Brighton Death Festival
This Saturday the 31st October, Russell and I took part in the first ever Brighton Death Festival. This event was an extraordinary, experimental and moving day that consisted of a two processions and a day of talks and workshops in The Old Market in Hove. The event was created by pioneering Brighton undertakers Cara Mair from Arka Funerals and Tora Colwill from The Modern Funeral. They both did an excellent organisational job: securing a venue decked out fabulously for a Mexican Day of the Dead party and loads of publicity for the event in an incredibly short space of time. Everyone in Brighton seemed to be talking about it and I just found out that there is a piece today in the Argos all about it...I helped out by creating the event image and logo and painted my first ever coffin, which was carried in the second procession at the end of the day. This was an amazing experience. I thought at first I would just do something bright and simple, like a flower pattern, but as I got going, I realised that this had to be something a bit deeper, the images had to mean something. So I ended up painting my own coffin with my totemic animals and nature images that have significance to me. