News

Here's what those rainbow ads you keep seeing on the Tube are for

Posted by
Harvey Day
Published
Here's why you've been seeing those Rainbow ads on the London Underground 3

They’ve been popping up at stations across the capital with their bright, colourful designs and sassy messages, but just what are those rainbow adverts on the London Underground? 

Well, they’re in fact the subject of a very poignant Art on the Underground project memorialising the impact of the AIDS crisis.

Art on the Underground have worked with Studio Voltaire and the estate of Australian artist David McDiarmid to present a selection of the artist’s ‘Rainbow Aphorisms’ series.

David McDiarmid (1952–1995) was an artist, designer and activist, recognised for his prominent artistic works relating to queer identity and history. His works ‘Rainbow Aphorisms’ are a series of posters, produced from 1993 until the artist’s death in 1995 of AIDS–related illnesses. McDiarmid produced these works in response to his own, and his community’s, experience of the AIDS crisis.

Here’s just some of the artwork you can see around the city:

Here's why you've been seeing those Rainbow ads on the London Underground 2

The work in Brixton 

Here's why you've been seeing those Rainbow ads on the London Underground 1

Some of the posters on display in Southwark 

Speaking about his own work before his death, McDiarmid said: “I wanted to express myself and I wanted to respond to what was going on and I wanted to reach a gay male audience. I wanted to express very complex emotions and I didn’t know how to do it … I was in a bit of a dilemma. I thought, well, how can I get across these complex messages. I didn’t think it was simply a matter of saying gay is good.”

Eleanor Pinfield, Head of Art on the Underground, said: “Art on the Underground enriches people’s journeys on the Tube each day with innovative approaches to public art. By partnering with Studio Voltaire on their first public project, we can bring the complex, colourful works of ‘Rainbow Aphorisms’ to a new audience across London, challenging familiar messaging around HIV / AIDS.”

Justine Simons OBE, Deputy Mayor for Culture & Creative Industries, added: “I’m delighted that David McDiarmid’s colourful, poignant and powerful works will be displayed across London’s largest art gallery - the London Underground. McDiarmid was a trailblazing gay activist and the Tube network is the perfect way to showcase his messages about living with HIV/AIDS to a wider audience, particularly in the run up to World Aids Day in December.”

And if you want to find out more about this fascinating project, you can sign up here for a free curator’s walking tour on 10 February with Studio Voltaire.

HIV and AIDS had a devastating impact on the LGBT+ community in the 1980s and 1990s but thanks to more aggressive testing and the development of new drugs like PrEP there has recently been a welcome drop in new HIV cases among men.

(Images: David McDiarmid ‘Rainbow Aphorisms’ by Art on the Underground / Studio Voltaire / This is Clapham)