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AIDS Quilt To Become National Taonga

Media Release: 23 April 2012

AIDS Quilt To Become National Taonga

The New Zealand AIDS Memorial Quilts are set to become national treasures as they are handed over to Te Papa Tongarewa as a taonga. The Quilts will be seen in Auckland for the final time at a ceremony in St Matthew-in-the-City at 2pm on Sunday, 29 April when they will be transferred to representatives of Te Papa. Michael Bancroft, Guardian of the Quilts, is “delighted that this unique part of our history will find a special home at Te Papa where, in time, far more people will have access to its beauty and the memories it holds for so many”.

“For much of the last ten years the Quilts have been held in storage in Auckland”, Michael reports. “There’s been no ability to ‘tour’ the Quilts due to limited funding, and the sheer physical size of the total Quilt has meant it has become very difficult to display”.

Stephanie Gibson, Curator History at Te Papa says “we are very excited about the Quilts and consider it an honour and a privilege to receive and house the Quilts at Te Papa for future generations”.

Since the first panel was created in 1988 in memory of Wellington man Peter Cuthbert, the Quilts have grown to sixteen blocks made up of individual panels that detail the names and lives of approximately 140 New Zealanders who have succumbed to AIDS and AIDS-related illnesses. Since they were first displayed in the Auckland Art Gallery in 1991, the Quilts have journeyed from Bluff to Cape Reinga to be ceremonially unfolded, displayed and viewed by thousands of people on marae, in churches and halls, schools, parliament and at countless events. In recent years, the Quilts have also become a virtual memorial with a website that shows the individual panels, blocks and memories of people who made the Quilts.

Bancroft conducted the funeral services for many of those who died of AIDS and he recalls that “not only was I conducting a funeral every couple of weeks but we seemed to go from one funeral to the next. It was not uncommon to hear ‘I wonder if I’ll be next’ in those days. The Quilts are a poignant memorial to those loved and lost, and they’ve also been a powerful tool for education and HIV prevention as they’ve brought home the reality of the pandemic.”

Since the advent of effective antiretroviral treatment for HIV, and the subsequent decrease of deaths due to AIDS, the AIDS Quilt memorials have declined in New Zealand and worldwide. No panels have been added to the New Zealand Quilts since that of Wellington’s Alexis Kennedy in 2003.

Bancroft concludes, “The transfer of the Quilts to Te Papa is some of the best and most uplifting news I have had for a number of years. It’s a way of assuring that the love and commitment that went into the making of the Quilts by all the lovers, friends and family members and various convenors and committee members will have a special place in the history of our country”.

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