UK AIDS Memorial Quilt goes on display in full for the first time in 25 years

It's A Sin's Nathaniel Hall and Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Holly Johnson spoke to Attitude at last week's launch event in London.


Words: Jamie Tabberer; pictures: author's own

The UK AIDS Memorial Quilt has gone on display in full for the first time in 25 years.

Comprised of 12ft x 12ft panels, the quilt contains personalised squares handmade by the friends, lovers and family members of some 384 people lost to HIV and AIDS in the 1980s and '90s.

The quilt - on display at London's Acorn House on Saturday and Sunday, the 10 and 11 July - was last shown in its entirety in public in June 1994.

The new display was organised by the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt Conservation Partnership, a collaboration between The Food Chain, Terrance Higgins Trust, George House Trust, Sahir House, Positive East, Positively UK and Waverley Care, supported by Fast Track Cities London.

As stated on the UK AIDS Memorial Quilts website: "The quilt has been in storage for several years now and without proper conservation is in danger of deteriorating and being lost. Hence a number of charities have come forward to create the AIDS MQCP, to raise awareness of the quilt, its importance in our history, and to restore and conserve the quilt for generations to come."

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"They're handmade - there's an immediacy to that as an artform"

Speaking to Attitude at last week's launch event, It's A Sin actor Nathaniel Hall said: "Living with HIV myself, and being an HIV activist, having the chance to see it in its entirety, I was like 'yes, yes, yes.'"

"I think it's because they're handmade," the 34-year-old said of the quilt's impact. "There's an immediacy to that as an art form. You can see the love and care that's gone into them. It reminds me, as someone living with HIV since 2003, that I'm one of the lucky ones."

Asked if he's ever lost anyone to an AIDS-related illness, Hall said: "No, actually, I haven't," adding: "I did support someone who was very sick with HIV. That was tough and felt very unfair. Because of their circumstances, they were struggling to take medication."

The star added: "They got better and they're OK but it reminded me - I talk often in my activism about how great things are: 'take on tablet and it'll be fine!' That reminded me - physically, you still carry a virus that is deadly if you're not taking medication. And the weight as well, of the stigma we carry as people living with HIV. It can have a huge impact on our mental wellbeing."

"It’s a physical and tangible thing"

Holly Johnson of Frankie Goes To Hollywood fame told Attitude of the quilt: "It was quite an immense project, both in the US and here. It’s a physical and tangible thing. You don’t on your phone scroll past. It’s folk art as well. It’s people who maybe had sewing machines or a glue gun, wanting to commemorate their friend, their son, their daughter, whoever. It’s so immense."

Johnson, known for hits like 'Relax' and 'The Power of Love', also praised event hosts The Food Chain, a charity helping HIV-positive Londoners access nutritious food, for "doing practical things for people with HIV. I've always been impressed by them. There's nothing kinder or more helpful than having food prepared for you when you're in difficulty."

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Holly also praised the Liverpool-based Sahir House, explaining: "They're great as well - they provide training for other organisations to help people with HIV."

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