Death, Women & Art
Chair: Eleanor Crook
Performative Remains: The Forensic Art of Teresa Margolles
To understand the full capacity of how death in art can affect change, we may turn to the art and aesthetics of Teresa Margolles. Specifically, in looking at her use of human remains, we can begin to understand an intersectional feminism that addresses oppressive and apathetic violence, post-colonial identity in contemporary Mexico, and public grief and mourning. The artwork by Margolles, who was trained as a forensic pathologist, frames forensic post-mortems in such a way that the remains are able to speak for themselves as well as make statements about their identities. Through her use of death aesthetics, the corpse, and the molecular remains found in morgues, Margolles’s work claims that dead bodies can and do assert their agency.
I would argue further that the particular bodies she uses—bodies, sometimes unclaimed, of victims of violent crime in northern Mexico—rest upon her artwork as their only chance for any sort of representation. The use of the corpse in her art allows the death of the victim to exist as a performative structure that reveals the violent conditions of life in northern Mexico. These remains reveal an ongoing narrative that is in increasing need of exposure. Thus, Margolles clears a path for a discourse surrounding violence, identity, and death to take place in the context of post-colonial Mexico. This paper closely examines the work of Margolles and the themes of aestheticized death, intersectional feminism, post-colonial identity and exploitation politics, and the politics of mourning.
Bethany Tabor is a writer and curator who is persistently exploring themes of death and dying in the realm of performance art. She holds a Master’s degree in Performance Studies from New York University where she examined the politics of decomposition as it relates to re-enactment and re-performance.
Modern Death in Visual Arts
Susan Elaine Jones
Depicting the dead in visual arts fell out of favour after the extravagance of the Victorians. Nearly one hundred years later, it is slowly regaining a foothold as the culture of death denial yields to natural curiosity and a desire to confront the taboo. Though male artists such as Damien Hirst and Andreas Serrano often get the fame, women are bringing a new sensitive but brutally honest view to the subject. Sue Fox bravely led the way in morgue photography. As Lisa Nilsson and Jessica Harrison reimagine death through traditional crafts, Lucy Lyons and Mia Jane Harris share frank views of medical museums. Polly Morgan explores taxidermy from an ethical standpoint. Lisa Temple-Cox and Rachel Allen explore the historical look and feel of anatomy and specimens.
It isn’t just the arts – the sciences, now freer than ever from its sexist background, features female stars from Susan Black (forensic anthropologist) to Carla Valentine (curator of St Bart’s Pathology Museum). This talk will give a whirlwind review of the major female UK artists working in death related areas and highlight the culture growing around their increasing voice in the area of death.
Susan began photographing in 2003. Her artistic expression was liberated by becoming ill with ME/CFS. This long term illness changed her view of life and what is important. Susan now explores aspects of health, mortality and experience: Considering the impact of long term ill health, and the insular isolation from society that it imposes, she explores life and death and what it means to her. Having not studied biology, she now finds the body fascinating as an artistic subject, combining functional aspects of the bones with the beauty of the subtle traces and facets that are revealed when examined closely. Despite continued interest in wet plate and antiquated darkroom techniques, recent work is presented as clear digital prints, not shying away from exposing real human bones in clear realist detail. This talk is based on research conducted for her degree dissertation with the Open College of Arts.
Leonor Fini: Surrealism, The Eternal, & The Transitory
“Life is only separated from death by the fineness of gold leaf” – Leonor Fini
The Surrealist artist Leonor Fini was fascinated with death from a young age. On her frequent visits to the public room of the morgue in her hometown of Trieste, Italy, she would sit among the cadavers, marvelling how the bodies surrounding her were “beautifully dressed and surrounded by sumptuous flowers, with their heads resting on embroidered cushions, the women with their hair spread out”. As a teenager her interest shifted, and she became “more interested in the perfection of skeletons, the fact that they are the part of the body that deteriorates the least; and mummies who resemble very beautiful sculptures”.
This paper will explore associations of beauty, death, and femininity in Fini’s Surrealistic paintings, and how, in her world, women wielded immense power as both the creators of life and the bringers of its destruction. We will see how her interests in death and anatomy, her inclusions of Surrealist motifs and totemic symbols – combined with her knowledge of primitive societies and ritualistic activities – informed her work. Using examples of Fini’s art, I will highlight how she subverted patriarchal ideals surrounding both female beauty and sociological expectations of a woman’s place in society, and how the organic feminine connection to Earth would allow her to transcend corporeal existence.
Sabina Stent is an independent scholar. Her PhD thesis was titled “Women Surrealists: Sexuality, Fetish, Femininity and Female Surrealism” (University of Birmingham, 2012) and she continues to research, write, and guest lecture on the subject.
On Screen & Stage
Chair: Sarah Cox
Panel sponsored by the University of Winchester’s Centre for Gender Studies.
Delmore Schwartz’s play Choosing Company. An American Maiden; mores, choice and death
Choosing Company (1936) was American poet Delmore Schwartz’s first verse play, published when he was 22. It is a remarkably mature piece of writing and a somewhat forgotten one by an author whose work, Alex Runchman’s 2014 Delmore Schwartz: A Critical Reassessment argues, is underrated. It concerns Anne, who dies after an illegal abortion. Her boyfriend, Jacob, argues that marrying – necessary to keep the child – will jeopardise his career. Significantly, Anne agrees. Jacob’s friend Oscar performs the abortion for the money, as he later admits. Financial pressures are relevant throughout the play, which reveals one of Schwartz’s deepest concerns: the nature of choice. And while the author appears to make no moral judgements, he makes it impossible for the audience not to do so. As in many Death and the Maiden versions, Anne in one sense embraces her Death. But does she choose at all? The chorus pronounces, ‘I know what will happen, know the responsible error.’ Is the Death figure here the selfishness of a man, the selflessness of a woman, or the mores that bind them? Death is seducer, as in other Death and the Maidens, but also a politician. In this, Choosing Company is highly relevant to today’s socio-political climate. Schwartz, ‘the poet of uncertainty’, presents a vivid analysis of American morality, in a medium also used by Eliot and Auden. I relate the text to other aspects of Schwartz’s work as well as to the shape of the Death and the Maiden motif in art.
David Lillington studied French and English literature for his first degree before doing a Renaissance Studies MA at Birkbeck (for which his dissertation was ‘The “Woman Question” in England in 1600.’) He became a writer on art and a freelance curator. He has been involved in death studies since 2009, when he presented a paper at DDD9. He recently presented The Visual Grammar of the Death and the Maiden Motif at the Death and the Maiden conference, University of Social Sciences, Łódź (May 2017). In November 2016 Art Monthly published a feature by him on death in art. A particular interest in the Dance of Death genre began with work for the Wellcome Collection, researching for the exhibition for Death: A Self-Portrait, (2012-13) for which he was Curatorial Advisor. He is curating the first solo exhibition outside of Austria of Assunta AA Mohamed, Sept.-Oct. 2017, at Danielle Arnaud gallery.
