The UK AIDS Memorial Quilt is an irreplaceable piece of social history. It tells the stories of many of those lost in the early days of the HIV AIDS epidemic in the 80s and 90s. Inspired by the NAMES Project quilt that was conceived by American activist Cleve Jones in 1985, the quilt is made up of forty-eight 12' x 12' panels. Each design commemorates someone who died of AIDS and has been lovingly made by their friends, lovers or family. In total, approximately 384 people from all around the UK are represented through the panels.
The quilt has been in storage for several years now and without proper conservation is in danger of deteriorating and being lost. Despite it significance, it had not been on display outside of London for fifteen years before the North Somerset LGBT+ Forum approached the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt Conversation Partnership to hold an exhibition. Our trustee Dave Frost worked tirelessly to ensure the event could go ahead, carefully planning logistics and practicalities around the transportation and display of the quilt. After many months of planning, the Exhibition opened at the Winter Gardens, Weston-super-Mare on Monday 2nd May 2022, becoming the first time the quilt had ever been on display in the South West.
The Exhibition was overwhelmingly successful, with close to a thousand attendees visiting from all over the district and beyond. Visitors were unanimously moved by the power of the panels and the stories they told, and some of their comments can be read below.
The North Somerset LGBT+ Forum would like to thank every person who visited the Exhibition and also the following organisations for their support in running this event: Ashley Leahy Estate Agents, Bridging the Gap Together!, Brigstowe, Community Connect, Curo Group, Eddystone Trust, Positive East, RENS, SARI, Weston Media Works, Weston Town Centre Partnership and the Winter Gardens. An additional thank you to Simon Parkin at BBC Radio Somerset for taking time to interview our chair Steve and promoting the event to a wider audience.
Feedback from the Exhibition...
"I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to experience this exhibition. I didn't anticipate the feeling of overwhelming sadness as I walked round. It was emotion that was beyond myself and so powerful. I appreciate what you have done for honouring all these dear souls"
"I feel that this is a very good way to show people what it was really like and not to take things for grated and make people realise that this is still very much an issue."
"The moment I saw the scale of the exhibition - representing all those who have died, not only those named on the panels - I was moved to tears. It brought it all back... I was a student in London in the 1980s. I worked in sexual health and had to give positive [HIV] test results. I remember every one, all those people who died too young... I grieve them still and I am touched to see them remembered with love in this beautiful exhibition."
"A beautiful experience, reminds us of the many people that we lost. I even found a quilt of someone I used to know."
"Every single quilt had the most beautiful aura - as if I got to know something about that person, family, friend or relative involved. I've left today incredibly moved."
"I'm so glad I visited... It made me reflect on how lucky I am and how much prejudice is still around. My heart is breaking for all those lost souls who are celebrated here and those names that aren't allowed to be shown - that broke my heart. Thank you for sharing all this love and raising awareness."