November 29, 2006

The Straight Hosts Patch of AIDS Quilt

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A portion of the AIDS Quilt will be on display in the Straight Memorial Room, to commemorate World AIDS Day on Friday, Dec. 1 and to create awareness among students of the virus.

“This virus has been around for 25 years. It’s easy to forget about its impact,” said Prof. Meredith Small, anthropology. “But it passes from person to person in their most intimate moments, so watch out.”

Darin Hollenbeck, a member of the board of directors for the New York Capital Region NAMES Foundation, described the statistics about AIDS concerning people under the age of 25: two HIV infections occur every hour in people under the age of 25 and of these two infections, one is a person in New York State. Hollenbeck went on to say that New York has the highest rate of HIV infections in the country and that 50 percent of all new infections are in young people under the age of 25. The NAMES Foundation is the international, non-governmental “caretaker” of the quilt, according to Janece Shaffer, director of communication at the NAMES Foundation.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of awareness for AIDS. To commemorate the date, Jamie Sorrentino, assistant dean of students for student support, will create a large installation featuring the number “25.”

The 167 names of the people memorialized on the panels are read aloud once a day as part of the Cornell display, according to David Bell, the advisor of the student union board. The NAMES Foundation does not mandate this; it only mandates that the panels be hung rather than placed on the floor.

The exhibit consists of a total of twenty 12-by-12 foot blocks, each composed of 8 to 12 individual panels.

Each panel stands as a memorial to a person, or to a group of people within an area or organization, who died of the virus. The complete AIDS Quilt has more than 46,000 panels and 88, 440 names.

According to Shaffer, there are hundreds of displays of pieces of the AIDS Quilt across America. While the last display of the complete AIDS Quilt was in 1996 at The Mall in Washington, D.C., Shaffer believes that there is “just as much power doing thousands of smaller displays in different parts of the country every year.”

“We hope to make the threat of AIDS real, human and immediate,” Shaffer said. “It’s easy to be aware of statistics and trends, but the AIDS Quilt puts a human face on it.”

The Willard Straight Hall Student Union Board arranged for the Quilt’s display in the Memorial Room and this is the third year that a piece of the AIDS Quilt has been on display at Cornell.

“This year we have a better representation of the total Quilt,” Bell said. “Last year the panels were predominantly dedicated to men, but with this display we have eight women and a few babies.”

Cleve Jones, an activist, conceived the idea of a quilt in 1987 when his friend Marvin Feldman died of AIDS.

According to Shaffer, when the virus first became a part of the public consciousness, admitting someone died of AIDS was taboo. One of the first panels visible on the display at the Cornell show reads “breaking the silence.”

“The Quilt transforms the loss of a life into action to educate the public,” Shaffer said. The AIDS Quilt is considered the largest piece of community folk art ever created, he claimed.

“The mission of the Student Union Board follows the mission of the NAMES foundation,” Bell said. “We bring the Quilt here to heighten the awareness and foster healing of AIDS.”

According to Small, the Body Maps, a compilation of ten life-size prints and 14 works on paper, exhibited in the Willard Straight Hall Art Gallery complements the AIDS Quilt.

“The maps are a visual interpretation of South Africans’ thoughts about their bodies with HIV,” Small said.

The Body Maps are the work of 13 South African women and one man infected with HIV, who were trained by Doctors Without Borders and the University of Cape Town in an effort at AIDS advocacy.

They traveled into South African townships to encourage others with HIV to take their medication and promote awareness of the virus.

“South Africans don’t want to take retroviral medication because it’s associated with white people, western society and big pharmaceuticals,” Small said.

According to Small, this group of South Africans are “especially brave to admit that they have HIV.”

“In South Africa, having HIV is unacceptable,” Small said. “If you’re a woman who admits to having HIV, you’re seen as promiscuous, even if your husband brought it home.”

According to Small, the image of babies in their mothers’ wombs stands out as one of the Body Map’s most striking aspects.

The 14 Body Maps on paper will be on display in the Tatkon Center from Dec. 3 to 15. They will be in The Straight Memorial Room until Friday.