AIDS quilt remembers those lost, highlights problems ahead

The AIDS Memorial Quilt contains more than 48,000 individual panels, commemorating those who have died of the disease.

The 48,000 panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt not only represent well-known AIDS victims Ryan White and Freddie Mercury, but also others who touched lives around them — fathers, uncles, husbands and wives.

For the seventh time, part of the quilt has traveled to Asheville to allow those touched by the disease to mourn, and to educate, with the goal of bringing the infection rate to zero.

“It’s very powerful having the quilt here,” said Pam Siekman, a member of the Western North Carolina AIDS Project (WNCAP) board of directors, which sponsors the event. “This is a way to raise awareness and to remind people about the past, and also how this disease can affect the future.”

Siekman said at the opening night reception Monday that although advocacy has come a long way since the 1980s and 1990s, people still need a reminder about the dangers of AIDS.

“There’s still no cure, and there’s still a lot of cases in Western North Carolina. This is a great vehicle for education and prevention,” she said.

The quilt was started in 1987 in San Francisco to document the lives of friends lost. The panels reflect the personality of those in them, and not all are somber.

“We’re allowed to cry, we know that. But are we allowed to laugh?” asked Jeff Bachar, WNCAP executive director. “I saw a panel that made me laugh out loud. It had one quote: ‘I told you I was sick!’”

A goal this week is to have tours set up for elementary school children to see the quilt and the panels made for those who died from the disease.

“We’re going to try and bring in more youth presence,” said Jesse Oates Vest, special events coordinator at WNCAP. “There are still scores of kids who share with their peers that they are HIV-positive, and they are still not accepted at school, and not regarded as normal. It’s sad when the answer an adult gives when confronted with this disease by a child is ‘just don’t tell anybody.’”

The AIDS Memorial Quilt will be on display through World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, at the Renaissance Asheville Hotel.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt contains more than 48,000 individual panels, commemorating those who have died of the disease.
The AIDS Memorial Quilt contains more than 48,000 individual panels, commemorating those who have died of the disease.

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About Pat Barcas
Pat is a photojournalist and writer who moved to Asheville in 2014. He previously worked for a labor and social rights advocacy newspaper in Chicago. Email him at pbarcas@gmail.com. Follow me @pbarcas

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