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Spurlock Museum exhibiting ‘Sewn in Memory: AIDS Quilt Panels from Central Illinois’

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A new exhibit, Sewn in Memory: AIDS Quilt Panels from Central Illinois opened at the Spurlock Museum of World Cultures on Nov. 2.

The exhibit features quilt panels originally made in the 1980s and early 1990s for the AIDS Memorial Quilt, in Washington, DC. Each of the panels commemorates a person who died of AIDS, or of an AIDS-related ailment. The panels were created mostly by friends and family of the deceased, but sometimes panels were quilted by strangers moved to commemorate and build awareness about the toll of the AIDS pandemic. This is the first showing of the panels since 1993, when they were displayed in the Illini Union at the University of Illinois.

“We are honored to host this exhibition, and we join our collaborators in remembering the lives of these special people our community lost too soon,” said Spurlock Museum Director Elizabeth Sutton. “Now, almost 30 years after the panels were originally displayed, we are again living through a pandemic that has produced stigma and highlighted inequities. By displaying these panels, we hope to ignite new discussions about health, fear, and hope.”

Sewn in Memory is a community-curated show created with the Greater Community AIDS Project of East Central Illinois (GCAP), who holds the panels and assisted in exhibit research and creation; History Harvest, a course at UIUC, which seeks to gather historical stories and documents from local communities; and Illinois Public Media (WILL), which is working on documentary films about the panels with UIUC Journalism students.

“Although we live in an age when HIV is more easily managed and preventative medications are available, many of the people represented by these quilts were infected prior to knowing what the modes of transmission were,” said Mike Benner, executive director of GCAP. “It is in this spirit that we remember and pay honor to those that did not have the options we have today. We acknowledge, too, that these quilt panels represent only a small portion of those who have been struck down by HIV/AIDS in our community over the years.”

The AIDS Memorial Quilt is a living memorial to a generation lost to AIDS. Today, it comprises nearly 50,000 panels dedicated to 105,000 individuals who lost their lives to AIDS. The idea for the quilt was conceived in 1985 by San Francisco gay rights activist Cleve Jones and other activists in his circle who wanted to document the lives of friends they feared history would neglect. Their project, called the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, was born.

For educational resources and an online exhibit of the entire quilt, visit www.aidsmemorial.org

Sewn in Memory: AIDS Quilt Panels from Central Illinois runs from Nov. 2, 2021 to July 10, 2022.

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