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Remembering the AIDS Quilt

EDITED BY Charles E. Morris
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Remembering the AIDS Quilt
    Book Description:

    A collaborative creation unlike any other, the Names Project Foundation's AIDS Memorial Quilt has played an invaluable role in shattering the silence and stigma that surrounded the epidemic in the first years of its existence. Designed by Cleve Jones, the AIDS Quilt is the largest ongoing community arts project in the world. Since its conception in 1987, the Quilt has transformed the cultural and political responses to AIDS in the U.S. Representative of both marginalized and mainstream peoples, the Quilt contains crucial material and symbolic implications for mourning the dead, and the treatment and prevention of AIDS. However, the project has raised numerous questions concerning memory, activism, identity, ownership, and nationalism, as well as issues of sexuality, race, class, and gender. As thought-provoking as the Quilt itself, this diverse collection of essays by ten prominent rhetorical scholars provides a rich experience of the AIDS Quilt, incorporating a variety of perspectives, critiques, and interpretations.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-229-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Public Health

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. PROLOGUE A Vision of the Quilt
    (pp. xi-xxxv)
    Cleve Jones

    After eight months on Maui I was back in the Castro. I had no job, no money, and was sleeping on a friend’s couch (Jim Foster had taken me in). But I had a plan. I’d written a speech that I hoped would reignite the will to fight. I would give my speech at the candlelight march commemorating the day Harvey Milk and George Moscone had been shot. After that, who knows? I never really worried about career and fortune in those days. I was surviving, and that seemed quite a lot.

    It’s hard to communicate how awful it was...


    • The AIDS Memorial Quilt and Contemporary Culture of Public Commemoration
      (pp. 3-41)
      Carole Blair and Neil Michel

      The AIDS Memorial Quilt marks the lives and deaths of tens of thousands of individuals. It represents the deaths of hundreds of thousands of others it does not name explicitly. It creates spaces for moving rituals to remember the dead. AIDS Quilt displays often have been attended by events and demonstrations that advocate for those who continue to live with HIV/AIDS. It sometimes moves the otherwise uninvolved visitor to tears.¹ The AIDS Quilt executes, in other words, multiple rhetorical feats and gives rise to a great many others—all of which are important in evaluating the legacy of this unusual...

    • The Politics of Loss and Its Remains in Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt
      (pp. 43-66)
      Gust A. Yep

      With panels corresponding to the size of a body, coffin, or a grave, the AIDS Memorial Quilt evokes “for many an image of war dead strewn across a now quiet battlefield.”¹ With the Quilt operating as a surrogate for the bodies of people who have died of AIDS, viewers, whether they are in a museum, church, school, city hall, or the Washington Mall, are invited to witness and experience the atrocity of the disease and the enormity of the human loss of the AIDS epidemic. First displayed in Washington, D.C., in October 1987 with 1,920 panels, and growing to more...


    • Q.U.I.L.T.: A Patchwork of Reflections
      (pp. 69-99)
      Kevin Michael DeLuca, Christine Harold and Kenneth Rufo

      The AIDS Memorial Quilt has been displayed in its entirety only five times in its twenty-three-year history (all in Washington, D.C.). The Quilt was first displayed in 1987, a pivotal year in AIDS awareness. Ronald Reagan gave his first major (and, for many Americans, woefully belated) speech addressing the crisis, calling it “public enemy number one.”San Francisco Chroniclejournalist Randy Shilts publishedAnd the Band Played On, his hugely influential chronicle of the spread of HIV and AIDS and the U.S. government’s seeming indifference to what many considered a “gay plague.” That same year, the direct action group ACT...

    • Collage/Montage as Critical Practice, or How to “Quilt”/Read Postmodern Text(ile)s
      (pp. 101-131)
      Brian L. Ott, Eric Aoki and Greg Diskinson

      The cultural politics of the 1980s were especially divisive and contentious. The political and social conservatism of the Reagan administration, with its politics of exclusion and ethos of conformity and moral absolutism, ignited deep-seated fears surrounding difference, fanned the flames of prejudice and bigotry, and produced a toxic atmosphere of intolerance. Meanwhile, progressive movements aimed at multiculturalism, aided by the forces of globalization and the development of information technologies, ushered in an era of unprecedented cultural difference and plurality. It was the height of the U.S. “culture wars,” and its battles were vigorously being waged in the arenas of art,...

