HistoryThe quilts were created as part of the Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt Project, which was founded in September 1988 by Andrew Carter OAM and Richard Johnson in Sydney. It was formally launched on World AIDS Day, 1 December 1988 by Ms Ita Buttrose. The founding 35 memorial panels were displayed that day in Sydney with visiting panels from the American Names Project.
Australian traveller Andrew Carter saw the American Quilt during its 1988 US National Tour, and upon his return home he was inspired to found the Australian Quilt with Richard Johnson. Andrew Carter was later awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in recognition of this work. The Australian Quilt remains the largest outside the USA. Local groups of the Quilt now exist in States and Territories across Australia.
In 2007 the Quilt Project Sydney, which became the custodian of the Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt in 2000 offered the Quilt to the Powerhouse Museum for acquisition into the collection. A lengthy collaborative process ensued, in order to ensure that both the families of those commemorated and the makers of the quilts were in agreement with this proposal. At the same time, photography and documentation of the quilts, together with purpose-designed storage were carried out.
See the quilts here: https://collection.maas.museum/search?q=aids%20memorial%20quilt
DescriptionThe Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt is an evocative record of those who were lost to HIV, many of them in their 20s and 30s. The visual diversity of the panels is marked, capturing as they do the character and individuality of the person who died. In the 1980s and 1990s, at the onset of AIDS and in the following decade, societal attitudes were often homophobic. The Quilt records memories of those vibrant young people who faced their death in times of f ignorance, often with no help, no friends (many had died already), family denial and discrimination. Some panels are anonymous, while many are now supported by documentation such as written descriptions by the maker, photographs and eulogies. As a result, the AIDS Quilt tells us a great deal about social change and changing attitudes to safe sex, gay culture and death in the late twentieth century in western societies.
The quilts are important “so there is a record of that person existing, whereas with a lot of people with AIDS, that (record) is not there. There’s a whole generation of people - unless we tell their stories, they are not there.” (interview with Libby Woodhams, Sydney Quilt Project Convenor 2010). In most western societies, mourning is a fairly private and restrained affair in which depths of emotion are kept out of the public eye. Given the prejudices surrounding the AIDS epidemic, one can understand how difficult it is for those who are mourning their AIDS victims to express their grief fully and openly. The AIDS Quilt is remarkable because it combined an opportunity to share in the mourning process with a celebration of the life of the deceased.
First diagnosed in 1981, HIV&AIDS is the major infectious epidemic of the late 20th century. The first Australian death from AIDS was recorded in Melbourne in 1983. Subsequently, public programs undertaken by community organisations and government departments in Australia have educated people about the disease and its transmission. The Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt Project, then comprising 35 panels, was formally launched in Sydney on 1 December 1988 (World AIDS Day), by Ita Buttrose, Chairperson of the National Advisory Committee on AIDS (NACAIDS). While the Quilt began as a memorial, it has become one of the nation’s most valuable resources for promoting a compassionate and educational dialogue about AIDS within Australian communities. Its non-threatening nature and artistic and creative approach enables accessibility to the content and allows people from all walks of life to learn about the AIDS epidemic from its human side.