In today’s day and age, death is a topic that is hesitantly discussed. Considered to be a bleak and depressing matter, many people are uncomfortable talking about something so inevitable. The Bristol Museum and Art Gallery in England provides a fresh, enlightening perspective to the subject of death, however. In its new exhibition called “death: the human experience,” the museum displays objects from around the world that relate to death in different cultures. The exhibit also features an examination regarding the controversy surrounding euthanasia.
The exhibition is divided into five categories: symbols of death, stages of death, attitudes to death, human remains and science and ethics. One of the key displays is the Ghanaian fantasy coffin, shaped like a lion with luxurious lining on the inside. Ghanaian fantasy coffins are hand crafted by specialized carpenters and are considered works of art.
In Ghana, the Ga people are famously known for their elaborate funerals. The Ga believe that when one dies, their life continues on in the next world. They also believe that ancestors have the power to influence living relatives. In order to ensure that they leave on good terms, the Ga people hold extravagant funerals honoring their dead. The stunning orange coffin on display is certainly a highlight of this exhibition.
As mentioned earlier, an important matter that this exhibition covers is the issue of euthanasia. Many European countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland and Luxembourg have legalized human euthanasia. England is currently contemplating passing a “right to die” law, based on the principle that people have the right to take their own lives.
The exhibition displays the mixture of drugs that are given to people when they are ready to die, accompanied by a square of chocolate to get rid of the taste. Videos of people talking about their views of euthanasia are displayed on the wall and a reflection room is provided to give people a quiet place to ponder their thoughts on the matter.
An exhibition about death will inevitably have more graphic displays alongside the more informative and beautiful ones. In order to shield the more sensitive eyes, these displays are placed behind closed doors. The displays deal with topics such as premature deaths and ritual murders—certainly not topics for the faint-hearted. Giving people the choice to view displays that are potentially upsetting enables the exhibit to omit certain triggering aspects without taking away from the exhibit.
The last display in the exhibit pokes fun at the entire topic of death. Titled, “Reincarnation Study,” it features professor and artist Don Celender asking the question, “In which form would you like to return?” Humorous answers such as, “Blonde with a high soprano voice,” end the exhibit on a lighter note.
Since its opening weekend in October 2015, the exhibit has attracted approximately 36,000 visitors; proving that “death: the human experience” is hugely successful in turning a dark subject matter into something to reflect upon. Furthermore, it recognizes the diverse traditions that accompany death.
In hopes of encouraging more open discussions on the subject of death, the exhibition will continue to show until March 13.