Horrors of the Second World War: Women and the Death Camps
Between the 60s and 80s a cycle of films emerged, deemed by many to be disturbing and immoral. Indeed, the Nazisploitation film remains a shadowy sub-genre of the already divisive field of horror. These films approach the most taboo of subjects, often setting themselves in concentration camps for example, and combine them with extreme gore and sadomasochistic pornography. The results are films such as Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975) and Love Camp 7 (1969), to name perhaps the most notorious. Yet rather than dismiss these low-culture offerings, I will argue that such films offer interesting depictions of women and war. Women are portrayed as both monster, bringer of death (such as Ilsa), as well as victim and survivor. Thus Nazisploitation is heavily gendered, and it is important to explore the ways in which it may reinforce or challenge problematic stereotypes. It is especially important to explore this issue as the Nazi monster has resurfaced in the 21st century, with more horror Nazisploitation than ever. Entries in this period range from the better-known Dead Snow (2009) to the more obscure Outpost series (2008-2013). Less obviously hardcore and pornographic, these new films allow us to contemplate how presentations of women and World War II may have changed, and the different anxieties and social moments these two cycles reflect. At stake throughout are how these different films may interact with a real history and historical figures such as Ilsa Koch – a consideration of horror, women and death camps through the decades.
Abigail Whittall began her PhD studentship in October 2017 at the University of Winchester. Her project titled Horrors of the Second World War: Nazi Monsters on 21st Century Screens examines Nazi monsters through the overlapping lenses of trauma, abjection and the uncanny. It builds upon previous work on horror conducted at the University of Southampton, such as dissertations on fairground slashers and on the living doll. She is particularly interested in psychoanalytic approaches to horror cinema, and in under-researched monsters.
Pausing the Dying or Posing for Death? Evgenii Bauer’s The Dying Swan
This paper investigates the morbid propensity of death leitmotivs in Evgenii Bauer’s film, The Dying Swan (1916). The film tells of necrophiliac painter Glinskii who is desperately and unsuccessfully trying to depict death in his work, until he sees ballerina Gizella dancing the ballet, The Dying Swan, and asks her to sit for him in the final pose of the ballet as a “dead swan.” For André Malraux, ‘every art purporting to represent involves a process of reduction.’ Glinskii has mistaken a lived-body (Leib), with that of a dead body (Körper) resulting in an exaggerated form of reduction: on her third studio visit, he strangles his model. In order to decipher the hieroglyphs of the ballerina’s body in her role as “the dying swan” and to interpret the body’s discourses, I will look upon the distortions undertaken over the course of its dying – during the sitter’s three studio visits; from lived-body (Leib), to habitual body (corps habituel) and finally, to corpse (Korpel). Blurring the boundaries that distinguish the dying, the death and the dead, the plot of the film follows respectively the mode from process, to event, to state. It argues that, the sense of dying here not only is a mode of the Heideggerian being-towards-death (Sein zum Tode), not only is a creative process towards the Deleuzian becoming dead; the dying is also a form of aesthetics.
Gabriella Daris is an art and dance historian, curator, critic, essayist and scholar, as well as a dancer and choreographer. She is the author of numerous magazine and journal articles, book chapters and research papers, and editor of exhibition catalogues and artist books. She holds a BA in History of Art and Literature, a post-graduate certificate in Dance Writing and Criticism and an MRes in Humanities and Cultural Studies from the University of London.
At the Museum
Chair: Lucy Coleman Talbot
Women of Wax and Linen: Madame Tussaud, Anatomical Venuses, Mummies, and the Spectacle of the (Dead?) Female Body
This presentation traces a trajectory of “dead” female bodies, triggered by changes in legal and practical issues in late 18th- and 19th-century England. The Anatomy Act of 1832, giving medical colleges the right of first purchase of any bodies not claimed by family, provides the hinge for a shift away from the spectacle of public dissection as an element of public instruction and towards the enshrinement of the medical community’s high-status reputation. But in a pattern which I can only describe as “people still wanted to SEE THE BODIES,” public displays of dead bodies in the 19th century are repeatedly displaced onto forms which are initially seen as “safe” but then become problematic due to anxieties primarily about femininity and sexuality, both of the viewing subject and the viewed object. Madame Tussaud, a master craftswoman in wax, rushes to the guillotine to take casts of Marie-Antoinette and Louis the 16th, creating a sensation with her “Chamber of Horrors” exhibit in London; almost simultaneously, Italian wax artists are creating elaborate anatomical models of life-sized humans for use in medical colleges in Europe, which later become the centerpieces of anatomical museums in London and elsewhere. Meanwhile, avid Egyptologists are bringing sarcophagi back and hosting public “mummy unwrapping parties” in which they perform, for the respectable Victorian audiences, bizarre strip-teases of the dead. In each case, the spectacles are ultimately undone by the role of femininity; the woman as viewer of (dead?) bodies, and the woman as (dead?) body.
Ann M. Tandy received her Ph.D. in 19th-Century British Literature from the University of Washington and is currently a Senior Lecturer at the University of Minnesota. Her last decade of research has spanned a wide range of death-related topics, from cremation and premature burial to urban and imperial archeology, and has most recently taken a turn into the changes in medical science in 18th- and 19th-century Europe. She teaches courses on British Literature, Shakespeare, writing, and misbehaving dead bodies in 19th-Century England. As a result of these enthusiasms, she regularly has to remind herself about appropriate v. inappropriate dinner table topics for the sake of her husband and children, with whom she resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Rest in Pieces – Life, Death and Aftermath of a Woman Convicted of Murder
The Herbert holds a very unusual ‘object’ for a local authority collection – the head of the last woman to be hanged on Whitley Common, Coventry. This paper explores the narratives that Mary Ann’s head inspires and how gender underlies them. Why did she murder her uncle? Was she treated differently to her male co-defendant? Did the case attract national attention due to her gender? Using primary sources the paper will start with Mary Ann; what we know about her life, the death of her uncle, her arrest, trial and hanging on 11 August 1831. How did the men in her life influence her? Was she the agent of her own death? How did contemporary press report the crime and her life? The second half of the talk will focus on the treatment of her remains immediately post-mortem and her head’s journey to the Herbert museum. It will cover how her story has been told in the city over nearly 200 years and how the Herbert negotiated these biases in an exhibition about the last two women to have been hung in Coventry. Should we be telling Mary Ann’s story – should the Herbert hold and display her remains? How can this be done in an appropriate way? This leads us to question the future of this ‘object’ as we approach the bicentennial of Mary Ann’s death.
Ali is a museum professional with 12 years’ experience and has been a curator at the Herbert since 2007. Her responsibilities lie across the natural sciences and human history collections. She has curated temporary exhibitions on a range of subjects: costume, ancient Egypt, children’s television and local wildlife. Within Human History Ali has specialised in the Herbert’s costume collection, the history of Mary Ann Higgins and George Eliot’s connection to Coventry. Ali has given papers on a wide range of subjects at cross-disciplinary conferences, Tailored Trades and Corpses, Cadavers and Catalogues; as well as at museum conferences for the Dress and Textiles Specialists and the Natural Sciences Collections Association.
