In Loving Memory: The Art of Dying and the Healing Rituals of Mourning
The human experience is bookended by two events: birth and death. As a consequence of a global pandemic, the imminence of death is unavoidable in day-to-day existence. Death, often engaged as a private event in the western world, is now not only public but also quotidian. More generally, in white/western cultures and contexts, birth is conceived as a beginning, and therefore, cause for celebration whereas death is approached as an ending, and thus, cause for sadness. Often, funerals occur quickly, and grieving is expected to be a fast, solitary, individualized affair, and often riddled with feelings of fear and isolation. In contrast, on the African continent and within the African Diaspora, death is perceived as a transformation to another state of being and a transition to the Afterlife, another place. Dying is akin to shape-shifting; mourning a ritualistic process of activities intended to accompany the deceased on their journey and support the bereaved in integrating loss of a loved one into their daily living.
The above image is a composition of two photographs: a Luo tero buru ceremony in progress on the left (Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard, 1936, Pitts River Museum) and an ancestor’s altar (Susan E. Wilcox, 2020). The image below is of funeral posters in Accra, Ghana (Susan E. Wilcox, 2020)
I believe art—whether painted, danced, written, spoken, sung, rapped, and/or expressed by hands, bodies and minds in various ways—is what allows us to explore our humanity, heal from pain, show love and embrace joy. —Toni Morrison
Meet The Moirologists
The Moirologists are a pair of Afro-diasporic Black feminist artists, educators, and grief doulas who create, cultivate, and hold space for awakening and processing the complex emotions associated with bereavement.
We teach and learn about dying and grieving experiences beyond the white gaze. Our time in residency at Wendy's Subway will be spent, first, curating a collection of printed matter highlighting death and mourning rituals across the Black African diaspora with an emphasis on the Luo of Kenya and the Ga, Ewe and Akan of Ghana; and second, developing and hosting interactive public programs and workshops that incorporate lectures and art-making.
Esther O. Ohito is a creative writer and an assistant professor of English/literacy education at the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; the inaugural Toni Morrison Faculty Fellow at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Center of Racial Justice and Youth Engaged Research; and the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program Fellow at Maseno University in Kenya. Esther researches the poetics and aesthetics of Black knowledge and cultural production, the gendered geographies of Black girlhoods, and the gendered pedagogies of Black critical educators.
Susan E. Wilcox is a photographer who attempts to evoke memory and meaning by capturing how people live in and create their/our worlds as expressed in the mundane moments, spaces and objects of everyday life. She is also the principal of SEW Consulting, a firm that collaborates with educators/organizers, schools/universities, CBOs/NGOs to help them to live into their liberatory missions. Working in both academic and non-academic spaces, Susan engages in participatory research employing a Black womynist, transdisciplinary lens.