First diagnosed in 1981, HIV/AIDS is the major infectious epidemic of the late 20th century. Community and government organisations have educated on the disease and its transmission.
The idea for the first AIDS Quilt was conceived in the United States of America in San Francisco in 1987. The Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt was launched on December 1, 1988 (World AIDS Day) in Sydney.
Directly after its launch, quilt blocks (panels) from across the country were appearing in large numbers, reflecting the peaking of the AIDS crisis in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Although the quilt evoked a sense of both loss and fear, its aim was to act as a tool of remembrance as individual stories were being told through every stitch. Philip Diment, last convenor of the Quilt Project in Sydney said the quilt “…captured the personality of the individuals. It included clothing, personal effects, music and even travel tickets – it comes with stories.” *
As Libby Woodhams, second convenor of the Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt explains why there was a need for the Quilt.
“I scattered ashes in the harbour. It was only later I fully appreciated that need for a sense of place. Cemeteries you can go back to… so there is a record of that person existing. Whereas with a lot of people with AIDS that’s not there. There’s a whole generation of people lost unless we tell their stories.”**
In what has been a major project and commitment the Museum has been acquiring the 97 AIDS Quilts for the last three years. Working with the Sydney Quilt project and a band of dedicated volunteers each quilt (which can be made with up to 10 panels, each panel commemorating a life lost to HIV/AIDS) has been documented.
Now is the next step in the process of finding out more about the person memorialised and putting the information into the public gaze.
Nicky Balmer, the registrar coordinating the Quilt project noted “Working on the AIDS Memorial Quilt project has been a fulfilling and interesting project for the documentation team. ‘We are always moved by each panel and want to know about the person memorialised, about the friends and family who made the panels. Unfortunately we often have very little information about these people and we would love to hear from panel makers so that we can add more information to the records. ”
(If you are interested in providing information about the people remembered or about making the panels, please email ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’)
One of the Museums Aids Quilts is on display in the 80s are back exhibition and the Museum is also commemorating World AIDS day with the Indigenous community displaying their AIDS Quilts on the day.
There are currently over 21,000 people living with HIV AIDS in Australia. In NSW there are over 300 new cases of HIV infection diagnosed each year. With 9700 living with HIV/AIDS in NSW. For more information on World AIDS Day go to www.worldaidsdaynsw.org
*: Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt documents
A stitch in time, Andrew Georgiou, Time Out Sydney, November 28 – December 4, 2007, p 50
HIV/AIDS – prevention is everybody’s business – worldaidsday.org.au
** Interview with Libby Woodham, AIDS Quilt Convenors, 2010 Powerhouse Museum