The AIDS Memorial on Instagram since 15 April 2016
3400 names
‘What Is Remembered Lives’: How The AIDS Memorial Instagram Commemorates Crisis In A Digital Age

HISKIND was fortunate enough to sit down for a conversation with Stuart, the force behind the AIDS Memorial Instagram, the page doing the vital work of memorialising the countless victims of the crisis.

    “This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all, and the dead will be commemorated and will struggle on with the living, and we are not going away. We won’t die secret deaths anymore…” — Tony Kushner, ‘Angels In America, Part Two: Perestroika’

Each Instagram post poignantly illuminates their rich and varied histories — their dreams, talents, ambitions, the countless lives they impacted, and the loved ones they left behind.

First off, why did you start The AIDS Memorial Instagram, and what has been the driving force behind it?
I wanted to document these incredible stories that I had read about for many years. Not enough people talk about the history of AIDS, the deaths, and the impact on those left behind. So many people have passed away and have been forgotten. There are varying reasons why. Some reason I get. Others are just excuses. Who really wants to revisit the pain by raking up the past having lived it? AIDS was a taboo subject matter and sadly still is. It has always struck me how many accounts that relate to AIDS don’t actually remember the fallen in some form or if they do they’re celebrity driven. What they do in terms of fundraising is incredible. Yes there is a place for celebrities at parties in fancy frocks “raising awareness” but I feel there is a disconnect. I want to see the face of AIDS, those who perished, disowned, forgotten to be remembered. History doesn’t record itself and I feel a sense of duty to make that happen in some way. The account it just as important as a reminder to remember those who have passed but to also those left behind.

Can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
I get asked this a lot. My name is Stuart and I live in Scotland. I don’t think it’s particularly relevant to know who I am. The account is not about me. I think that’s probably a Scottish trait. We don’t like to make a show. Im not comfortable with attention. It’s also interesting to find how people interact with me without knowing who I actually I am. I have been criticised for this. I have been told that not showing my face causes some to be skeptical, cautious or even reluctant to submit a post. Why? I’m not trying to sell you 100% Natural Activated Charcoal Face Masks or Teeth Whitening Kits. But anyway, Instagram tends to be an illusion of sorts. I’m more real than some of the slactivists that you will find on Instagram. So yes, there will be a long wait to find a selfie of me posing pigeon toed with a teapot arm. However never say never…

What was it like to live through the height of the epidemic and how did this impact your choice to run this project?
I was a kid in the 1980’s. I was raised a Catholic. I didn’t know much about sex, let alone gay sex. I remember a relative who worked in an AIDS ward warning my cousins about unsafe sex. I found this confusing and embarrassing. Then I remember adverts on TV commissioned by the government which were designed to scare that crap out you — and they did. I remember how the gays were vilified even more. I felt doomed and along with Catholic guilt and AIDS made it even more difficult for me to come out of the closet. When I did come out, I still did not want to know about AIDS. I switched off. I wanted to be detached from it. I was scared that it would happen to me. I’d change the conversation when AIDS cropped up. I turned the page when I saw an obituary. Switched TV channels. It was too depressing. I was young. No-one was going to burst my bubble. This account has helped me understand the subject of AIDS more than I could ever have imagined.

Are you affiliated to any bigger AIDS memorial projects or organisations?
Im not affiliated to any bigger memorial project. Except to say that I am a huge supporter of Bobby Heller, John Gile, and John D’Amico, who are involved in creating ‘The AIDS Monument‘, a fine art structure being built in West Hollywood Park which seeks to honour and memorialise the impact of AIDS in the United States. You can support their cause by following them on Instagram or by visiting STORIES: The AIDS Monument | West Hollywood, CA

One of your hashtags is #WhatIsRememberedLives — what does this mean to you in the context of the memorial?
So many of the stories I have received tell of those who succumbed to AIDS being scared that they would be forgotten. This make me so sad. Everyone leaves behind a legacy after they die. Leaving behind a legacy is important even if you have died of AIDS. “What is Remembered Lives” is just a perfect caption. It evokes the comfort in knowing that once we are gone we will not be erased from the memories of others. Every time I post, the memories or legacy will be remembered far and wide and in turn hopefully influence the lives of others.

What’s the general level of submissions and what’s the process of submitting a story?
There isn’t a day that goes by when there isn’t a story to share. What is featured so far on The AIDS Memorial is just the tip of an iceberg. I don’t set limits on posts meaning that I will feature a loved one over and over again. Instagram limits each post to about 400 characters and sometimes I have to edit, which I hate to do as I never want to take anything away from these tributes. I can be emailed at, the maximum word count 400 words, minimum of 1 photo and maximum of 10. You don’t need to be a wordsmith either. Just few lines or words will suffice…Its really that simple.

Are there any submissions that have really stayed with you?
I usually say I cant pick one. I mean that. However I want to point out this post. Totally broke my heart. He died recently. The posts speak for themselves:

Do you think that LGTBQ Communities and younger generations in particular are sufficiently active and devoted in their attempts to remember the loss of life or are we too complacent?
Of course not. Who am I to judge. I did that too. I am trying to make up for that. It’s important that the younger generation realise that the homophobia they face today is linked with AIDS, and the gay panic faced by our forefathers. However AIDS is not a focus for them. It doesn’t fit with selfie induced instagay love-is-love narrative. Who wants to hear grandfather’s war stories? But everything we gays have gave gained today is built on that older generation who as they were dying of AIDS, acted up to demand fair treatment from a hostile society. I now have a blog on Poz Magazine, thanks to Trenton Straube, where I want to focus on these particular issues. I interviewed Jack Mackenroth for the first feature. If you’re newly diagnosed with HIV your will find his words truly inspiring.

How should our queer legacy be handed down?
Through The AIDS Memorial I have come across so many great people who are preserving our history with their work. You only have to check out recent novels by Tom Eubanks – ‘Ghosts of St Vincents‘, Eddie Casson – ‘Farm Story’ or JC Burke – ‘The Things We Promise’. Also I really admire and am inspired by what Nelson Santos and Esther McGowan do in preserving the legacy of AIDS at Visual AIDS (also on Instagram). Mike Balaban’s Instagram and his website, Capturing Rainbows, are fantastic resources too. JD Doyle has curated one of the best LGBT archives on the internet.

Photos © Instagram accessed by hiskind

23 September 2017
Otamere Guobadia, unknown location