“Nobody will ever understand their bravery”. UK’s AIDS Memorial Quilt digitised to mark World AIDS Day.

The friends of Vaughan Michael Williams, with the panel they made in his memory.
The friends of Vaughan Michael Williams, with the panel they made in his memory.

UK’s AIDS Memorial Quilt has been digitised by Google Arts & Culture to mark World AIDS Day and ensure those lost to the AIDS epidemic are never forgotten.

To mark World AIDS Day, Google Arts & Culture has digitised the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt in ultra-high resolution, alongside audio clips from quilters, to ensure those tragically lost to the AIDS epidemic are never forgotten. This will make the quilt globally accessible – after years in storage.

The UK AIDS Memorial Quilt celebrates the lives of those tragically lost to the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 90s. To mark World AIDS Day, the quilt is available online for the first time as it launches on Google Arts & Culture to ensure those who died are never forgotten. 

The historic memorial quilt is made up of 42 large pieces, each comprised of eight panels commemorating someone in the UK who died of an AIDS-related illness and lovingly made by their friends, lover or family. Memorial quilt-making has continued over the years. New individual and large pieces have been added to the collection to form a living memorial focusing on the person’s life, passions and interests – rather than their death. 

UK AIDS Memorial Quilt
UK AIDS Memorial Quilt with Vaughan Michael Williams.

Google Arts & Culture is an online platform for images and videos of artworks and cultural artefacts. Platform visitors can view each panel of the UK’s AIDS quilt in ultra-high resolution, read emotional testimonials and listen to new audio recordings from volunteers and some people who created the work. 

The UK’s AIDS Memorial Quilt can be accessed via goo.gle/UKAIDSQuilt

The opportunity for a global audience to explore the quilt online is particularly poignant as, for many years, it lay in storage at risk of deterioration before a coalition of HIV charities (George House Trust, Terrence Higgins Trust, The Food Chain, Sahir House, Positively UK, Waverley Care and Positive East) decided to safeguard the quilt’s future and ensure as many people see it as possible.

Georgie Long (left) and his partner Frankie O’Reilly, who made  a quilt panel in his memory after George died of AIDS-related illnesses.

Frankie O’Reilly made a quilt for his partner Georgie shortly after he died of AIDS-related illnesses in October 1992. He said: “I wanted to do something productive rather than sitting in the house staring at walls. Making the quilt not only helped me to process my grief, it’s allowed me to still share my life with Georgie and keep his name and story alive. I put a photo of him as a 4-year-old on the panel to show he was someone’s son at a time when people living with HIV and gay men were so stigmatised.

Georgie Long

“It’s fantastic that Georgie’s quilt will be online for the very first time thanks to Google Arts and Culture. He has family in Ireland who will now be able to look at his quilt whenever they want. It’s a huge comfort to know that long after I’ve gone, Georgie will be remembered. I’m very proud of him, all the friends I’ve lost, and the people that survived. Nobody will ever understand their bravery.”

Vaughan Michael Williams on UK AIDS Memorial Quilt.
Vaughan Michael Williams

Gill Brigg joined seven friends to make a panel for her childhood friend Vaughan Michael Williams after he died in 1990. Gill said: “Making the panel wasn’t about being part of the bigger picture. It was all about remembering and grieving for Vaughan. I can see now, all these years on, that he’s part of this gigantic jigsaw of people.  

“For the last month of his life, Vaughan chose not to use his real name. When he was hospitalised, he used the pseudonym Michael Williams. So we felt making the quilt using his name writ large – Vaughan Michael Williams – was a way of giving him his name back. Giving his voice back, his agency, his personality.”

Those remembered in the quilt include writer Bruce Chatwin, actors Ian Charleson and Denham Elliot, gay rights activist Mark Ashton and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. There are also tributes without a name due to the stigma surrounding HIV at the time.  

The Terry Higgins Memorial Quilt was made to mark 40 years since his death.

Terry Higgins holding a cat.

Terry Higgins was the first named person to die of an AIDS-related illness in the UK in July 1982. His death sparked the creation of a charity in his name to raise awareness of the mysterious illness and ultimately saved lives. 

But until now, there has yet to be a memorial quilt to remember Terry and celebrate his life. 

The Terry Higgins Memorial Quilt,
The Terry Higgins Memorial Quilt.

The Terry Higgins Memorial Quilt, made to mark 40 years since his death, is also digitised on Google Arts & Culture and can be viewed alongside the panels from the 1980s and 90s.  

Visitors to the online platform will get to know Terry better than ever through the eight panels celebrating different aspects of his character, including as a Welshman, gay man and his time in the Royal Navy.                                                                                                                           

To celebrate it being added to Google Arts & Culture, the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt is being exhibited on Sunday, 3 December, in London at HIV charity Positive East (159 Mile End Road, London, E1 4AQ) from 10 am to 4 pm. 

The Terry Higgins Memorial Quilt will be on display to the public for the first time at Millennium Gallery in Sheffield from World AIDS Day (1 December). 

The UK AIDS Memorial Quilt at Positive East, Sunday 3 December.




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