Friday 13 December 2013

Heritage Spotlight - AIDS Memorials

Every World AIDS Day (WAD) people gather to remember those we have lost to AIDS. We do this in several ways – candlelit vigils, religious services, remembrance gatherings and coming together at memorials. There are a lot of AIDS memorials around the world and events were held at most of them.

It seems strange to think of AIDS memorials as part of our heritage. They seem so significant and a part of so many people’s lives today. Yet they will stand, hopefully, long after we are all gone to mark a period in world history when so many people endured so much pain, and gave so much hope that AIDS would be eradicated. No other disease has ever been remembered worldwide in this way.

I was surprised by how many AIDS memorials there were. One of the earliest and most well-known is the NAMES Project AIDS memorial quilt, the ever-growing patchwork of personalised fabric squares. As of today there are more than 44,000 names remembered. It is the largest AIDS memorial, and no-one who has seen it, or photos of it, laid out in full can fail to be moved.

Other memorials are quite small and modest. The whole variety can be seen on the AIDSmemorial website, which has gathered together photos and information on 146 AIDS memorials of various forms, from the red ribbon and WAD to statues and gardens.

Here is a brief look at some of them, taking a different type of memorial and featuring one from each continent.

We begin with another memorial quilt. Since the NAMES Project AIDS quilt was officially launched on 1st July 1987 almost every major western nation has created their own national quilt. It’s a simple idea, and something to which individuals can feel a part. But for those unable to have their personal patches included the presence of an on-line virtual quilt is perfect. There are several of these on the internet. Here!TV in the USA produced one of these e-quilts on WAD 2008 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the identification of HIV.

Moving down to South America, also on WAD 2008, a monument was unveiled in Brasa Square in New Nicherie, Surinam. It consists of a large red ribbon sculpture designed by local artist Frankey Amatsenen, and has become the focus for remembrance events. The red ribbon has been incorporated into many other monuments around the world.

Here in Europe, with the controversy over their anti-gay laws still making the news, it should be remembered that there is a thriving lgbt community in Russia, and recognition of AIDS victims can be seen in two statues. One is in the Museum of Modern Art and the other in the Zarab Tsereteli Gallery, both in Moscow. Their designs are similar – 2 naked figures of a man and woman surrounded by a disc carved with other figures. Human figures feature in several other memorial statues, and to my mind the most beautiful is located in Brighton, UK.

Africa has been the hardest hit continent of all since AIDS was identified. Next week you’ll see how highly significant HIV/AIDS prevention is in Africa in an article about the Olympic torch. South Africa has many AIDS memorials, and in Gugu Dlamini Park in Durban is an example of the many parks, garden and botanical tributes. Gugu Dlamini was one of the first women to reveal her HIV status publicly in South Africa. Because of it she was attacked by a mob and killed in 1998. The Central Park was renamed in her honour in 2000 when a memorial wall was erected beside the large AIDS ribbon sculpture (which had been erected 6 months earlier to mark the international AIDS Conference held in the city).

Moving eastwards to Asia we find very few memorials. One of the most striking sculptures incorporating the AIDS ribbon can be found in Kowloon Park, Hong Kong. This bronze sculpture features 2 interlinked ribbons forming a heart shape designed by Van Lau. It was unveiled on WAD 1997.

Finally, to the antipodes and Oceania/Australasia. One of the most frequent acts of any kind of remembrance is the creation of a Book of Remembrance. I’m sure there are books in every major city around the world. In the church of St. Matthew-in-the-city in Auckland, the New Zealand national AIDS Book of Remembrance has been housed since 1995. Like many memorial quilts, the Book of Remembrance is an ever-growing memorial.

AIDS memorials have become part of the architectural and cultural heritage of major cities around the world.

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