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Preserving History: UK AIDS Memorial Quilt Now Digitised and Accessible Online

Part of the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt

The UK AIDS Memorial Quilt stands as an invaluable testament to an era shattered by the devastating HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 90s. A poignant mosaic of remembrance, this quilt encapsulates the narratives of numerous individuals who succumbed to the epidemic. However, the quilt's prolonged storage without proper conservation has jeopardised its integrity, posing a threat of irreversible deterioration and potential loss.

Recognising its historical significance, the AIDS Memorial Quilt Partnership, a coalition of seven UK HIV support charities, came together to find a permanent home for the UK Quilt, to conserve it and to ensure it is put on public display as often as possible.

The latest milestone in this preservation effort sees the entire collection of quilts now accessible through Google Arts & Culture, which has digitised the quilt to mark World AIDS Day 2023.

The Quilt is a unique historical document comprising individual narratives intricately woven into its fabric. Crafted as tributes to departed loved ones, each quilt panel embodies personal stories, serving as solace and sanctuary for those commemorated.

The quilts, originating from diverse corners of the UK, symbolise a collective effort. Individual panels, meticulously stitched together, produce a striking patchwork effect.

A remarkable feature of these quilts lies in their extensive scale. With a total of 40 full-size quilts, each measuring an impressive 12ft x 12ft, the magnitude of this commemorative project reflects the depth of loss experienced during that era.

Comprising 42 twelve-foot by twelve-foot panels, each housing up to 8 smaller panels, this monumental undertaking embodies the heartfelt dedication of friends, lovers, and family. Among the lives commemorated within these panels are notable figures such as writer Bruce Chatwin, actors Ian Charleson and Denham Elliot, gay rights activist Mark Ashton, and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

Under the custodianship of the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt Partnership, these precious artefacts find sanctuary at Positive East's premises in East London. Alongside the panels, poignant tributes such as letters, emails, photographs, poems, and memorabilia further illuminate the stories behind the quilts, vividly portraying the lives they represent.

However, poignant anonymity shrouds some of the panels. Reflective of the persistent stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, these anonymous tributes shield the identities of individuals ostracised by society due to the prevailing prejudices. Despite strides made in the last four decades, this stigma endures, highlighting the pressing need for continued awareness and advocacy.

Ultimately, the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt is a powerful reminder of the progress achieved in combatting HIV/AIDS. While medical advancements now enable people living with HV to lead long and healthy lives, the quilt resonates as a poignant call to action, signifying the ongoing battle against stigma and the need for continued advocacy and support.


Mildmay's 2023 Christmas Appeal poster

Please support our Christmas Appeal

Every year, Mildmay Mission Hospital has many patients who are unable to go home for Christmas. Will you help us to provide them with modest but meaningful gifts?




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