The narrative around HIV and AIDS has dramatically changed since the first recorded case in the UK back in June 1981. HIV+ lives have become more visible, more understood and seen across popular culture with the help of media, such as hit TV shows “Pose” and “It’s a Sin” (the latter of which I was honoured to star in as the only openly HIV+ member of the cast).
Launching today, Stitched into Memory: The UK AIDS Memorial Quilt Collection is a collaboration between the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt Partnership and Google Arts & Culture. This is the first time the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt has been displayed online for the world to see, alongside oral histories and archive materials that celebrate the people remembered on the quilts. More than 40 quilts have been photographed using Google Arts & Culture’s Art Camera, a custom made camera for digitising artworks in ultra high resolution. It is especially key for this collection to be digitised in this level of resolution so you can explore the minute details of each quilt panel.
The UK AIDS Memorial Quilts tell the story of HIV and AIDS in the UK from the 1980s and 1990s. They were made by members of the public in memory of loved ones, friends and family and are now held in the collection of the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt Partnership — a partnership of seven HIV charities from across the UK. Each quilt panel celebrates a person, multiple people or an organisation, all weaving together to form a beautiful and moving visual history.
The panels vary in design, from vibrant hues to subtle shades and from detailed messages to lines of poetry. You’ll find some recognisable names like legendary ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, Queen singer Freddie Mercury and the first openly gay Olympian John Curry. Other names are anonymised or have the surname removed to avoid the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS. Each quilt has its own deep dive story on the site, that includes relevant archive materials such as letters and photographs, as well as newly recorded oral histories and readings.
The benefit of a digital platform is that people across the country and the world are now able to experience and appreciate this part of social history. They can remember that, yes, there was a lot of pain and loss associated with the epidemic — but there was also love, community, connection and vibrancy. Through these exceptional pieces of art, you can experience viscerally all of these uniquely precious stories that so beautifully interweave to express our collective history.
Terry Higgins Memorial Quilt 2023, Terrence Higgins Trust
Despite the leaps taken in medical care and prevention, the stigma around HIV and AIDS is still present, and I hope public facing collaborations like this will help change this for the better.
Explore the collection and stories of UK AIDS Memorial Quilts in the new online space Stitched Into Memory on Google Arts & Culture.
Quilt ‘In Memory of All the Lost Futures’, UK AIDS Quilt Memorial Collection