The NAMES quilt spread across
the Capitol Mall towards
the Washington Monument.
All photos by
A signature quilt signed by visitors
of the quilt display.
Panels of the NAMES memorial quilt.
People gather on the stairs of the capitol before
the candlelight march.
a reflection of the
aids memorial quilt
by Ola Butler
Morning, 9:00 a.m., Washington, D.C.
The dew has hardly had a chance to dry upon
the grass of the National Mall. The sun has
just passed the tip of the Washington
Monument as people scatter in one direction
or another, in a frenzied rush to clear the
Mall's lawn. Strips of black tarpaulin are
laid one across each other, 21 miles
outlining a grid. The welcome mat to the
display. Soon the narrow walkways will be
covered with thousands of feet.
Slowly a shared silence fills the expanse.
Small groups file onto the lawn, dispersed
between the Washington Monument and the
Nation's capital. Plastic tarps are spread
out and four huge bundles folded in the
form of a lotus are placed in the middle of
each square. In a prelude to the display,
the opening ceremony begins with the
reading of names. Each group joins hands,
encircles the lotus and carefully unwraps
the bundles in an ritual revealing sorrow,
love, pain, memories and union.
Friday morning, Oct. 11, 1996, marked the
beginning of Columbus day weekend and the
three-day celebration of the NAMES quilt.
One quilt, made up of over 40,000 panels.
Each panel, approximately three feet by
five feet, the size of an average grave,
tells a rich narrative of anger, memoirs
and afterthoughts in memoriam to thousands
of lives claimed by the AIDS virus.
The intensity of an artists' homage is
overwhelming as the surge of inspiration
emanates forth. Bedazzled by a myriad of
materials ranging from sequins to leather,
stuffed animals, military medals, stories,
tears; the creation of a panel has become,
for many, a reunion. Uniting in a
collaboration of creativity; fathers,
sisters, lovers, sons, daughters, friends,
are remembered. It is the creative aspect
of the quilt, both personal and monumental,
which represents the continual dialogue
between those who have died and their loved
ones who continue to carry on the fight.
To see the quilt as merely a requiem,
however, would be an injustice of its own.
The NAMES quilt, a project started by Cleve
Jones in 1987, is now a national emblem
of the battle against AIDS. The
recognition that the quilt has gained was
marked by President Clinton and Vice
President Gore's participation in the
'reading of names'. Proving that indeed
"Not all battles are fought with a sword,"
the quilt's slogan, it has become one of
the most powerful tools for AIDS education
Much like the Vietnam Memorial, the NAMES
quilt has become this generation's emblem
of strength. Possibly one of the most
important artistic contributions of the
time, the quilt is suspended in time,
continually growing as the battle grows.
During the weekend, over 2,700 new panels
were brought to the display, a dynamic
contribution to an already magnificent
display. Yet the quilt only represents one-
tenth of the population of those who have
died of AIDS.
Dusk, Saturday evening. Thousands of
participants have now gathered on the steps
of the Capitol, spilling out around the
reflecting pool and onto the front of the
Mall's Lawn. Weary from the day, consumed
by a roller coaster of emotion,
bittersweet, clusters of people begin to
form, new friends and old. They are fueled
by the awe of remembrance. A handful of
lights flicker in the twilight. Slowly
their brilliance spreads and soon the
entire mass is emblazoned with light in the
crisp Washington sky. The candlelight march
has begun. Marching in union the vigil
makes its way to the Lincoln Monument.
Songs are sung, hands held, interspersed by
the passing of the wave from one end of the
procession to the other. They are truly
united in remembering their names.
OLA BUTLER is a student at Vassar College.