40 years of HIV: Before the lifeline

Björn Börnsson who died of AIDS aged 35. Photo: Einar Sebastian

As the world marks the 40th anniversary of the HIV/AIDS pandemic the photographer Einar Sebastian honours the memory of a childhood-friend, who died of AIDS, with an exhibition in a photo gallery in Reykjavík.

The starting point of the exhibition “Images of 2 Lives” is 2 self-portraits of the author, Einar Sebastian and his deceased childhood friend, Björn Björnsson, who died of AIDS in 1995. Björnsson was 35 years of age when he passed away. His death was only a few weeks before the drug for AIDS came on the market. This meant that many of Björn’s friends got unexpected lifeline and are still alive.

Auto-portrait. Photo Einar Sebastian.

The artist took self-portraits at Björn’s request in 1994, almost a year before he died, and in the picture, he interprets himself as he saw himself. The artist then took a self-portrait a few months after Björn’s death, an image he makes up of himself. His idea was that they could possibly show together in the future, the artist here and Björn on the other side.

“I believe that now when the world is under attack of a new virus which is  invading all of humanity on earth, this personal work has a place in contemporary art,”  Einar Sebastian told the UNRIC website.

He says the pieces are chapters in the life of two persons. They then form a whole together in an arrangement where the idea is similar to a book. The turning points and chapters changes are like in the person’s life and are connected to the author’s ideas about death as a start rather the end.

Photo : Einar Sebastian
Photo: Einar Sebastian

40th anniversary 

5 June 2021 marks the official 40th anniversary of the HIV/Aids pandemic. On this day 1981 the US Center for Disease Control published a report on what later became known as the AIDS epidemic.

This week the United Nations General Assembly has a High-Level Meeting on AIDS, which is expected to commit to achieving a new set of targets for 2025 to end AIDS by 2030.

A new report from UNAIDS shows that the number of people on HIV-treatment has more than tripled since 2010. AIDS-related deaths have fallen by 43% since 2010, to 690 000 in 2020 in large part due to the roll-out of antiretroviral therapy. Progress in reducing new HIV infections has also been made, but has been markedly slower—a 30% reduction since 2010, with 1.5 million people newly infected with the virus in 2020 compared to 2.1 million in 2010.