The Hollywood Museum of Death: The Commodification of the Maiden, Criminal and the Corpse
This presentation centres on the representation of the corpse within the Hollywood Museum of Death and the subsequent commodification of the criminal, the corpse and socially bad death (Walter, 1994). Positing that Thanatourism and the drive to ‘consume’ death in this space is driven by ‘Wound Theory/Culture’ (Seltzer, 1998), Discourse 2000 (Seltzer, 1998) and encouraged by Western Secular society’s consumerism. How we view these differing, organic and synthetic representations is softened by popular culture and forensic science television shows (Penfold-Mounce, 2015). The genre of Death and the Maiden is explored: Charles Manson as a brand and symbol of death whilst Sharon Tate is the Archetypal Maiden in memorial as victim, a mannequin- fetish object and figure of consumerism- is signified as the symbol of life and the Black Dahlia murder exhibit whereby Elizabeth Short represents the brutalised, sexualised symbol of death. This examination also looks to the commodification of the items, the victims and the criminal as celebrated in Foucault’s methodology of power (1977/1975). Through this commodification, and the methods employed by the museum there is a de-stabilising of the authentic, seeming to create fiction from ‘the real’ (Fernandez, 2011). Concluding that educational value is undermined through the commercialisation of the corpse as the approval of photography highlights ethical issues for the victims and the means through which Western secular society derives meaning whilst drawn to ‘The Wound’.
Tia originally studied Drama in Winchester graduating in 2003. Drawn to mysticism, New Age Spirituality and Pagan practices, Tia has been working from an experiential perspective since; reading Tarot cards and leading workshops in related subjects. She is currently studying the ‘Death, Religion & Culture’ Master’s Degree at The University of Winchester with an aim to focus further research on Vodou/Voodoo practices and related representation. She works part time in Adult Social Care, has an avid love for performing Shakespeare and has two young sons Newton (4) and Felix (2).
Chair: Wendy Birch
Rethinking Female Bones: Where’s the Significance?
The study of activity in bioarchaeology uses cross-sectional bone shape and robusticity to examine patterns uniting or dividing archaeological groups. Numerous studies of activity change over time have examined female and male skeletons and came to one conclusion: while the skeletons of males changed significantly, the skeletons of females didn’t. These studies span the Paleolithic to Mesolithic periods, the Neolithic transition to agriculture, and the medieval to modern period. Researchers tend to conclude that the lower significance indicates that female roles did not change. They imply that females throughout time have always been performing domestic, low-impact tasks while males experienced the bulk of the changes as they slowly became more housebound with a decrease in hunting and increase in agriculture, a conclusion which is not borne out by ethnographic studies or historical fact. The similarity of female bone shape and strength across time and space is more likely due to differences in bone development during adolescence, an idea often ignored by researchers unaware of their bias. Considering the lack of difference between sites should lead us to look for alternate explanations and examine how pervasive ideas of “women’s work” have continued to thrive within archaeological conceptions of the past.
Stacy Hackner is a PhD candidate at UCL. Her research examines activity differences between nomads and farmers in ancient Sudan, with a particular focus on mobility.
The Excavated Woman: An Exploration of Sex & Gender in Bioarchaeology
The field of bioarchaeology has made paltry progress in the realms of gender theory and feminist ideology, with vast gaps in such research. Feminism has evolved since 2001, when transformative articles like Anne-Sophie Graslund’s The Position of Iron Age Scandinavian Women were published. Graslund believed the idea that the excavated woman is subordinated in archaeological study was an anachronistic one, “. . . influenced by the circumstances of the last two centuries when women . . . have been subordinate (Graslund 2001).” Graslund and her peers employed a once inspiring but now dated school of feminist archaeology, as determining sex from grave goods is a method riddled with gender bias. An example of this is a 2013 excavation in Tarquinia, when two bodies were incorrectly sexed by the presence of “gender specific” artefacts. This misinterpretation revealed the prevalence of androcentric bioarchaeology and, three decades after the paradigmatic 1984 publication by Conkey and Spector, Archaeology and the Study of Gender, we still cannot escape such deeply problematic elucidative methodology (Shipley 2015). My research in Romania aims to help fill this gap in applicable literature. It focuses on human remains, sexed as female without immediate consideration of grave goods, giving special attention to potential shifts in attitude and gender biases during the sexing process. Feminist archaeologists believe that excavated women had agency in life and that androcentric archaeology is stifling that potential truth. Only a more current feminist approach to bioarchaeology can return to them that agency in death.
Currently a Physical Anthropology Major at Hunter College in New York City, my work as a female archaeologist has inspired me to pursue research in the realm of gender and Bioarchaeology. I have extensive experience in the field; I worked on excavated C18th slave quarters in Orange, Virginia and I have conducted osteological work in Transylvania on C15th excavated grave sites. Born and raised in Florida and Central American by heritage, the archaeologically rich earth of Belize and Mexico ignited my desire to pursue this field. I have always been fascinated by the many facets of death, which steered me in the direction of Physical Anthropology and Bioarchaeology. Currently residing in New York, I worked as a Docent at the Morbid Anatomy Museum. My time there heightened my awareness of the incredible presence of women working within the realms of death. This solidified my dedication to my current research.
Sex & Death
Chair: Lucy Coleman Talbot
Dead Hookers Tell Such Tales
You’ve seen it on television or at the movies, and it’s a popular punchline for party jokes and comedians: the dead hooker. Whether portrayed as tragic, titillating, or hilarious, we regard the deaths of those in the sex trade as inevitable outcomes and inhuman fodder for our imagination. In media representations their deaths serve as portrayals of both comedy and tragedy in equal measure. The high glamour and meticulous composition of their staged crime scenes in fiction allow the audience to even eroticise their deaths. From the enduring popularity of “Jack the Ripper” in Victorian England to innumerable contemporary serial killers across the globe, sex workers are targeted for violence because of their vulnerability and the callous disregard of their lives by the communities where they live. Originally convened as a vigil for victims of the Green River Killer on December 17, 2003, the “International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers” is now a global annual occurrence. Sex workers themselves began researching and recording the names of their fallen colleagues as a way to memorialise the deceased and to publicly cry out for change and an end to the “dead hooker” trope. Artist and activist Maggie Mayhem questions why the “dead hooker” is so compelling to audiences and its role in perpetuating a cycle of violence sex workers for our entertainment.
Maggie Mayhem is a former feminist adult film performer based in San Francisco, CA who has spoken internationally on behalf of sex worker rights and serves on the Board of Directors for the Sex Worker Outreach Project-USA. She currently works as a full spectrum doula, childbirth educator, and outreach worker specializing in harm reduction. She is the founder of HarmRedux.Com. Maggie is in training to become a home funeral guide. Maggie believes that bodily autonomy and compassion are the intersection in her experiences as a sex worker, birth worker, and death worker.
