AIDS Memorial Quilt panel visits UNC; an NCC photographic collection provides context

AIDS quilt panel display
AIDS Memorial Quilt panel display in the UNC Student Union

Thanks to the efforts of Carolina undergraduate Elizabeth Trefney, UNC is privileged to be hosting an exhibit featuring a panel from the historic AIDS Memorial Quilt. The panel will be on display in the Carolina Student Union Building through January 31. The exhibit serves as a powerful reminder of the devastating global impact of HIV/AIDS, a point also emphasized by a collection of photographs in the North Carolina Collection’s Photographic Archives.

Trefney’s interest in coordinating the Student Union exhibit is both universal and personal: She wanted to remind the UNC community of those whose lives have been affected by HIV/AIDS, and in particular to honor her late uncle, Jeremy Trefney (1957-1988), who passed away due to complications from HIV and is memorialized on a panel of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The quilt panel’s presence also celebrates the role of UNC’s School of Medicine and other medical research facilities in making groundbreaking advances in HIV/AIDS treatment.

The Jerome Friar Collection

Coincidentally, the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives in the Wilson Special Collections Library holds a collection of photographs that contains images of the quilt on the National Mall in Washington, DC on the Mall, starting with its origins in 1987 and depicting its subsequent periodic display through the late 1990s.

National Mall AIDS Quilt display, 1987
Demonstrations: AIDS: “AIDS quilt on mall,” 11 October 1987 (The first time the AIDS Memorial Quilt was displayed on the National Mall.) Photograph by Jerome Friar Image from P0090/0586 – Black-and-White Kodak TMY 5053 35mm Roll Film

The photos were made by Jerome Friar, a North Carolina native and photographer who worked in DC in the 1980s and 90s. Friar worked for a stock photography group called Impact Visuals, which provided timely and relevant images to social justice organizations for use in their publications. (Our younger readers may be surprised to learn that such a service was necessary in pre-Internet days.)

AIDS Memorial Quilt display, National Mall
Demonstrations: AIDS: “AIDS quilt on mall,” 11 October 1989. Photograph by Jerome Friar. Image from P0090/0589: Color 35mm Mounted Slide

The Jerome Friar Collection contains approximately 240 (on 13 different rolls of film) images of the quilt on the National Mall. The images taken on October 11, 1987, 1989, 1992, and circa 1995-1997 show how the quilt’s display evolved as the numbers of HIV/AIDS victims grew, as the disease became more widely diagnosed/recognized, and as some of the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS began to recede.

AIDS Quilt display on National Mall
Demonstrations: AIDS: “AIDS quilt on mall,” 11 October 1992. Photo by Jerome Friar. Image from P0090/0605 – Black-and-White Kodak 5063 TX 35mm Roll Film
Hands linked in front of AIDS Quilt display
Demonstrations: AIDS: “AIDS quilt on mall,” 11 October 1992. Photo by Jerome Friar. Image from P0090/0607 – Black-and-White Kodak 5063 TX 35mm Roll Film

Friar was most likely assigned to cover the quilt when it was first displayed on the National Mall in 1987 because it was one of the first large public events organized by AIDS activists. In addition to the images of the quilt, Friar’s photographs also depict numerous HIV/AIDS-related demonstrations organized by groups such as ACT-UP, intended to raise awareness of the disease among politicians in Washington in the 1980s and 90s.

Activists holding signs and shouting
Friar’s photographs of HIV/AIDS-related activism span the 1980s and 90s. Photograph by Jerome Friar. Image from P0090/0587 – Black-and-White Kodak 5053 TMY 35mm Roll Film
hands flipping through envelopes of photographs
Friar’s photographs are available for research in the Wilson Special Collections Library.

A rare opportunity

If you’re on or near the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, don’t miss the chance to see the quilt panel while it’s in the Student Union, through January 31.

Photographs from the Jerome Friar Collection are available for research in the Wilson Special Collections Library at any time. Come visit us!

One thought on “AIDS Memorial Quilt panel visits UNC; an NCC photographic collection provides context”

  1. For me the use of 35mm film strips and color slides is effectively era-appropriate — wonder how many young photographers would recognize them?

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