The Instagram feed where friends and family post tributes to loved ones who died of Aids-related illnesses has become an extraordinary compendium of lost lives
The Aids memorial on Instagram is unlike anything else on social media – there is nothing trifling about it. The first face I look at is of a New Zealand airline host called Barry Hayden – an ordinary man, extraordinary to the people who loved him, the sort of handsome that looks made to last. There is a lightness about the picture, as if there were no end in sight. The man raises a glass of wine to propose a toast. But it is we who must toast him instead. As the Aids memorial’s profile page explains, this is a place for “stories of love, loss and remembrance”. Scrolling through the feed is like looking at an unending family photograph album in which people are related by one thing: Aids, the disease that has led to the deaths of 35 million people worldwide. There are men, women, a handful of children. Not strength in numbers, only mortal weakness. So many gone – seen here in their carefree prime. The faces are mainly young, often beautiful. The collective impact is devastating.
Have we arrived at a turning point – a refocusing on Aids? People seem to be feeling free – or freer – to remember. Artistically, the subject has come back not to haunt but to enlighten us: we have seen Marianne Elliot’s shattering revival of Tony Kushner’s Aids epic, Angels in America; novelists Hanya Yanagihara (New York Times journalist and author of best-selling Aids saga, A Little Life) and Chloe Benjamin (The Immortalists) have, in diverse ways, taken Aids as a way of meditating on mortality and Russell T Davies, author of Channel 4’s Aids drama The Boys, which will go into production next year, has recently said he was motivated partly by the wish to ensure that the era of epidemic, with all its losses and friendships, be not forgotten. And just this week, the poet Kayo Chingonyi gave a breathtaking talk, Blood, on Radio 3, about his parents who died of Aids in Zambia and said it was only now that he felt ready to broach the subject and “knock shame on the head”.