Perth AIDS Memorial Hijacked

The West Australian AIDS Memorial is an environmental artwork made in 2001 by artist Rodney Glick with architects Diego Ramirez and Brendan Wong. It is designed to be a place of contemplation, specifically to reflect upon:

  • The memory of friends and relatives who have died from AIDS
  • Volunteers who have given generously their time, talent and resources to the AIDS fields
  • Those in their professional lives who contribute to those living with HIV / AIDS
  • Scientists and AIDS educators who have dedicated their lives to the eradication of AIDS.

It was opened 1 December 2001 World AIDS Day by the project’s co-directors Alan Blackwood and Gary Giles. Many turn up there to light a candle on World AIDS Day each year. There was also a sacred bamboo grove where the ashes of loved ones were scattered.

The local GLBTI community raised $142,000 to pay for it and ran a competition to choose the design. But thanks to some decisions by the City of Vincent, taken without public community consultation, the memorial does not belong to the community. Instead it has been registered as a ‘private art installation’ run by the artist and architect. The community has no say in its running or maintenance.

A short time ago James Rendell, in his capacity as the Vice Chairperson of PLWHA WA Inc., went to a meeting with the city of Vincent regarding the restoration of the memorial, which had been neglected and damaged. It has since been repaired – but “regardless of how nice the final result of that now might be”, the result is not as he was led to believe.

At that meeting I was not given a fully transparent description of the process, and the lack of transparency should be a concern to everyone. At no time was I specifically told by the City of Vincent about the artists contract, and certainly I was not told that the community can ask all it likes for something, but the the City of Vincent has no obligation to take any notice. So remind me. who paid for it again?

Quite frankly, design issues aside, how is the Perth Aids Memorial a community memorial, when the community which paid for it now has no say in the management of the funds they raised, and only one person, the artist has a say in repairs or changes? This is not democratic and undermines the whole value and meaning of the space.

Rendell says the council should have set up a board of trustees and a properly transparent management process, including PLWHA and the AIDS Council. He fears that as things stand, the Memorial could be bulldozed and removed or rebuilt at any time with no input from the GLBTI community.

We’ve already seen the way the sacred Bamboo Grove has been totally wiped from the site, so what’s next on the City of Vincent’s agenda for the Community? The monument fell into decay in the first place precisely because the community had no say in it.

In three years time when decay again sets in, will I again be called down to photograph the damage? Will I also be expected to forget that once again no proper process has been put in place to protect the interests of the community?

Rendell would like to see ownership of the Memorial transferred to the community that commissioned it and paid for it. By giving ownership to the artist, he feels the City of Vincent has broken the community’s connection with the site and turned it into just another piece of public art. He queries whether it can even be considered an AIDS memorial any more.

It does not matter what people think it is, the Perth AIDS Memorial is just not ours in any way shape or form. Does this mean Canberra will now have the first official and properly registered AIDS Memorial, and if so what will the people who donated the $142,000 in Perth think of that?

He called on the WA AIDS Council to take up the issue with the City.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)