NYU Libraries to Display AIDS Memorial Quilt for Stonewall 50
NYU Libraries will display nine panels from the NAMES Project Foundation’s AIDS Memorial Quilt from September 12 to December 15 to close out New York University’s yearlong commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The panels represent a cross section of people lost to AIDS—the artists, students, activists, and NYU community members lost to the pandemic, including members of the trans community, incarcerated individuals, and others who shaped New York’s downtown arts scene, and an NYU student.
The AIDS Memorial Quilt was birthed in 1987 by Cleve Jones [A&U, January 2017] and a small group of San Francisco friends who recognized the need to document the lives lost to AIDS and to help people understand the devastating impact of the disease, initially on the gay male community. In keeping with the folk art tradition of quilting, Jones recognized that the Quilt could serve as a powerful visual reminder of the AIDS pandemic. Today, the Quilt consists of more than 48,000 individual 3 by 6 foot memorial panels sewn together by friends, lovers, and family members. Since 1987, over 14 million people have visited the Quilt at thousands of displays worldwide. Through these displays, the NAMES Project Foundation has raised over $3 million for AIDS service organizations throughout North America. The last display of the entire AIDS Memorial Quilt was in October of 1996 when the Quilt covered the entire National Mall in Washington, D.C. The Quilt was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989; it remains the largest community art project in the world.
The nine panels at NYU will be shown alongside “Violet Holdings: LGBTQ+ Highlights from the NYU Special Collections,” a comprehensive exhibition surveying queer life from the mid-1800s to the present through materials drawn from NYU Libraries’ special collections and archives. Each panel contains at least eight sections for those lost to the pandemic, including celebrities such as Keith Haring, Halston, Perry Ellis, Rock Hudson, Robert Mapplethorpe, Freddie Mercury, Anthony Perkins, and Rudolf Nureyev; and other artists in New York’s downtown scene.
“These quilt pieces bear witness to our humanity and serve to archive our history. NYU is located in Greenwich Village, just a few blocks from St. Vincent’s Hospital, where many AIDS patients were treated and spent their final days. The intimacy and tradition of the quilt as a symbol of comfort and warmth has a long history. Each quilt is handmade, takes time, offers an opportunity for close reflection, and is a truly unique document” said Marvin J. Taylor, Curator for the Arts at NYU Libraries in a prepared statement.
One panel is dedicated to performance artist Ethyl Eichelberger, artist Sharon Redd, and Dr. Peter Manzzoni, an early AIDS physician and activist, while another commemorates Cookie Mueller, an actress, author, and downtown goddess. The seventh panel includes a section for Larry Levan, a legendary DJ from Paradise Garage who is credited with inventing house music and is also represented in the “Violet Holdings” exhibition. Panel eight includes sections for filmmaker Marlon Riggs and poet Essex Hemphill. One panel in the exhibition was made by the NYU community in 1990 to honor students, faculty, and staff members lost to AIDS. The final panel remembers Paul Fitz Simmons, an NYU student who did not live to see his graduation.
The AIDS Memorial Quilt exhibit at NYU expands upon the mission of NYU Libraries’ Downtown Collection, which documents the explosion of artistic creativity in downtown New York during the 1970s and through the early 1990s that radically challenged and changed traditional literature, music, theater, performance, film, activism, dance, photography, video and other art practices. The AIDS Memorial Quilt exhibition will open with a public event on September 12, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. at the Mamdouha Bobst Gallery, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South. Official remarks by Karen Finley will begin at 6 p.m.
—Reporting by Hank Trout
Hank Trout, Senior Editor, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a forty-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his fiancé Rick. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.