Death and the Maiden, Literally: The Ongoing Fascination with JonBenet Ramsey
Diana York Blaine
In 1996, a young girl was murdered in her home, presumably by family members who then staged a cover-up by penning an amateurish ransom note and posing her in the basement in a victim of a sex crime. Ultimately no one was charged with the death, as her wealthy parents lawyered up immediately and refused to cooperate with the police. Significantly, the father had been allowed to search his own home before the body had been discovered, and he indeed was the person who found her corpse hidden in the basement, so the crime scene was hopelessly compromised. Prosecutors were thus loathe to go to trial knowing they would lose a case that had by now garnered global media attention. Twenty years later, the death of JonBenet Ramsey still commands headlines. In fact, the anniversary of this murder in 2016 unleashed an entire new avalanche of coverage, including no fewer than 4 full-length prime-time television programs in the United States. The murder of children by their parents is not uncommon enough to account for the decades-long fascination with this one particular incident in a small Colorado town. What drives our international obsession instead reveals a desire to connect mortality to unnatural causes; to gender death as feminine; and to fantasise about the beautiful white corpse of a girl child.
Diana York Blaine, Professor of Writing and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California, teaches rhetoric, feminist theory, thanatology, and media literacy. Her work focuses on representations of the dead body in American culture, examining the ways in which gendered and raced narratives produce normative subjectivity in the United States. She has published, presented, and taught seminars on the ideology of the body in William Faulkner, Thomas Pynchon, the Jon Benet Ramsey murder case, the Dr. Phil show, the Mummies of the World Exhibit, Michael Jackson’s memorial service, and yoga in advertising. Her current project defines the six major categories of death narratives in mainstream American culture that her research has isolated.
Chair: Christina Welch
The Curse of Immortality: Juxtaposing Beauvoir and Williams
Philosophy is a male-dominated field. Not only are most contemporary philosophers men, but female philosophers have been marginalised throughout the history of philosophy. The French philosopher and feminist Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) is a perfect example of this, receiving far less attention than her male contemporaries (e.g., Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty), whose ideas are arguably no more interesting or important than hers. The aim of this paper is to provide a concrete illustration of why Beauvoir ought to be taken more seriously by contemporary philosophers. More specifically, I argue that Beauvoir’s 1946 novel All Men Are Mortal anticipates many of the ideas about the undesirability of immortality found in Bernard Williams’ classic 1972 paper “The Makropulos Case: Reflections on the Tedium of Immortality.” In fact, Beauvoir even offers arguments against the desirability of immortality that neither Williams nor anyone else in the contemporary debate has considered. My hope is that by drawing attention to Beauvoir’s work on immortality, and especially the way in which she anticipates and even goes beyond Williams, I will not only add value to the contemporary philosophical debate about death by injecting it with some new ideas, but also contribute toward gender equality in philosophy by pulling a marginalised female philosopher into this discussion, where she belongs.
Dr. Kiki Berk is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Southern New Hampshire University. She received her Ph.D. in Philosophy from the VU University Amsterdam in 2010. Her current research interests include the philosophy of death, analytic existentialism (especially the meaning of life), and value theory (especially happiness).
The Gendered Garden: Sexual Transgression of Women Walking Alone in Cemeteries
“Women’s walking is often construed as performance rather than transport, with the implication that women walk not to see but to be seen, not for their own experience but for that of a male audience, which means that they are asking for whatever attention they receive.” – Rebecca Solnit
This is walking as performance, rather than transport or personal enjoyment. If I am walking alone, I must be waiting for my audience. A garden cemetery becomes a sexualised space due to its aspect as a private wooded enclave in an urban environment. It becomes a gendered space because of the power dynamics of who takes primacy in the right to walk there. The perceived transgression of women walking alone in cemeteries is created by the sexualised nature of the act imposed by others – not by her actual impetus to walk in a woodland park. Her motivations are seen through the lens of the motivations of others. Women have routinely been punished and intimidated for attempting that most simple of freedoms, taking a walk, because their walking and indeed their very beings have been construed as inevitably, continually sexual in those societies concerned with controlling women’s sexuality.
Through an analysis of the research of walking women Dee Heddon, Cathy Turner, and Rebecca Solnit; the wider gendered concepts of female roaming of the Beat Generation in Carolyn Cassady’s Off the Road; and my own experiences as a female researcher walking alone in cemeteries, this paper traces the lines of taboo, when walking becomes transgressive, and when our very language around women and walking can be as confining as our footwear, to present a future-thinking view of how women can find the language and power to regender community space by doing something shocking: taking a walk.
Romany Reagan is a final-year PhD candidate at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her thesis centres around performing heritage, specifically through the medium of audio walks exploring the disparate heritages that coexist within Abney Park Cemetery in North London. Areas of interest encompass: psychogeography, mourning practices, ‘The Good Death’, anachronistic space, theatre archaeology, heterotopias, gothic sensibility, liminal spaces, the uncanny, and the Victorian ‘Cult of the Dead’. Her walk ‘Crossing Paths/Different Worlds in Abney Park Cemetery’ was published in Ways to Wander (Triarchy Press, 2015).
Chair: Sarah Chavez
Death and the Handmaiden – Maternal Bodies & Maternal Death
Every day, approximately 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth (World Health Organisation). Women in developing countries are most at risk of complications and death as a result of pregnancy, with adolescents being most high-risk. In 2015, the UN launched a Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health, 2016-2030, aiming to reduce maternal mortality rates. As an Anatomical Pathology Technologist working in a mortuary in London that specialises in maternal death post-mortems, I have witnessed the immediate aftermath of such deaths and have developed a personal interest in the field. I have been struck by the socioeconomic risk factors used as predictors of maternal mortality as much as the medical; arguably the two are causally linked. Low income, lack/restriction of services, and lack of information can prevent women from seeking or receiving potentially life-saving care during pregnancy and childbirth. I will explore some risk factors in a brief introduction and overview into the investigation and prevention of maternal deaths, examining the treatment of women and their bodies in the context of medicine and pregnancy. I will address how the attitudes of medical professionals, politicians and wider society may affect the risks faced by pregnant women and new mothers.
I am an Anatomical Pathology Technologist working in a central London hospital mortuary, unusually (so I’m often told) in an all-female team. As well as looking after the deceased as part of my job, I am also passionate about public engagement surrounding issues of death and dying, hoping to encourage more openness and understanding of what happens behind mortuary doors.
Suicides for the Nation: Three Cases in 20th Century Finland
In this paper, I look at three suicides in Finland during the first half of the 20th century. All three had political motives in different political situations. Eugen Schauman murdered a Russian governor-general and then himself in 1904. After political change, he was reburied and got a large funeral in 1906. Schauman has been considered a national hero, despite his suicide. Bobi Sivén committed suicide in 1921, after Finnish troops had to retreat from a certain part of Karelia – Finland had become independent in 1917. His suicide became a symbol for the Finnish nationalistic student movement in the 1920’s and 1930’s. In 1940 Astrid Reponen-Juvas shot herself on the stairs in the Finnish parliament as a protest to the terms of a peace treaty on March 12th with the Soviet Union. Her suicide was never made public and has largely been a family secret until recent years. Schauman and Sivén were young, single men, while Reponen-Juvas was a mother of two. Also, the maturing Finnish national image was less prone to appreciate suicidal heroes in 1940 than it was in 1904 or 1921. While madness had always been considered a common cause for suicide, well-born men could commit suicide for “noble” causes. Women’s suicides were more problematic in this context, especially if a woman was a mother.
