The afterlife

Many people ask why I frequently choose the theme of death in my art and enjoy visiting cemeteries.

I have always been interested in to what happens after life. My father passed away when I was three years old. When I was a child I would visit the cemetery frequently. From a young age I began to consider what would happen after death. There is a certain energy in the cemetery, an atmosphere that is heavy.

As I traveled around the world I frequently visited cemeteries and funerary sites. I was always intrigued with different customs of the dead and ceremonial practices.

I always wonder as I look at their graves,

Who were they?

Who did they love?

Who loved them?

Did they get to finish everything they wanted to finish?

Did they live their dreams?

Did they have any regrets at the time of passing?

What were their final words?

and …..

Where did they go?

The variation of burial customs is vast from country to country. The now common methods of embalming frequently practiced in the West was adapted from the funerary customs of the ancient Egyptians. In many native communities I have seen they bury they deceased immediately without disturbing the body, placing stones on top to mark the site. These sites are sacred. In Tibet, sky burial is customary and is practiced today in Lhasa and in Amdo region. In India it is holy to have one’s final rites of cremation on the Ganges in Varanasi.

I cannot say one method is better than the other. I do not like formaldehyde though, I personally would opt out of the embalming. I have considered what do do with my own body and wrote a statement of my final wishes. My intention isn’t to be morbid, I simply realize that life is a thin branch that we are perched upon for a brief moment only. At any moment that branch could snap, we do not know when. I requested that my remains be handled like the local people of whichever country I happen to be in.

The project I am currently working on examines these subjects more deeply. Most cultures have a spirit guide that assists in the transition into the afterlife. I found this parallel in almost every ancient culture, a face has been given to the deity that will lead us through the transition from human form into the spirit world. I chose four of the cultures which were most significant to my life.

I love numerology and chose the number four because of the four directions, and also in Chinese, Japanese and Tibetan, the pronunciation of the number four sounds similar to the word “die”. In China four is an unlucky number for this reason. However, in tantric buddhism and in many shamanic practices it is a very important number. As the spokes of yungdrung are four. The ancient solar cross found frequently in Neolithic cultures, a cross within a circle was later influential to the modern Christian cross. Many ancient churches have an equal sided cross rather than a vertical elongated and shorter horizontal figure. A form of the yungdrung exists in almost every ancient culture from the Native Americans to the Chinese. While visiting the Coptic church near my home in Cairo I surprisingly found an example there as well.

The four cultures I chose were; Tibetan, Greek, Mexican, and Egyptian.

These four countries changed me in someway. I believe we are continually dying. Old parts of our self are cast away allowing for growth and development. Our cells are changing, every 24 hours we are molecularly a different person. From the time of adulthood our bodies begin to decay. This is the cycle of life, the Buddhists and Hindus call it Samsara. The endless process of life and death.

All cultures agree our actions in this life will determine our fate in the afterlife. In ancient Egyptian culture Anubis is present when the parted’s heart is weighed with a feather. In Abrahamic religions the worthy are rewarded with ascent to heaven while the delinquent are punished in hell. Hell realms are also present in Tibetan Buddhism. One who disobeys the moral code is served an undesirable environment.

In Hinduism, Jainism and in Buddhism the next state of reincarnation is determined by ones adherence to the ethic principles. The ultimate state of consciousness being Nirvana, where one escapes the wheel of samsara. In Hinduism the term Nirvana also relates to the spirit becoming one with the creator, Brahman. These thoughts are present also in Islam. The term Fanaa فناء‎, means to die before dying. Once entering into this state of awareness one is in union with Allah.

I created masks of these deities using a technique I learned in Lhasa at Tibet University. First, I made a clay form of the figures then casted a plaster mold, within the mold I pasted paper and cloth, layer by layer, adhered with an animal glue. The glue is also is used traditionally in Tibetan Thangka painting to mix the mineral pigments. I tried using other adhesives, I am a vegetarian and prefer not to use animal products. However, this glue works best, despite its unpleasant smell.

Yama from Tibet, this horned deity is present in Buddhism, Hinduism and also in Zoroastrianism. Yama is a protector deity and wrathful deity and is said to judge the dead and preside over the Narakas, the afterlife in the wheel of samsara.

Hermes the god of trade, trickery, travelers and messenger of the gods. Hermes was known as the god of boundaries and the transgression of boundaries. He was a conductor of souls into the afterlife.

Xoltol is the Aztec god of the underworld, he was the god of fire, lightening, deformities and death. Xoltol was a shape shifting trickster and a guide through the nine levels of the afterlife.

Anubis interestingly enough, was also a canine deity. The jackal was the god of mummification, embalming, the afterlife, cemeteries, tombs and the underworld. He was a protector of graves and a guide to parted souls.

I am currently working on an exhibition of these photography works in fusion with ceramic pieces relative to the theme.

More photos and information to come.

Dive deeper into the liminal spaces of the consciousness.

Crossing boundaries of both time and space into a field where anything is possible.

The void where both nothing and everything exists.

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