Julia Bryan-Wilson’s Fray: Art and Textile Politics (University of Chicago Press, 2017) is a series of highly selective essays focused on what the author regards as personally and politically significant in the world of textiles. From the Cockettes to the Arpilleras, Bryan-Wilson unpicks the curious aspects of what makes us so enamored and personally connected to textiles. A professor in the Department of History of Art at the University of California, Berkeley, Julia Bryan-Wilson sees us all as experts in the field of textiles – they are with us throughout our lives; “we all have,” she writes, “a profound relationship to them.”
The political impact that textiles have on us is strongly felt in Bryan-Wilson’s examination of the AIDS quilt. This section is an immersive insight into the socio-economic impact that the American political system had on people living with AIDS in the 1980s. At the onset of this health issue there was little knowledge or understanding of what AIDS was, so it was important for communities to unite and work together on how to challenge the violently prejudiced health and political systems. In particular, gay men and their allies forged the way and the all-encompassing AIDS quilt has ensured many of their narratives and epitaphs remain.