A Patchwork of Memories


What weighs 54 tons and fits in the palm of a hand?  Picture the largest living memorial in the world inside a Smartphone.

Marking a 25th anniversary this year, the expansive NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt features 48,000 panels that honor some 91,000 people who have lost their lives to the disease. To view every panel on the 1.3 million square-foot quilt would take weeks. But now—thanks to the University of Iowa Digital Studio for the Public Humanities (DSPH)—there’s a mobile Web application that makes this incredible work of art far more accessible.

Displayed for the first time in 1987 on the National Mall in Washington, DC, the quilt has appeared at thousands of exhibits worldwide—a powerful reminder of the devastating global and personal toll of the AIDS pandemic. Loved ones, friends, and activists continue to add names, making the quilt the world’s largest community art project.

This past summer, the quilt appeared at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, DC, and returned once again to the National Mall as part of the XIX International AIDS Conference, when it was laid out in its entirety for the first time since 1996.

In conjunction with this event and the silver anniversary, the UI team worked with the University of Southern California to create a mobile Web application called “AIDS Quilt Touch” that allowed visitors to locate specific panels on the National Mall and leave remembrances on a digital guestbook. The app continues to offer the public access to the entire archive of panels, as well as the ability to read individual stories and research further information about the project.

Jon Winet, DSPH director and associate professor of intermedia in the School of Art and Art History in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, says his team members, many of whom are UI alumni, were honored to work on a solution that supports an exemplary public project.

“The aim is not to replace or interfere with the experience of viewing the textile quilt,” he says, “but to augment that experience and to extend the opportunity to view the quilt to people all over the world through online access.”

The mobile Web app can be accessed at www.aidsquilttouch.org. For more information about the UI’s Digital Studio for the Public Humanities, visit

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