I’ve walked by a person with Frida-esque eyebrows drawn on, their hair done in Frida’s signature braided style and sporting her traditional Mexican patterns and style of dresses. The 6,000+ participants at IAS include scientists and researchers, government officials, pharmaceutical companies, community organizations, plus the local volunteers who make the conference run. A few of the IAS volunteers have emulated Frida in their dress, helping to keep a local, nonconventional icon in the peripheral perspective of the IAS proceedings.

Nonconventional has been a theme running through IAS. Certainly, sessions focus on emerging research and groundbreaking HIV treatment options, but there’s also been a reminder that people living with HIV are often stigmatized by their communities and the healthcare system. Key populations, such as adolescent girls and young women, men who have sex with men, and transgender men and women, already face stigma in their day-to-day lives and are at increased risk for HIV. This is an intrinsic aspect of the HIV epidemic, but sometimes easy to forget in the context of biomedical research.