As part of the ongoing Gay Games activities, the Sydney Convention Centre is displaying the International AIDS Memorial Quilt this week. I went to see it today. Where I come from, quilting commemorates happy events: births, marriages, birthdays. I was curious to see how it could be used to memorialize a death. I’ve never known anyone with AIDS (though one of my best friends in college went through a scare and had to get tested), so I didn’t expect it to have that much impact on me. Within five minutes I was choking back tears though. It’s impossible not to. It’s not that the quilts are sad; in fact, most of them are cheerful celebrations of people’s lives. It’s just the sheer number of them, and knowing that each panel (and there had to have been over 1000 that I saw) was put together by friends, families, and lovers trying to come to grips with a life cut short. As I walked along, I marveled at how many of the tributes were for white thirtysomething men. I’ve heard gay men lament that an entire generation has been lost, but I didn’t really understand what that meant. And yet they didn’t all fit the stereotype – there were women and old people and young people and even little kids. It was just heartbreaking stuff.
I liked seeing the different ways people chose to commemorate their loved ones. Some just had a name and a date, while others actually attached items that were important to the person (teddy bears, jean jackets, even a CD). The volunteer assured me that I could take pictures, so I snapped a few of some of the panels that stopped me in my tracks. You just wouldn’t believe the creativity and work and love people have poured into this project. (The last one is for an eight-year-old boy named Troy. The pictures around the border were drawn by his second-grade classmates.)