In 1991, a group of artists came together to create a meaningful symbol at the height of the AIDS crisis. These artists were a part of the Visual AIDS Artists' Caucus and what they created was titled, "The Ribbon Project," better know today, simply as the Red Ribbon.
Through a series of meetings in April and May of 1991, and using the yellow ribbons as inspiration, the Red Ribbon was decided upon as an icon to show support and compassion for those with AIDS and their caregivers. The color red was chosen for its "connection to blood and the idea of passion -- not only anger, but love, like a valentine." The ribbon format was selected in part because it was easy to recreate and wear. The original instructions were to "cut the red ribbon in 6" length, then fold at the top into an inverted 'V" shape. Use a safety pin to attach to clothing." Red ribbons were often created during "ribbon bees," gatherings of friends and supporters fashioning ribbons and pins to be passed out at local and high-profile events.
Visual AIDS partnered with Broadway Cares and Equity Fights AIDS in June 1991 to adorn guests and presenters at the 45th annual Tony Awards. The Tony Awards were chosen as a way to communicate the extent that this epidemic was affecting members of their own community -- artists and performers. One of the first presenters to wear the iconic symbol was Jeremy Irons. The red ribbon quickly became renowned as an international symbol of AIDS awareness, and has been worn at the Oscars, Emmys and Grammys; celebrities, musicians, athletes, artists and politicians have worn the ribbon on talk shows, TV programs, movies, political conventions, sporting events and music videos.
The ribbon has never been copyrighted in the United States, to allow it to be worn and used widely as a symbol in the fight against AIDS. In creating the Ribbon Project, the Visual AIDS Artists Caucus believed it was important to:
The Red Ribbon was the first "awareness" ribbon, later followed by many other colors and causes. The Red Ribbon has been used by many AIDS service organizations for its universal recognition and has been written about in several publications and articles. In 1993 a 29¢ red ribbon stamp was issued by the United States Post Office. The Red Ribbon was honored by the CFDA in 1992 for its design and iconic power. In 1997, the Red Ribbon was included in the exhibition "Design for Life" at Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and is also included in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art and featured in the exhibition "Humble Masterpieces."
How a red ribbon conquered the world; Tom Geoghegan BBC News, Washington DC, June 2, 2011
Why a red ribbon means AIDS, BBC News, November 7, 2003
Ribbon Culture: Charity, Compassion, and Public Awareness; Sarah E. H. Moore, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008
The most powerful icon of the '90s?; Rick Fleury, Brandweek, Nov 30, 1992
The Year of the Ribbon, New York Times, May 3, 1992