One prime example of art being used as a form of protest is The NAMES Project’s AIDS Quilt. By 1985 many cities were hugely affected by it, one city in particular was San Francisco. A gay rights activist named Cleve Jones along with others decided to create the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The AIDS Memorial Quilts were panels 3 by 6 foot in size (the size of a grave) that were decorated to recognized and honor people who died of AIDS. An average of seven of these panels were sown together to create a block.
To show the significance of the quilts below are two individuals who’s quilts reside at the AIDS Project Foundation.
Ray Mann Underwood was born December, 22, 1953 in Aspen, Colorado. Ray Underwood had a love and talent for the arts, during his lifetime Ray was a singer, songwriter, actor and poet. He received a scholarship to The Juilliard School, where he studied acting. Underwood had a promising career ahead of him as he already starred in TV shows such as “Cheers” and “Happy Days”. He also wrote songs for many musicians including Maurice Jarre, Darrell Brown, Vanessa Williams and Ricky Ian Gordon.
William “Billy” De’Acutis was born September 17th, 1957 in Fairfield, Connecticut. Billy attended The Julliard School in New York where he pursued his love for acting, in the drama department. He went on to star in movies such as “9 ½ weeks”, “Trust me”, and “Other people’s money” which was dedicated to him, as he died before the movie was released. Billy De’Acutis was a caring and accepting man who was known to take in stray cats, dogs, and people. Mr. De’Acutis lived his life with joy, charisma and humor, making the best of each day he was given.
During his last few years Billy began to write plays, monologues, movies and comedy sketches; De’Acutis knew he was dying, but what else could he do? He used writing as a way deal with and reveal his torment and shock towards living with AIDS and the thought of his death.
One play written by Billy, “Take away” was produced in Los Angeles one year after his death. “The play, serious but with a powerful undercurrent of humor, describes the traumatic experience of a young man whose parents are dying of cancer and emphysema, and whose lover is dying of AIDS. It’s not about dying, though, but about learning how to die.” (McCulloh, 2)
Billy De’Acutis’ panel was painted by Rilla Underwood and took 6 months to complete. William “Billy” De’Acutis died May 5th, 1991 at only 34 years old.
Both Billy De’Acutis and Ray Underwood were promising young men with bright future ahead of them. Having both gone to The Juilliard School, a performing arts school in New York, it is obvious they worked hard and had a passion for theatre. Unfortunately, there lives were cut short by such a merciless disease. The victims who lost their lives to epidemic shouldn’t be buried in the past. These were real human being with feelings and aspirations, their lives are being honored with quilts the same size as a grave to show society that people are really dying. The point of these quilts was get attention and force the government to look at all the lives being lost by the “gay plague” they joked about. In a way Cleve Jones wanted the government to see all the “graves” they were essentially digging by not putting enough effort into this cause.