By George Severs (@GeorgeSevers10)
On World AIDS Day, 30 years after its establishment as a global health event to commemorate those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses, today’s calendar post looks at how objects were produced as a tool of this commemoration. Perhaps the best known ‘AIDS object’ is the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. Conceived of in 1985 by San Franciscan activist Cleve Jones, in 1988 the nearly 8,300 quilt panels memorialising individuals who had died of HIV/AIDS, was displayed outside the White House in protest of the government’s slow response to the epidemic.
Inspired by the Names Project, other grassroots AIDS groups began to commemorate their own losses through the production of a quilt. The Catholic AIDS Link (CAL), founded in 1988, began to create their own memorial quilt in the 1990s. Comprised of 15 panels, the CAL quilt commemorates some 22 names.
The panels speak to the personal relationships between commemorator and commemorated, and to the role faith played in shaping it. The inscription of one panel which memorialised Mark, John and Mary, all of whom died in November 1992, and David, who died in November 1990, quoted the Old Testament Book of Micah: ‘This is what Yahweh asks of you, to act justly, to love tenderly, and walk humbly with your God’.
Other panels packed a simpler emotional punch. The top centre panel commemorated a child who had died just one year and five months old. Their teddy bear was attached to the panel. Another, commemorating Anna who had died in May 1990, was accompanied with the inscription ‘Love Mum’.
It is easy to get swept up in the scale of the Names Project Quilt. The smaller quilt projects it inspired, such as the CAL quilt, force us to be mindful of the individuals who are commemorated in this way, the emotional labour involved in creating a panel for a loved one, and the huge spiritual value which such objects possessed.
Image: Photograph by Vincent Manning, Catholics for AIDS Prevention and Support Archive, used with permission from photographer.