Ilona Pajari (b. 1971) is a Finnish social historian and death studies scholar working currently in the University of Jyväskylä. Her doctoral thesis (2006) dealt with the history of military death in Finland. Recently she has studied the history of funerals, heroic ideals and Finnish culture of death. She is the founder and the co-editor-in-chief of the online journal Thanatos.
Women as Victims, Perpetrators, Bystanders & Reconciliators
When confronted with the concept of a mass death event, like genocide, the sheer volume of human suffering leads many to think of only the death tolls; 6 million in the Holocaust, 2 million in Rwanda, 3 million in Cambodia. Who, how and when a person dies within a genocide varies widely, however. While fighting-age men are always a target of a genocidal force for practical reasons (less chance of resistance), the death of young women and children are the key objective. When the goal is the extinction of a group of people, the deaths of women and in particularly mothers become the symbolic destruction of the future of the persecuted group. Add in established gender norms, existing sexism, and women are often in a severely vulnerable position during genocidal acts. However, we should reject the image of women solely as curators of peace or victims of brutality. The reality is far more nuanced and complex. Women have also participated physically, through their support, or their silence in every modern genocide.
In this talk, we will explore how the concept of gender has been deployed to understand genocide and mass death phenomena. How do gender roles shape people as genocide victims, perpetrators and bystanders? How does gender intersect with variables such as socioeconomic class, age, and combatant status? How does gender play a role in reconciliation after the fact? Finally, how might an understanding of gender and genocide assist in devising more effective strategies for intervention, prevention, and reconciliation?
Nuri McBride is a PhD Candidate and Research Fellow at the Minerva Centre for the Study of Law under Extreme Conditions, where she investigates how society, specifically, how the law handles mass death events and the refugees these events create. She also holds B.As in Political Science and International Affairs as wells as an MA in Desert Studies with a focus on Migration, and has worked in torture treatment and refugee resettlement for over a decade. Nuri is a 5th generation Metaharet, which is a woman that ritually prepares the dead in the Jewish tradition. In her spare time Nuri is a journeyman perfumer, recently finishing a four-year apprenticeship. She examines the use of olfaction in death rituals in her blog deathscent.com and is also developing an upcoming podcast called ScentCast which will explore perfume as a form of art and the science of olfaction.
Chair: Caitlin Doughty
Get the Greatest Death Sentence – Ask a Woman for Advice
Women know best, how to speak the truth about death
How can anyone write a fitting eulogy, if they are truly lost for words? And why is that most of the full-time, professional eulogy writers in the UK … are women?
When emotions run high, it is hard to capture the essence of a person’s whole life in the lines of one short speech. What do you say, what do you leave out? And what, as a eulogy-writer, do you do when someone hands you a first draft with death threats in it?
A eulogy may be comforting; profound; satirical; reassuring; topical; biographical or truly hysterical. It’s the content as much as the style that matters. My paper submits that female intuition can be unbelievably influential in the presentation, and then acceptance, of ‘small truths’ about a person’s life.
One of the biggest barriers for us all to overcome, is a lack of oracy. People are no longer taught the art of rhetoric or public speaking. What’s more, the art of writing is just that: an unappreciated art. Putting the words together for a funeral speech is no mean feat at the best of times, but when over 5 million adults in the UK have the reading and writing age of an 11-year old – there’s an awful lot to think about.
Does it always end in tears? Lessons from a life spent dangerously close to the edge of the grave
Death was the only word I had when I began this journey.
To my amazement, I’d made it to 28 after blagging my way through my twenties, trying to find a life worth living. My search had taken me to London, Paris, New York and even rehab. I’d faced heartbreak, overdoses, debt and total despair in my efforts to find lasting contentment. Even though I’d never even been to a funeral, my friends called me Funeral Girl, an ode to the general malaise, existential despair and/or depression that had accompanied me throughout my life. It was also a nod to the fact that they didn’t really think I’d make it past 30. They were waiting for the date of my funeral to be announced. I drank, I dosed myself up on antidepressants, I tried to find a way through life but happiness was ever elusive. Nothing was ever permanent; I couldn’t find a good reason to stick around. I was about to leave once and for all, accepting that I’d tried and failed, and my life was over. Every corner I turned, I felt death’s presence. On the rooftops of restaurants, behind every tree, it was waiting for me. I was overcome with the sense that my mother was going to have to attend her daughter’s funeral. I made a date with death and put it in my diary. Then one night I came to terms with something terrifying. I was so used to claiming I wanted to die. But did I really? That night I had a new thought – perhaps, amidst the darkness, I really wanted to live. I always thought it would end in tears. I discovered a life working with death, and realised it didn’t. After I’d opened the fridge in the mortuary, seen the back of the crematorium, and attended a few too many miserable funerals, it became clear to me. These weren’t places I was interested in ending up as an inhabitant anytime soon.
Since then, I’ve taken funerals for the famous, the infamous, the rich, the penniless, the beautiful, the tragic, the loved and the loathed. Along the way, I’ve stared into my own grave, jumped into it and swiftly got back out. I’ve stuck my head in the cremator, taken naps in the mortuary fridge and been taken home in a hearse. There’s nothing quite like daily doses of death to feel alive. Does it always end in tears? is a collection of the often heart breaking, always surprising and occasionally uplifting stories that have inspired me to live, to love and to live some more. It’s a reflection on the blessings and tragedies of life, the exquisite agony and ecstasy of being alive, and the fragility of everything we hold dear set in the frustratingly backward and slow moving British funeral industry.
Louise Winter lives and breathes funerals. She’s a writer, a funeral celebrant, the founder of Poetic Endings – a modern funeral service, the editor of the Good Funeral Guide – the only independent resource helping people to get the funerals they actually want and the director of Life. Death. Whatever. – a ground-breaking festival in partnership with the National Trust encouraging people to explore their mortality. Poetic Endings is an entirely new kind of funeral service, putting ceremony front and foremost. Louise encourages families to call her before they call the funeral director, so together an informed decision can be made about the right people to use, if anyone. It might be someone traditional and polished, or it might be a modern funeral director capable of facilitating a bespoke ceremony in an unusual venue.
A Natural Undertaking: Taking on the Business of Death
Carrie Weekes and Fran Glover
Carrie and Fran set up A Natural Undertaking Limited, an independent funeral director, in 2014. Neither had previous experience in the “Death Industry”. Neither had any family connections. What they both had was a desire to reimagine how funerals were done. To challenge the prevailing business model which benefits the Funeral Director first and the family second. To get back to the “Bare Bones” of how we look after and celebrate our dead. This presentation will tell the story of how they went from not being undertakers- to winning “Modern Funeral Director of the year 2016” at the Good Funeral Awards. The story has not been one without its ups and downs. Carrie and Fran don’t look like the average High Street funeral directors. They certainly challenge what is expected of a funeral director- and this comes with its own challenges. The funeral business is changing, the number of new and emerging, female led Undertakers demonstrates this. But it’s still slow. This presentation will share some of those with the audience and hopefully provoke some discussion as to why those situations arose.
