An evening with The Quilt: The History of the SA AIDS Quilt

 

On a chilly evening, on Thursday 13 May, 60 people gathered in the Drill Hall at the Torrens Parade Ground to attend “The Quilt: The History of the SA AIDS Quilt”, a forum hosted by SAMESH and the History Trust of South Australia.

A panel of community members and historians shared their knowledge, passion, memories, and perspectives on the past, present, and future of the Quilt. The discussion was facilitated by SAMESH’s Skye Bartlett, a vital contributor to the exhibition himself.

Will Sergeant, a proud gay septuagenarian, has been involved in gay activism since his ‘coming out’ in 1972. Many South Australians know him by his alter-ego Dr Gertrude Glossip — researcher and presenter of the ever-popular local Rainbow History walks. Will shared some of his personal memories sparked by one of the panels on display, remembering a friend of his. He noted that the quilts evoke some terrible memories, but also some very positive ones. Will spoke of the power of the Quilts, both within our community and as tools for educating a wider audience.

Dean Gloede’s service to the sector spans decades, starting as a volunteer phone counsellor for the Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service in the mid 1980s. Later, he worked at the AIDS Council of SA as an HIV prevention educator as well as the Royal District Nursing Service as one of two HIV Coordinators. During that time, he forged relationships with several people memorialised on the Quilt panels.

Dean shared moving memories of Piers – a little boy remembered in one of the panels. Dean reiterated how important it is for generations that did not live through the height of the epidemic to be able to access the Quilt and learn from it.

Dr Nikki Sullivan is the Manager of the History Trust of South Australia’s Centre of Democracy and an Adjunct Associate Professor in the School of Humanities at the University of Adelaide. Nikki was one of the key figures instrumental in mounting this exhibition and forum. Nikki spoke to the potency of the several intersecting layers of the Quilt: personal memorials, examples of art and craft, tools of activism, and articles of historical significance on both a community and societal level.

Nikki spoke about issues and challenges in the conservation of material objects like the Quilts —often made with various types of fabrics and other materials to show the personality of the individual. She reflected on the role that bodies such as the History Trust have in assisting the community to preserve such precious pieces of history.

Timothy Roberts is an art historian specialising in Australian art heritage, decorative arts, and material culture. Tim has recently researched stories associated with the Australian Quilt Project, including the Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt for the Leather community, and the blocks and panels currently on display in the Drill Hall by SAMESH and History Trust of South Australia. Tim discussed the meaning we imbue in quilts, provided a history of the AIDS Quilts from their inception in San Francisco in the 1980s, and traced their expansion into Australia.

Katherine Leane was diagnosed with HIV in 1987. She was told she had only one year to live. Since then, she has had children and grandchildren and has become a much-loved and respected advocate and activist in Australia. She is president of Positive Life South Australia and chairs the National Network of Woman Living with HIV, Femfatales. Kath has had a long association both with The Quilt and many of the individuals memorialised on the panels on display. She shared her recollections with the audience and spoke passionately about the meaning the Quilt has for the local community. She stressed that access to the locally-crafted panels as physical objects is vital for present and future generations of South Australians as ways to learn and remember.

Greg Mackie OAM is Chief Executive Officer of The History Trust of South Australia and is an elected member of the Adelaide City Council. He has decades of experience as a cultural advocate, business operator, and public sector leader. Greg was visibly moved to see the Quilt again after so many years and the recollections it elicited – a reminder of the lasting impact from the epidemic and the role of the Quilts as a memorial. He discussed the concepts of custodianship versus ownership and how we can work together to ensure the Quilt panels remain preserved, cherished, and accessible.

The Quilts offer a visceral reminder of loss, love, grief, creativity, activism, and community. The evoke silences, tears, and animated exchanges of memories.

Exhibition and discussion of the AIDS Memorial Quilt has been significant for the South Australian community. It has generated discussion about the future of the Quilts including the possibility of reviving Quilt-making workshops in South Australia to create panels for those not yet memorialised. Future plans include efforts to digitise the Quilts – including information about the people memorialised and the making of them.

If you have any memories regarding the AIDS Memorial Quilt panels in South Australia, please do not hesitate to share them with us to be recorded for posterity then please contact us.

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