The UK’s AIDS Memorial Quilt has been digitised and made available online for the first time to ensure those lost to the HIV/AIDS epidemic are never forgotten.
The quilt is made up of 42 large pieces that are each comprised of eight panels commemorating someone who died of an AIDS-related illness.
Each part focuses on the person’s life, passions and interests, having been lovingly constructed by the people they were closest to.
Now, it can be viewed digitally on Google Arts and Culture, an online platform of images and videos of artworks and cultural artefacts.
The panels can all be viewed in ultra high resolution, with the option of listening to new audio recordings from volunteers and people who made the work also available.
“Nobody will ever understand their bravery”
Frankie O’Reilly, who made a quilt for his partner Georgie shortly after he died of AIDS-related illnesses in October 1992, said he “wanted to do something productive rather than sitting in the house staring at walls.”
“Making the quilt not only helped me to process my grief, it’s allowed me to still share my life with Georgie and keep his name and story alive,” he continued.
“I put a photo of him as a four-year-old on the panel to show he was someone’s son at a time when people living with HIV and gay men were so stigmatised.”
The two had met in primary school in Derry, Northern Ireland, before becoming best friends and ultimately moving to London together.
It was the early 1980s when they first saw headlines in the Capital Gay about a strange virus from America that very little was known about.
After each being diagnosed in 1985, a doctor told them: “The two of you should go home, put your affairs in order and enjoy whatever time you have left.”
George’s memory has now been immortalised thanks to the AIDS Memorial Quilt’s increased accessibility.
“He has family in Ireland who will now be able to look at his quilt whenever they want,” Frankie said.
“It’s a huge comfort to know that long after I’ve gone, Georgie will be remembered.
“I’m very proud of him, all the friends I’ve lost and the people that survived. Nobody will ever understand their bravery.”
Gill Brigg used the quilt as a way of honouring her childhood friend Vaughan Michael Williams, who died in 1990.
She joined seven friends to make a panel for him, which she said was a way of “remembering and grieving” her dear friend.
“I can see now, all these years on, that he’s part of this gigantic jigsaw of people,” she explained.
“For the last month of his life, Vaughan chose not to use his real name. When he was hospitalised he used a pseudonym Michael Williams. So we felt making the quilt using his name writ large – Vaughan Michael Williams – was a way of giving him his name back. Giving his voice back, his agency, his personality.”
The UK’s first named person to die from AIDS-related illnesses was recently honoured with a memorial quilt
Terry Higgins, the first named person to die of an AIDS-related illness in the UK, was recently honoured with his own memorial quilt to mark 40 years since his death.
This has also been digitised on Google Arts and Culture and can be viewed alongside panels from the 1980s and ‘90s.
Richard Angell, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “We’re grateful to Google Arts and Culture for working with us to ensure those lost in the darkest days of the HIV epidemic are never forgotten, including our own Terry Higgins.
“The Terry Higgins Memorial Quilt has surpassed all of our expectations and I notice something new every time I see it.
“It is a fittingly stunning tribute to Terry as a friend, lover, Welshman, gay man, activist and to his incredible legacy through our charity Terrence Higgins Trust.
“I can’t wait for people across the world to see it and get to know Terry.”
Those wishing to see the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt in person will be able to do so on 3 December in London at HIV charity Positive East from 10am-4pm.
Pictures of it are available below and you can also view it digitally here.
For more information about HIV, AIDS and sexual health more generally, resources are available on the Terrence Higgins Trust website.