Carrie Weekes and Frances Glover are founders of A Natural Undertaking Limited, in partnership with Frances Glover. They are independent undertakers based in Birmingham and formed in 2014 to provide choice, personal care and attention and creativity to families arranging funerals. Carrie and Fran are committed to giving people honest information about what is possible when arranging a funeral. There are very few rules. What is sold to families at the moment tends to reflect the needs of the funeral business rather than the family. By starting with a blank sheet of paper, they make sure that every funeral they help with is personal and unique- and is what the family want and need. They won Modern Funeral Director of the Year 2016 at the Good Funeral Awards, are members of the Society for Allied and Independent Funeral Directors, the Natural Death Centre and the Good Funeral Guild. They had a sold out event at the Cheltenham Literature Festival 2016, and Fran and Carrie regularly appear in the media creating open and honest conversations about death and dying. As part of the Birmingham based death positive collective BrumYODO, they recently hosted a week long arts and culture festival called “A Matter of Life and Death”.
Chair: Christina Welch
Death-Phobia: The Anti-Choice Movement’s Secret Weapon
My presentation will centre on the ways in which the “pro-life” movement uses death-phobia to argue they have “life” on their side. I will first discuss patriarchal notions about maternal divination and the ways in which painting abortion as murder is used to perpetuate anti-choice arguments. I will also discuss the historical context for abortion rights and death-phobia, which has roots in eugenics and forced sterilisation in the 20th century. Next I will move through current trends in legislation including laws requiring women to have funerals after an abortion or miscarriage, and measures that require women to be given information on perinatal hospices. I will cover the cases of Purvi Patel and Anna Yocca who faced criminal charges for allegedly inducing abortions at home and discuss how Trump and Pence used death-phobia to secure votes and what this means for the state of abortion access under their administration. Finally, I will discuss the ways in which research contradicts the notion that abortion is remotely akin to death, and that if death is to be affiliated with any part of this conversation, it’s with issues like the climbing maternal mortality rate, which has a direct correlation to anti-choice policies that chip away at reproductive healthcare. I will close by explaining how the death positive movement and the pro-choice movement share common values; the right to live and die with autonomy and dignity, and the importance of keeping an intersectional lens on the ways in which we confront these issues.
Caroline Reilly is a second-year law student at Boston College Law School, where she is focusing on reproductive justice. In addition to Death & the Maiden, her writing has appeared on Bitch Media, Frontline, Bust, and Scarleteen. She researches and advocates for abortion access for teens and runs the reproductive justice group on campus. Her writing on parental involvement laws was recently recognized in the Sarah Weddington Writing Prize, which is awarded by If/When/How, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the Center for Reproductive Rights Justice at U.C. Berkeley School of Law. She is currently a legal intern at If/When/How, and an assistant to Carol Sanger, the Barbara Aronstein Black Professor of Law at Columbia Law School.
Ashes to Ashes and Dust to Dust: Real Talk with Rev. H
There are countless ways that we sequester and minimise the reality of death in the Western World but we are nonetheless going to die. We lie to our children. We lie to the elderly. We lie to ourselves. In fact, we have become such masters at avoiding the topic that many of us wouldn’t know the truth if it bit us on the nose. As an Anglican Priest who just happens to be a young woman, I believe that this avoidance has crippled the gospel. We’ve shoved the good, juicy, helpful but profoundly disturbing bits under the carpet and replaced them with vague platitudes. It is my hope that as a woman in secular (non-cloistered) religious life that I can be a part of changing that conversation within our wider culture. The church has a lot to say about death: a wealth of knowledge that we’ve been sitting on to the detriment of the wider community (as well as our congregations). So, let’s talk about equipping people to live well, to die well, and to grow fully into who they’re meant to be.
The Rev. Miss. Heather Liddell is an ordained Priest in the Anglican Church of Canada. She was born in Fort McMurray, Alberta and grew up in Edmonton. She studied Political Science and Creative Writing at the University of Alberta before moving to Toronto, Ontario to pursue a Masters of Divinity at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto. During her studies, she was blessed to spend half a year at Trinity College, Singapore. Even before entering ordained life in 2014 she worked in various capacities for the Church but, her real passions are for preaching, pastorally sitting with people, and administering the sacraments… that and her cat’s Instagram feed: @nakedfitz.
Chair: Christina Welch
Holy Death: a critical exploration of visual representations of La Santa Muerte
This presentation is concerned with examining various representations of the Mexican folk saint, La Santa Muerte. During my research, I found very little academic work on the imagery of Saint Death so have taken this opportunity to investigate the visual culture. I will discuss the origins of the imagery from pre-Hispanic through to the seeming conjoining of the religions of two cultures by means of representations of a female version of death. I will also discuss the iconography of the imagery in relation to that of the Virgin Mary citing the theories of Panofsky. I am also concerned with how an iconography is created by the Santa Muertists themselves as contemporary and cultural signifiers such as money and drugs become interwoven in the imagery of the saint. That it exists so closely with followers of Santa Muerte in the form of statues and shrine paraphernalia raises questions of a unique cultural attitude towards death. Davies’s theory of “words against death” and a challenge to the notion of hidden death need to be considered. The commodification of the imagery cannot be ignored; it travels well on everything from t shirts to figurines. For reasons I will discuss, it appeals to a wider audience. I conclude that the imagery alone is a potent tool for helping to spread the popularity of La Santa Muerte from beyond the barrios of Mexico into the USA, Canada, Japan and the UK. I argue that Santa Muerte is a face of death that people want to look at.
Emma Williams comes from Newport in South Wales and has always had a healthy interest in death. She studied costume and set design at the Welsh College of Music and Drama. She set up a business making ball gowns (in the days before they were Prom dresses). She also taught classes in painting and sewing. On moving to Winchester, Emma returned to college as a mature student for a BA in Art History at Winchester Art School. One of her main interests was death, spectatorship and gender in painting and popular visual culture. After graduating, she ran art workshops, and was an Art History tutor teaching adults. Emma no longer teaches, but continues to paint, sew and write, using all three to explore the theme of death. Emma joined the University of Winchester last year when the MA in Death, Religion and Culture found her whilst she was looking for a course.
Death of Roses
The Death of Roses brings gifts, welcome and unwelcome. The Death of Roses is part art performance piece, part experiment in deliberate myth creation. Dressed in costume and transformed with red and black make-up, I wander events, introducing myself as The Death of Roses and offering rose mottos to people. Although most often romantic, the rose mottos may also be cynical or harsh and sometimes reference death – roses have thorns, after all. Invented as a last minute Halloween costume in 2016, it was instantly obvious to me that I had created something far more powerful with The Death of Roses. The compulsion to ‘make her real’ is very strong and I am currently experimenting with different ways to send her out into the world. Can one artist’s idea become a ‘real’ myth? Being The Death of Roses is an interesting sociological experiment. Will the person accept a motto? Will they try to pay me? Are they (rightly) suspicious of a gift from a death avatar? Is the motto right for them or will they chose to exchange it? My talk will be on the gestation and development of the Death of Roses and her links with some of my previous art. The talk will also explore connections with fairy tales and mythic figures like Persephone and the longstanding use of flowers to symbolise the transience of life.