    • A Stitch in Time: Public Emotionality and the Repertoire of Citizenship
      (pp. 133-159)
      Jeffrey A. Bennett

      The narratives resonating from the AIDS Memorial Quilt speak to its power as a cultural text. The snapshots of lives lost to government neglect and incurable disease spark feelings of rage and sentimentality, generating both alienation and bonds of stranger-relationality.¹ If AIDS represents a “crisis of signification,” the incomplete narratives of the Quilt are an embodiment of that calamity.² It gains its emotive force not from a unified message, but from a series of incommensurable tensions: it is both utopian and apocalyptic; therapeutic and traumatic; speaks to the universal limits of the body and to individual demise; transcends time but...

    • From San Francisco to Atlanta and Back Again: Ideologies of Mobility in the AIDS Quilt’s Search for a Homeland
      (pp. 161-186)
      Daniel C. Brouwer

      Having been approved to teach an undergraduate special topics course on “Rhetorics of HIV/AIDS” during the Spring 2006 semester, I programmed readings about the AIDS Quilt for a unit on ritual. Midway through the semester, I invited students to design, as one of two options for a formal, graded assignment, a panel for someone they knew who had died from AIDS-related complications and defend why they chose to memorialize the person in that particular way. To craft this assignment, I visited the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt Web site for the first time in many years. Although my main task...


    • Rhetorics of Loss and Living: Adding New Panels to the AIDS Quilt as an Act of Eulogy
      (pp. 189-227)
      Bryant Keith Alexander

      My partner and I both love quilts. They adorn every room of our house—draped over chairs, mounded on racks, displayed as slipcovers and wall hangings, and, most important, layered on beds for warmth. And even though we now live at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains in sunny Southern California, we both grew up in families, homes, class designations, and regions of the country where quilts had a significant meaning, a necessity. Long before the recent kitsch of nostalgia or the emergence of using quilts as decorating centerpieces—for families in West Virginia and Southwest Louisiana, quilts brought...

    • Repeated Remembrance: Commemorating the AIDS Quilt and Resuscitating the Mourned Subject
      (pp. 229-259)
      Erin J. Rand

      The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2007. Marking this occasion is undoubtedly bittersweet, perhaps inspirational or humbling, but also rather troubling. Commemorating the Quilt recognizes the many thousands of people who have been lost to AIDS and testifies to the power of individual efforts to come together as a community in times of staggering loss and sadness. The trouble of the anniversary of the Quilt, however, emerges from the fact that the Quilt itself is already a project of remembering and memorializing. What does it mean, then, to commemorate a memorial? If those included in...

    • How to Have History in an Epidemic
      (pp. 261-297)
      Kyra Pearson

      In 2006 the California senate approved a bill that would require all public schools to adopt social studies textbooks that portray the sexual diversity of society and avoid material that “reflects adversely” upon a group based on sexual orientation. By proposing this legislation, the bill’s author, state Senator Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), the first out lesbian member of the legislature, sought to enhance the quality of education for all students and the safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students in particular.¹ Recognizing the “contributions” of LGBT individuals and communities in U.S. history, as the bill espoused, would extend...

    • Experiencing the Quilt
      (pp. 299-308)
      Charles E. Morris III

      As I close this volume I am taken back to my first encounter with the AIDS Quilt in Washington, D.C., in 1992. I was a young, closeted graduate student who along with my friend and peer Rick Pucci joined Carole Blair at the display, where Carole was conducting research for her project on U.S. commemorative culture. I couldn’t have predicted the profound influence that personally seeing and touching those panels, the rush of manifold affective response, interactions with my friends and strangers, the bird’s-eye view, inscribing the signature panel, the ACT UP flyer announcing a political funeral—all constitutive of...

    • Contributors
      (pp. 309-313)