In September 2020 I set up a small organisation The Art of Grief which aims to create an open culture where people feel able to listen, talk and support those who are planning for the end of life, who are dying or who have been bereaved. As an artist and funeral celebrant my hope is to break the stigma around death and provide a space where people can freely discuss all aspects of death and dying.
For the past 20 years I have worked as an artist in community settings and more recently (2012-) employed as senior lecturer in fine art at Falmouth University. During this period I have learnt to help individuals tell stories creatively. I have exhibited my work both nationally and internationally, presented research on art and grief at conferences and written a book chapter on photography and death. In 2021 I decided to train as a funeral celebrant with the view to use my work and research in a way that matters, by shaping and designing funerals, offering funeral and end of life photography. I am passionate about how we capture and tell the story of someone we love who has died.
In 2006 my teenage son died tragically in an accident which left a vast and incomprehensible chasm of grief that over the years I have learnt to live with. Through my creative practice as an artist I have come to understand the depth of grief and strongly believe in the idea that we have an ongoing relationship with the dead. Creative rituals can connect us to the dead in a meaningful way. The dead remain present in the lives and hearts of the living.
Coming from a non-religious background I am intrigued by the ways in which different cultures grieve and diverse burial practices. I love to research how the dead are cared for and incorporated into the lives of the living. This research is used in preparing lectures for students at Falmouth University and writing a blog for my website covering topics such as the Irish tradition of Keening whereby professional mourners would be hired to sing to the souls of the dead at a funeral. The Ghanaian tradition of fantasy coffins involves making the coffin in the form of an object such as a car, fish, a bible or anything that was meaningful to the dead, similar ideas are beginning to happen in the west with home decorated cardboard coffin clubs. In Chile road-side shrines mark the home of the soul where a lot of conversation takes place with the dead and offerings are left and in Japan there is a remarkable telephone of the wind that is used to talk to the dead.
I share humanist values and believe that we have one precious life with the underlying knowledge that nothing lasts forever and that life is very fleeting. This enables me to live freely and enjoy the present moment as much as possible.