I am an artist & purveyor of obsessive projects based in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. My interdisciplinary practice combines sculpture, drawing, performance and installation. Working around my own chronically ill body, I make art that explores issues of time, fragility, loss and decay. Informed by both ritual and the concept of ‘slow labour’, much of my practice involves repetitive processes using everyday items such as pins, flowers, matches or string. Capturing the traces left behind by events and exposing hidden stories are central concerns. I am also increasingly interested in interactive projects such as The Death of Roses, where the audience is as important as the artist.
Songs of Death: Psychoanalytic Perspectives on the Siren’s Allure
In this paper, I revisit the trope of the dangerous or monstrous woman, suggesting that its timelessness stems from an enduring tension between conscious fears of death and the obscure unconscious desire to give oneself over to it. Drawing from both Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, I examine the interplay of death and seduction in the figure of the siren in order to reconsider the eternal fascination she represents. Moored on the bones of rotting men, the siren casts her sonorous lines to lure sailors to their death. Her song, melodic and mysterious, rouses the desire to hear more at any expense. But is she the temptress that mythology has made her out to be? What is the seductive song of the siren if not the song of death? In which case, the siren neither tempts nor bewitches, but rather evokes what Freud designates as the first and final drive – the death drive. By this reading, her song is an invitation to return or restore a lost harmony, and her mythical seductiveness is none other than a function of man’s desire for his own negation. To defend this position, however, it is necessary to position death not in a biological field of reference, but a symbolic one. To this end, I adopt a Lacanian perspective in which death is framed not as the end of life, but as a limit of representation, a challenge to the symbolic structures of subjective existence. By positioning the siren between these two frames of reference, she emerges as a symbol of the enigma of femininity, which represents to the phallogocentric logic of signification the threat of or encounter with death as both feared and desired.
Rebecca Reynolds is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Essex, where she is writing her dissertation on the role of abjection in Christianity and the radical subversiveness of the body in pain. Her research interests include Lacanian and late-Freudian psychoanalysis, semiotics, pain studies, and the work of Georges Bataille.
The Sleeping Beauties
Sleep is a temporary death and death is an eternal sleep – Euripides
Sleep (“Hypnos”) and Death (“Thanatos”), were considered to be brothers in Greek mythology, and they were always believed to be interrelated concepts. This perception has influenced many artists over the years, and seems to have survived centuries after its introduction. At the first half of the 19th century, with the establishment of Athens as the capital of the Modern Greek state, there was simultaneously the foundation of the 1st Cemetery of the city, which later evolved into an outdoor glyptotheque. It started as a space to grieve, and turned out to be a place of public honour. Funerary sculpture was flourishing at that point, and the cemetery became the ultimate arena for social status validation. It was the reflection of society and its conventions, and the last resort of vanity and showing off. In this context, the depiction of a beautiful deceased young woman was the greatest loss a family could have, but at the same time the best opportunity for extravagance. Among the various types of funerary sculptures, such representations, in full body carved marble, were the most expensive, rare and prestigious ones. These are the “sleeping beauties”, the girls who were rich and pretty, but passed away too soon. They still lay half asleep in the cemetery, eternal proof of a long-gone prestigious past.
Elli is currently working in Frissiras Museum of contemporary painting in Athens, Greece. She has studied art history and art theory and holds a master’s degree in curatorial studies from the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Ioannina. She has worked in various cultural organizations and art-related institutions over the years, and has taken part in conferences in Greece and abroad. She enjoys interdisciplinary studies and she never stops the independent research.
Woman as a Resting Place: Death, Time and Gender in Ancient Egypt
Our concept of time is linear, but the Ancient Egyptians saw time as having two distinct facets. Dt (djet), best translated as “eternity,” was unchanging time, stillness, and to it belonged Egypt’s great monuments to the dead, built in stone so as to exist unaltered for all time; nHH (neheh), on the other hand, is best translated as “perpetuity.” It is the cyclical aspect of time that accounts for the seasons; to the latter belonged all moving, living, mortal things. Death too was considered eternal, as opposed to life, which belonged to the cyclical, dynamic side of time. In this paper I set out to demonstrate, through Ancient Egyptian art, iconography and mythology, that women became associated with the eternal (djet). Women are shown as unchanging, while their male counterparts are depicted at all stages of their lives. The female consorts of the gods are presented as resting places for their partners while the latter journey and change throughout their lives. In this way, women came to be associated with death and, in turn, with power over death, a role that affected their daily lives. This left a lasting legacy in the construction of the feminine as something powerful, mysterious and potentially even dangerous.
Nathalie started her academic career with a BA in Philosophy at Durham University wherein she focussed on the role of imagination in ancient religion. She went on to study Egyptian Archaeology at UCL, and gained a scholarship in her work on iconography and religious architecture in the Amarna Period. Thereafter she returned to her studies at Durham and focussed on funerary rituals in the Book of the Dead. She has lectured in Britain and Europe on the subject and worked briefly in Egypt with Durham University. Having moved on from an academic career, she now works in the funeral industry as a civil celebrant, under the name May Andrews, and in 2016 was a finalist for the Good Funeral Guide’s Celebrant of the Year.
Joana Ortega Mota
“Woman saints and anatomical Venuses: a study on iconographic religious art and female eroticism”
Through the centuries death has been a daily presence in our lives, some confront her, others fear her, but, for many, her omnipresence can be mesmerising and inspiring. Death and religion, and the role reserved for women inside the last one, can’t be ignored if we want to face and comprehend today’s point of view of society regarding these matters. This article searches to expose the relationship between the role of women inside the Catholic art and the analysis of this religious iconography applied to contemporary art through a feminist point of view. The hints of the eroticism of death, especially when related with the female body could result obvious if we face some of the art produced during these periods. Also, women in general are the only ones with the gift of lifemakers, bringing new lives to this world, feeling that could be easily read in the anatomical venuses studied in this essay. Making a reflection on the evolution from the first sculptures of the woman martyrs, and her history, to the anatomical Venuses of La Speccola would reveal a logical path through the evolution of the feminity and death in art history. In the Catholic tradition, the cult for the death and the beyond realm is very strong, and has been artistically exploited to create beautifully adorned relics that give rise to pilgrimage and devotion. Some of the artists that we study in this writing such as Orlan, would use this iconography to denounce the role of women in today’s society and the encumbrances that women have to fight every day to pursuit success.
Multidisciplinary artist, specialising in sculpture techniques, FX make up, graphic design and photography. From October 2015, I took part in the program of doctorate in feminist studies at the Complutense University of Madrid with my thesis “The Flesh and the Sacred: Iconographic representation of the female body in the Catholic religion by virtue of its articulation in an artistic and gender discourse.” I possess a master in formation of the professorship in the speciality of plastic arts realised between 2014 and 2015 in the UCM and I’m graduated in Fine Arts in the same university, having accomplished last year of career in the École des Beaux-Arts in Nîmes, France. I’ve taken part in diverse artistic exhibitions inside and outside of Spain.
