Crafting History: The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt in the Contemporary Period
In October 2013, NAMES Project Curator Jada Harris asserted that ‘the African American community is in a state of emergency relative to HIV and AIDS.’ Three months earlier, ACT UP/NY member James Krellenstein contended that ‘the safer sex campaign in the men who have sex with men and the trans women community has failed.’ This strong rhetoric is backed up by staggering statistics: every year since 1993, the rate of Americans living with HIV and AIDS has risen, with 32,052 persons diagnosed with AIDS and 49,273 with HIV in 2011 alone. And, in 2010,.15,529 Americans died with AIDS, giving full force to the position that the AIDS crisis in America is not over.
With these pressing ideas in mind, this dissertation argues for the significance of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. It is at once activist object, educational tool, and rich archive. The Quilt is interpreted as a postmodern text that, rather than embodying a single cohesive collective memory, provides a collection of memories; a diverse assemblage of ways to remember the crisis, and those lost to it. Drawing on oral histories of panel-making, the dissertation unpacks the fragmentary nature of memory and mourning, exploring how the Quilt continues to act as evidence of lives lost, while also offering a sense of agency to the bereaved. The panel-making process has proved to be highly therapeutic for many people, indicative of the fact that bereavement from AIDS is a unique experience, and thus new formats of mourning may well be necessary. The Quilt teaches, with authority, how to perceive AIDS, asserting a history that is nationally-minded, yet interwoven with intensely personal stories.
School of Humanities
MA History of Design, 2014
My academic interests are strongly geared toward cultural and social history, with a particular interest in the methodological exigencies of contemporary history. Using a design-historical and theoretical lens, I am interested in materiality in relation to death, mourning, and memory. These ideas have coalesced in my current research project, a study of processes of memorialisation and their intersections with activism in the context of the AIDS crisis in America. For this project, I was awarded the 2013 Victoria & Albert Museum History of Design Award, a competitive grant given to conduct research at the previously under utilised archives of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.
I am passionate about gender and sexual orientation equality, and, in particular, the position of persons living with HIV/AIDS. I have worked in various healthcare settings and campaigned with charities including the National AIDS Trust and the Terrence Higgins Trust.
I am a creative academic with a practical approach and extensive experience of devising, leading and delivering successful projects. I am adept at researching using a variety of sources and collections. I am confident taking on object- and visual-based research, and have extensive experience with handling museum collections. I have strong interpretive skills, which are equally matched by knowledge of a diverse range of theoretical and historical methodologies. I am a confident writer and debater and have experience with regularly presenting my research to my peers, tutors and curators, as well as to external academics.
I have received funding from the V&A, the Design History Society and the RCA
- BA (Hons) History & American Studies, University of Manchester, 2012
- Marketing & events officer, Garden Museum, present; Project coordinator, Punch and Judy's Chocolate Cornucopia of Knowledge for Being Human Festival, 2014; Customer relations officer, Southbank Centre, June 2013–Present ; Co-Director, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 2013; Co-convenor, Royal College of Art, London, 2013; Object handling facilitator, University College London Museums, London, 2013; Internship and gallery assistant, Cubitt Artists, London, 2012; Workshop leader, Whitworth Art Gallery, London, 2011–12; Museum assistant, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery and the Royal Pavilion, London, 2008–09
- Victoria & Albert Museum History of Design Award, 2013; Design History Society Conference Bursary, 2014
- The AIDS Memorial Quilt: Mourning an Ongoing War Conference Design for War and Peace at the University of Oxford, 2014; Convenor, Talking Presently: A Symposium on the Historian’s Study of the Contemporary at the Victoria and Albert Museum, 2013