Friday, October 9, 2009

On the Streets: Graffiti Memorials

At a recent industry conference, I heard several stories of children carving their initials into trees used as evidence of our natural need for being remembered. This wasn't an official discussion topic, just casual conversations among funeral professionals, but it got me thinking.

What can we learn from graffiti memorials?

art death ritual
Rest in peace - until we meet again

I don't endorse or condone the alteration of another's property without their permission, and I'd be the first person to complain if our funeral home was vandalized. Right or wrong though, graffiti sometimes speaks for those who lack the means, but not the creativity to communicate something important. What these pieces tell me, is that there is a basic human need to memorialize our dead. It is important enough that some people risk jail time to paint a piece that says, "this person mattered to me, this life was important and I want everyone to know about it, I remember a unique person who changed my life, my loss is painful and it matters".

art death ritual

The young man who memorialized his friend on this wall is facing criminal charges. He apologized to the business owners, but also said of his friend "he was one of the most beautiful people I've ever known"

art death ritual
When New Zealand Green Activist Rod Donald died, a supporter put up this message, but not everyone in the party was pleased about it.

art death ritual
The writing on the wall

The families in our society choose more and more to deal with grieving on their own. Funeral processions and services are described as gaudy, or just for show. People say they want to remember on their own, to celebrate rather than mourn. I think that the graffiti shown here should remind us that there is a strong need for us to have a public facet to our grief experience. We need people to acknowledge what has been lost and understand that our lives have been touched and changed.

art death ritual
A familiar face is no longer in all the places we once saw it.

What happens when we do not allow ourselves a public expression of our loss at a funeral or memorial service? We have an un-met need. We don't get the support and empathy of our friends and neighbors. We have something burning in the back of our throat, but we haven't let it out, so we find ourselves unable to really move beyond it.

I'm not crazy about graffiti, but it does allow those without a voice to be heard, and maybe there would be less of it on the walls and trains of our world if families took the time and effort to have meaningful funerals.

death ritual art graffiti
Graffiti can be used for protest as well as memorialization. In January, I posted a story on Ghost Bikes, bicycles that are painted white and chained to the places where bicyclists have been killed by automobiles. Here are two more ways that victims are memorialized on the streets of the world. The photos above are from a public awareness campaign in Portugal, reminding pedestrians and motorists alike that 1/4 of the victims of traffic fatalities are pedestrians. The names of pedestrians who have died make up the bars in these crosswalks. Strictly speaking, this is not graffiti because permission was given for the installations. In fact, an insurance company sponsored the campaign.

graffiti memorial death art
This photo is from Guatemala, where white crosses were painted on the streets on July 11, 2009 to protest and to remember.
"Today, the principle roads of the city appeared painted with white crosses, an action of the Civic National Movement to remember the victims of violence and impunity." Prensa Libre

So what can we learn from graffiti memorials?
Each life matters and each loss needs to be acknowleged.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Contact Me

My photo
Funeral service faces a crisis of relevance, and I am passionate about keeping the best traditions of service alive while adapting to the changing needs of families. Feel free to contact me with questions, or to share your thoughts on funeral service, ritual, and memorialization.