Friday, November 18, 2011

Mortality: Proverbs on Death by Darryl Ng

 (from English)
  "Life is what you do while you're waiting to die"

Following his father's death, Singaporean designer and artist, Darryl Ng created a series of ten illustrations based upon 5 proverbs relating to death.  The proverbs are taken from Chinese, Latin and English language traditions.  
与其忍辱偷生,不如光荣而死 (Chinese)
 "Better die with honour than live in shame"

"Living in Asia provides me with a gamut of perspectives on death. There are interesting differences in the ways different cultures cope with death. The obvious reaction for most people is one of mourning but there are many communities that celebrate death because they believe the dichotomy between the self and the universe is false, and that our bodies are merely material." - Darryl Ng
Hodie mihi, cras tibi  (Latin) 
"Today to you, Tomorrow to thee" 
These illustrations fascinate me because of their interplay between the universal and the personal.  Mr. Ng says that while he hoped the project would be cathartic for him, he felt that his relationship with his father was too personal to share with the public.  The pieces, born of conflict, took on a life of their own.

Indeed, while the proverbs are universals, their subject touches us all.  Though Mr. Ng's illustrations depict specific characters, the rendering style he uses is reminiscent of airplane emergency evacuation pamphlets.  These characters are at once individuals and stand-ins for anyone.

Such is our relationship with our own mortality.  There is nothing so personal and still universal as out individual grief or experience of death.

 (from English)
 "Sleep... Oh! how I loathe those little slices of death" 

The proverbs themselves, whether immediately familiar to us or not, have the same quality of universality.  The repetition of these maxims seems to have worn out their impact and what remains are pat and dismissive answers to complex and compelling questions.  Combining them with Ng's illustrations brings them back into relevance and allows them to challenge us with a fresh look at their meanings in our own lives.    

除了死亡之门以外,每扇门都可以被关闭  (Chinese)
 "Every door may be shut but death's door"
Whether we look like the fleshy shirtless man with the knife poised to pierce his own abdomen, or the young woman watching the inevitable close of the elevator door, we can see ourselves in them and in their situation.  Ultimately, somewhere between abstraction and intimacy, we see ourselves and our mortal state in a new light. 

Singaporean designer and artist, Darryl Ng

For more illustrations in this series, and other works by Darryl Ng, please visit his website,

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