Julie Rhoad

    The AIDS Memorial Quilt: Connecting Women

    Posted July 18th, 2012 by

    Cindi Love is the mother of a son with HIV and a sister to a sibling who died of AIDS. She remembers with emotion how challenging it was to see her brother die this way, while living in West Texas, a small, conservative city where people spoke in hushed tones when addressing the formidable disease.  The AIDS Memorial Quilt and making a panel for her brother, says Cindi, has become a powerful tool to help them heal and talk and connect with one another. It has been a compassionate conversation starter as well for others in the community who have taken the bold step forward to learn and understand the meaning of The Quilt. 

    Whether West Texas or Wisconsin, New York or Nebraska, The AIDS Memorial Quilt fosters healing, advances social justice and inspires action in the age of AIDS. Weighing in at 54 tons and consisting of more than 48,000 individual, 3’ x 8’ panels, this massive tapestry, deemed an American Treasure by an act of Congress, measures more than 50 miles long. It is the world’s largest living folk art that requires many hands, many hearts to support its care and upkeep. Many of our nation’s women have had an integral hand in stitching panels individually or collectively through their faith networks,community service groups and personal connections with family and friends. The Quilt has been used to fight prejudice and raise awareness and funding as a means to link hands in the struggle against AIDS – and as an effective catalyst in HIV and AIDS education and prevention.

    Women — mothers, daughters, sisters and grandmothers, aunts and friends – who have lost loved ones to AIDS, continue to be a major driving force in pushing this disease once tabled as taboo into policy makers’ and the public’s daily consciousness.  But as the prevalence of the disease has evolved, so too are women now among the names sewn into Quilt panels themselves.

    This summer, for the first time ever, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival will focus on AIDS, centered around The Quilt and “Creativity and Crisis: Unfolding The AIDS Memorial Quilt,” looking at the power of the arts to spark societal change. Then later in July, panels of The Quilt will be on display on a portion of the National Mall and in 50+ venues throughout the Washington metropolitan area as the international AIDS 2012 conference in DC takes place. It will be held appropriately in July, which is National HIV Awareness Month. For a full list of our activities this summer in Washington, go to Quilt2012.org and for more information on The Quilt – to host a display after this summer, sew a panel to add to it, or to donate to the NAMES Project to help with the upkeep and care of The Quilt, go to AIDSquilt.org.

    Many strong women are among the humanity behind the statistics in this story of AIDS. Every one of the 94,000 names that are sewn into The Quilt is a testament to the fact that life in the age of AIDS is the story of all of us.

    The NAMES Project Foundation will display the quilt on a section of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. from July 21 to 25.

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