Saints, Mothers & Aphrodites: Seduction and Dissection of the Female Body
This interdisciplinary paper focuses on some aspects of the male perspective on the female body during the Early Modern period, drawing examples from anatomical plates, artistic iconography and female hagiographies. As opposed to previous depictions of memento mori, the Renaissance marked the appearance of a new iconographic theme, Death and the Maiden, specifically addressing female seductiveness as a sign of vanitas. The denial of Venus’ charms emerged in explicit and graphic detail in female saints hagiographies, some of which, being mainly written by male authors, provide a startling account of the duplicity of male views and fantasies. Even the newborn study of anatomy, while relying on Vesalius’ scientific, detached gaze, implied on specific occasions a drive to ‘dismantle’ the Feminine. Through the use of didactic engravings and anatomical wax sculptures, the female body became the privileged locus for an unexpected (at least to our modern sensibility) intersection: a symbolic space where art, religion and medical science seem to encounter a hidden, removed eroticism.
Ivan Cenzi (1978) is the author of a series of books exploring Italy’s wonders, namely in relation to the concept of the Macabre in Western history and culture. The first three volumes are dedicated to ancient sacred spaces which allowed a contact between the living and the dead: The Eternal Vigil explores the Palermo Catacombs, hosting the world’s biggest collection of artificial mummies; De Profundis addresses the Fontanelle Cemetery in Naples, scene of a peculiar practice which allowed for a dialogue with the souls in Purgatory; Mors Pretiosa examines three of Italy’s main religious ossuaries. The latest book in the series, His Anatomical Majesty, written in collaboration with the University of Padova, focuses on the Museum of Pathological Anatomy in Padova. Ivan Cenzi is also the curator of Bizzarro Bazar, a blog centered on the concept of wonder and the study of the Macabre.
Dead and Lovely: On the Origins & Legacy of the Objectified Female Corpse
The purpose of the proposed presentation is to call attention to a pivotal moment in literary history— a point when women’s corpses ceased to be seen as privately mourned individuals and became objects d’art that could be exploited by male artists. The dead woman as a fetish object is a Romantic trope that’s often attributed to the work of two early Romantic poets: Edward Young in England and José Cadalso in Continental Europe. But while the poets’ words and psychological profiles have been analysed since the publication of their poems, little is known about the lives and deaths of the women who were the sources of their obsession. In this presentation, I present the historical facts of these women’s lives and look at the cultural and religious ideas that influenced Young and Cadalso. By providing this context, we can not only humanise the subjects of two infamous poems, but uncover the genesis of a dehumanising trope that often goes unexamined in pop culture today.
Elizabeth Harper writes about Catholic relics and oddities on her blog All the Saints You Should Know which has been covered in LA Magazine, Swide Magazine, and Los Angeles NPR affiliate KPCC. Her writing and photographs have been published in Slate, VICE Italia, Hazlitt, Atlas Obscura, and an upcoming book on artistic representations of death to be published by Thames and Hudson in October, 2017. She’s spoken on the subject at Virginia Commonwealth University, the Mütter Museum, and the Morbid Anatomy Museum. She’s a member of The Order of the Good Death and has appeared on Caitlin Doughty’s popular web series Ask a Mortician.
Rituals and Rites
Comfort Women: Flower Girls & Nurses in the African American Funeral
In this paper, Cann examines the history and custom of having flower girls (young female pall-bearers responsible, in part, for the pageantry of funerals) and ‘nurses’ (older women who aide in grief, by passing tissues, serving water, etc.) present at African American funerals, analyzing the meaning and importance behind these deeply gendered roles. This paper draws on research conducted this year (2017) on the history of the first African American burial societies and their relationship to the contemporary black American funeral home, studying roles of identity, religiosity, and gender in current African American funerary practices.
Candi K. Cann’s last book, Virtual Afterlives: Grieving the Dead in the Twenty-first Century (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), centred on grief and memorialisation in the contemporary world, and her next manuscript, Dying to Eat: Cross Cultural Perspectives on Food, Death and the Afterlife (University Press of Kentucky, 2017), is an edited collection on the intersection of food in death and afterlife construction. For her newest book, WhiteOut (Indiana University Press, anticipated 2018), Dr. Cann is researching diversity in death, examining the whitening of the funeral industry and death studies, arguing that the field of death and grief is largely monolithic, and has been heavily influenced by white and Protestant worldviews.
Gender at a funeral: Roles, spaces and time in the Wana funeral, Indonesia
Death is always a critical moment for a community. It breaks the delicate balance inside it and it casts a shadow of insignificancy on life and social rules. To avoid being overwhelmed by the emotional wave caused by an unexpected loss and to retrieve the social balance, the Wana people of Morowali perform a series of small and big rituals to help the community find and reaffirm the normal emotional and social status. For the funeral ritual, called kayori, all the community gathers to guide the deceased’s soul to the heaven and to state that Wana, as a single being, will continue to live. By examining the kayori, I intend to describe and analyse how time, space and roles are divided between men and women and to show the process by which Wana transform a negative event in a playful moment that reaffirm the norm and reinforce the gender roles. Moreover, Wana rituality not only reinforces and clarifies cultural gender roles but also transcends them to let the community act as a single, genderless, being. Thanks to a description and analysis of Wana rituality before, during and after the funeral we will see how Wana can act on so many levels and succeed in keeping the community alive and emotionally stable.
Giorgio Scalici is a PhD student in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Durham. His fields of interest include anthropology, the study of religion, ethnomusicology, mythology, funerary rites, music and trance, shamanism, and religion and comic books. Born in Palermo (Italy), he obtained his BA in Music at the University of Palermo and his MA in Ethnomusicology at the University of Rome “La Sapienza”. His current PhD continues his studies on Wana culture.
Los Angelitos: The Rituals and Art of Child Death in Mexico
In western cultures, the death of a child is too often met with silence, discomfort and even shaming. Our death-phobic society’s unwillingness to engage with death have left many of us without the skills to acknowledge loss and grief, and provide support for families that experience such a devastating loss. By contrast, the death of a child or Angelito in Mexico, while mournful, was once a theatrical display full of funeral games, dances and fireworks that not only celebrated the individual child, but provided important rituals to guide and support both grieving parents, and the community that surrounded them. The death ritual for an Angelito is an incredible form of corpse theatre resulting from a unique combination of indigenous cultural beliefs and practices, coupled with the heavy influence of Catholicism brought over (and enforced) by Spain during the Colonial Period. In this talk, I will explore the transformation of the child, who, in death, is changed into a divine and powerful being known as an Angelito; who is dressed in the guise of a saint in preparation for their new role as liaison between mortals and God.
Sarah Chavez is the co-founder of Death & the Maiden, and the executive director of the home of the Death Positive movement, The Order of the Good Death. She has a blog, Nourishing Death, which examines the relationship between food and death in rituals, culture, religion and society. In addition to these she works as a museum curator and writes and speaks about a variety of subjects including Mexican death practices, infant and child loss, and writes both the Pop Goes the Reaper! and Great Women in Death History series.