Thursday, August 9, 2012

AIDS Quilts..Part 1

During the week of July 21-25, the AIDS quilts were on display at the National Mall.  Being lucky enough to live so close to D.C.,  Shelly and I decided to meet up  make a day of visiting the quilts. The last time I had seen the quilts in D.C. was in 2002, where only a portion of the quilts were displayed in front of the White House. 2012 is the last year that ALL the quilts were displayed in one place, the number of panels is just too many to display in one place.  
The Names project, or the AIDS quilts,  was started in 1985 by Cleve Jones, a gay rights activist from San Francisco.  That evening, after the candlelight march to remember those who had died of AIDS, Cleve Jones asked his fellow marchers to write the names of loved ones and friends who had died of AIDS on a card This card was then placed on the San Francisco Federal Building.  The sight of all those cards looking like a patchwork quilt, inspired him to make his first quilt panel, and so the Names project began.

How can I describe the quilts and the emotions I felt when walking around the panels and seeing all those lives lost.  Each quilt is in the shape of a 3ftX6ft rectangle and those rectangles are then sewn together into a larger panel, or12x12 block consisting of about 8 quilts.  The panels were layed out on the ground rather than being hung up like traditional quilts.  The reason is that the quilts are meant to symbolize a panel that is placed over a coffin.  When the large panels are layed out, they are meant to be seen as a sea of coffins and a reminder of those lost to a terrible disease.
As a quilter I was fascinated by the different techniques used to make each quilt, they ranged from the very simple to the more intricate.  A simple quilt with buttons strung together to form a name and another with gold safety pins strung together to not only form a name, but also form the comedy and tragedy masks.  Elaborate techniques such as pieces of clothing cut out to make shapes that were then pieced together into a collage which showed the picture of the deceased, mementos sewn on the quilt, photographs and copies of memorabilia.
As we were walking around the panels, the names of those on the panels were also being read aloud.  I  was moved by hearing all the names, it made their death, but most especially the life they lived real.  Shelly kept thinking about the names that aren't being read aloud, of those who died and don't have anyone to make them a quilt, or those dying in Africa and around the world.
Next post I'll tell you about the woman who has pieced just about every quilt in the Names Project, and how Shelly and I were interviewed by a French professor of American folk art.