The Quilt, or the Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt Project to give it its full name, was founded in 1988. Inspired by an American model, it allows people who have lost loved ones, family or friends, to design and produce a memorial panel in fabric.

Each panel is unique, commemorating the individuality of the deceased with words and images which evoke particular interests or habits. Names and poems and slogans and brief life histories, photographs and Christmas trees and rainbow flags and theatre tickets all mark aspects of the lives of those who have died of an AIDS-related illness.

The purposes of the Quilt are many – to commemorate the dead, to assist in grieving, to encourage support for those living with HIV. But there are clear political aims, too: to bring a human quality to the statistics of loss and to promote a compassionate dialogue, to challenge discriminatory views, to encourage preventative behaviour. The Quilt is both a personal document and a public one.

Its Unfolding – an elaborate and highly ritualised process – and its display in a myriad of locations and situations bring its messages to thousands of people, many of whom have no direct experience of loss. Its very existence is a remarkable tribute to the political nature of AIDS. Deaths in war and industrial accidents have been commemorated but what other disease has elicited such a project? And the Quilt is sustained by volunteer labour in all states and territories.

Brought to you by the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives

Posted in History Bites.