Exhibition review: Bloodlines by The Huxleys, Abbotsford Convent

An incredibly moving exhibition that pays tribute to artists who lost their lives in the AIDS epidemic.
AIDS quilt on view at ‘Bloodlines by The Huxleys’. Photo: Supplied. A large quilt hangs inside a darkened gallery space with portrait photos of the many who lost their lives in the AIDS epidemic.

Bloodlines is an exhibition that honours and worships the many legendary artists lost to HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and 90s. Created by The Huxleys and curated by Jacob Boehme, it was first presented as part of 2023 WorldPride in Sydney and at Sydney Festival. Now it is Melbourne’s turn to bear witness to this incredibly moving exhibition.

It is split across two spaces in the North Laundry at Abbotsford Convent and, upon entering the main gallery, visitors are greeted with a towering quilted work. The piece is a reference to the historic AIDS quilts, this time focusing solely on the many luminary artists taken from us by HIV/AIDS.

The original AIDS quilt was inaugurated in 1987 as a powerful community work to celebrate those who died in the epidemic, and is now the largest piece of community folk art in the world, weighing in at an estimated 49 tonnes. 

Bloodlines pays tribute to this physical and symbolic weight in recreating its own quilt, showing utmost love and respect towards the original matriarchs of queer art.

Also flanking either side of this gallery are a series of large photographic prints featuring The Huxleys in full glittering regalia. Each of these prints and costumes pays homage to artists including Sylvester, Derek Jarman and Keith Haring. For anyone that has seen The Huxleys in action, but not quite understood the message behind their work, this exhibition joins the dots. 

Slipping into the smaller of the two exhibition spaces, visitors are greeted by a darkened room and a large screen, where two video works are projected. The first is the most impactful, with a sombre cover of Sylvester’s ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’ by The Huxleys. It incorporates footage of the artists featured on the large quilt work from the main exhibition space, and again here on the smaller of the two quilts hanging beside the screen.

The footage includes vision of Haring in 1984 painting the mural that still exists on the walls of Collingwood Yards, not far up Johnston Street from this very exhibition. In this room also hangs the second quilt, which pays tribute to artists closer to home.

This reviewer writes about Bloodlines as an openly HIV+ performer, writer and activist and, from this perspective, the exhibition moved them to tears. Among the hustle and bustle of opening night, they slipped away to sit among the respective works, returning a second time to fully appreciate the gravitas of this exhibition. 

We stand on the shoulders of giants, and sometimes among the rush of modern life, we can forget those who have walked the same paths that we continue to walk today.

The true weight in this work can be felt when one sits and registers the many names we have lost since the onset of the AIDS epidemic. It is impossible to not find at least one artist among the many others here, whose work has resonated with you, or who you have been entertained by, or whose music has marked a period in your life.

Read: Exhibition review: Nicholas Burridge: Built Geologies, Canberra Glassworks

This year, Midsumma Festival really has stepped it up in terms of its visual arts programming. The Festival and Abbotsford Convent have united to present Bloodlines so beautifully, and this is a measure of the Festival’s continued growth. May the local queer community be ever richer for it. 

Bloodlines by The Huxleys is on view at North Laundry, Abbotsford Convent from 21 January to 11 February; free entry. A Stitch ‘n’ Bitch (quilt-making workshop) will be held on Saturday 3 February, 12-3pm including panel discussion, 2-3pm. An Artist Talk and Tour is on Saturday 10 February, 2-3pm.

This review is published under the Amplify Collective, an initiative supported by The Walkley Foundation and made possible through funding from the Meta Australian News Fund.

Jessi Ryan (they/them) has been creating performance and exhibitions for the past 20 years, both locally, nationally and abroad- in this time collaborating with a huge number of artists from a broad cross section of cultural backgrounds. As a journalist they have written for and been published by some of Australia’s leading arts and news editorial across the last 10 years-and was recognised as a finalist for Globe Community Media Award in 2021. Ryan has also taken photos for a number of print and online publications.