HIV+ gay men's processes of making their own AIDS Memorial Quilt panels

Shoshana D. Kerewsky (1997)

This study asked five HIV+ gay men about their understanding of the meanings and processes associated with making panels commemorating themselves for the AIDS Memorial Quilt. It was assumed that this panel-making was meaningful to the men, and related to their accommodation of the HIV/AIDS diagnosis. The focus of this study was the meaning the participants themselves ascribed to their panel-making activity, understood through a qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews. Notably, the men construed this activity as more relational than individual. The meanings that they attributed to making their own panels were more local and personal than the available literature on the Quilt in general might suggest. This inquiry was situated within an extensive critical literature review that included recent gay U.S. history; the social-scientific and medical arenas of HIV/AIDS, illness, death, and living with a chronic or terminal illness; the tasks and needs of people with HIV/AIDS, including engaging in meaning-making activities; the Quilt's history, characteristics, and ways in which it follows from the U.S. quilting tradition; a comparison of the Quilt and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; the meanings ascribed to the Quilt by its advocates, critics and viewers; the experiences of panel-makers as they themselves describe them; and finally the few references to people who make their own panels. Participants' responses primarily centered on relational activities (individual, interpersonal, and community). They described motives for and effects of making their own panels. They also described their initial encounters with the Quilt and the origin of the idea of making their own panels. Some participants discussed themes of mortality and spirituality. Suggestions for applications of this study include facilitating HIV+ people's interaction with the Quilt as it is relevant to their own accommodation of the diagnosis. While making one's own panel may not be a widespread phenomenon, it provides a valuable example of one way that people with HIV may ensure their inclusion in a ritual of community mourning.