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Art Shows the Impact of HIV/AIDS

"Motherland" by Robin Jamison Hernandez. Photograph by Addison Doty. "Motherland" by Robin Jamison Hernandez. Photograph by Addison Doty.
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"Motherland" by Robin Jamison Hernandez. Photograph by Addison Doty.
"Motherland" by Robin Jamison Hernandez. Photograph by Addison Doty.
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Kelly J. Kelly
Doctors and nurses are not the only people who are trying to fight the AIDS epidemic. Robin Jamison Hernandez, an artist living in New Mexico, wove a cradle out of cholla cactus sticks and reeds to raise money for children in Africa affected by HIV and AIDS.

The Cradle Project, which includes work by hundreds of artists, travels around the United States. It was here most recently in Washington, DC, in conjunction with the International AIDS Conference.

Kerry Olson, the president of the Firelight Foundation that hosted the Cradle Project, said, “You have things as small as a cradle that’s only four inches wide made out of feathers, to cradles that are made by an art street group – a group of homeless people in Albeberque. They created a life-size rocking cradle with a mobile with all kinds of objects hanging down that a child could look at and play with. But they’re all made out of recycled magazines, cardboard, fabric, metal.”

So far, the cradles have earned over $70,000 for the Firelight Foundation. The money goes to African communities that are, among other things, taking care of children whose parents have died from AIDS.

Olson said that on the one hand, an empty cradle is a powerful symbol of loss. On the other hand, a cradle can represent hope.  

“These are cradles that are meant to hold a child, like a community or family that surrounds a child with love and care. These are the groups that we support on the ground in Africa, the groups providing that safety net of care, of compassion," she said.

Another group uses a quilt to represent the impact of AIDS.

Julie Rhoad, president and CEO of the NAMES Project Foundation, said that when AIDS first began hitting the United States hard in the 1980s, the public focused more on broad statistics than on what the illness meant to individuals.

In response, a small group of people in San Francisco made some 3x6 fabric panels to represent the lives of friends and family who had died from AIDS.The dimensions were chosen because 3x6 is the approximate size of a grave in the United States.

“We assembled these panels together and laid them out here in Washington. It was laying out our dead in the hopes that the country would wake up and realize that these were real lives being lost,” Rhoad said.

Before they knew it, the group began getting 3x6 memorial panels from people all over the United States. The quilt soon grew so large that it could only be displayed in huge blocks of about eight panels.

“You see everything from sequins to bugle beads to feathers and photographs," Rhoad said. "Some people will make a panel that will have a series of photographs about their lives. Other people will do panels that are hand quilted and do moments in time, the [loved one's] name, and their birthdate and their death date."

Now, the AIDS memorial quilt weighs 54 tons and includes 48,000 panels and 94,000 names. In total, it is over three kilometers long and two kilometers wide. It is so big that it is rarely assembled all together – but when it is, it stretches across the entire National Mall in front of the United States Capitol. People from over 160 countries are represented on the panels.

“When you see it in total or in mass, you begin to see how enormous the tragedy really is and how much people were loved because it’s huge. I think it tells the story of life in the age of AIDS,” Rhoad said.

In 1989, the AIDS Memorial Quilt was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Art Shows the Impact of HIV/AIDS
Art Shows the Impact of HIV/AIDSi
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