The AIDS Memorial Quilt is an enormous quilt made as a memorial to and celebration of the lives of people who have died of AIDS-related causes. Weighing an estimated 54 tons, it is the largest piece of community folk art in the world.
History and structure
The Quilt is maintained and displayed by The NAMES Project Foundation
and was started in 1987
in San Francisco
by Cleve Jones
, Mike Smith and a group of volunteers. At that time many people who died of AIDS-related causes did not receive funerals, due to both the social stigma of AIDS felt by surviving family members and the outright refusal by many funeral homes and cemeteries to handle the deceased's remains. Lacking a memorial service or grave site, The Quilt was often the only opportunity survivors had to remember and celebrate their loved ones' lives. The Quilt was last displayed in full on The Mall
in Washington, D.C.
, in 1996
In observance of National HIV-Testing Day in June 2004 the 1,000 newest blocks were displayed by the Foundation on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C. The largest display of The Quilt since it was last displayed in its entirety in October 1996, the 1,000 blocks displayed consisted of every panel submitted at or after the 1996 display.
The NAMES Project Foundation is now headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, and has 21 chapters in the United States and more than 40 affiliate organizations world-wide. The AIDS Memorial Quilt itself is also warehoused in Atlanta when not being displayed, and continues to grow, currently consisting of 5,748 blocks (more than 44,000 individual memorial panels) and weighing an estimated 54 tons.
Typically very personalized, individual quilt panels are created by the loved ones of someone who has died of AIDS-related causes. Each 3' by 6' panel is the size of a human grave
and the panels are donated to The NAMES Project Foundation where they are grouped with other similar panels and assembled into 12' by 12' sections, called "blocks". These blocks are what are seen at local displays of The Quilt, and typically contain 8 individual panels.
Techniques used in making panels include patchwork, applique, embroidery, fabric painting, collage, spray paint and needlepoint.
Items and materials included in the panels:
- Fabrics, e.g. lace, suede, leather, mink, taffeta, also Bubble Wrap and other kinds of plastic and even metal.
- Decorative items like pearls, quartz crystals, rhinestones, sequins, feathers, buttons.
- Clothing, e.g. jeans, T-shirts, gloves, boots, hats, uniforms, jackets, flip-flops.
- Items of a personal nature, such as human hair, cremation ashes, wedding rings, merit badges and other awards, car keys.
- Unusual items, e.g. stuffed animals, records, jockstraps, condoms and bowling balls.
Recognition and influence
- The NAMES Project was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
- The Quilt is the subject of the 1989 Peabody Award- and Academy Award-winning documentary film Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt, produced by Dolly Parton and Sandy Gallin, and narrated by Dustin Hoffman.
- Songwriter Tom Brown wrote the song "Jonathan Wesley Oliver, Jr." about the Quilt in 1988.
- In 1990 John Corigliano's Symphony No. 1, inspired by The AIDS Memorial Quilt, premiered in New York.
- Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, a song cycle developed in the late 1980s with music by Janet Hood and lyrics and additional text by Bill Russell, features songs and monologues inspired by The Quilt.
- In 1992 The AIDS Quilt Songbook, a collection of new musical works about the devastation of AIDS compiled by Lyric baritone William Parker who solicited them from composers with whom he had previously worked.
- Washington D.C.'s Different Drummers (DCDD) and the Lesbian and Gay Chorus of Washington (LGCW) commissioned Quilt Panels from composer Robert Maggio in 2001.
- The NAMES Project was the basis for the musical Quilt, A Musical Celebration
The AIDS Memorial Quilt was the first of its kind as a continually growing monument created piecemeal by thousands of individuals, and today it constitutes the largest piece of community folk art in the world. It was seemingly inevitable that The Quilt be followed by a variety of memorials and awareness projects, both AIDS-related and otherwise, that have been inspired by and modeled after The AIDS Memorial Quilt and its caretaker The NAMES Project Foundation. Examples of these include:
- The K.I.A. Memorial Quilt, created to remember those U.S. Armed Forces members killed in the Iraq War.
- Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America a number of Quilt projects were created memorializing the victims.
- Many other medical conditions also now have quilts, for example:
- There are also quilts for sub-sects of the AIDS Pandemic, including:
- "Virtual" AIDS Memorial Quilts have also been created: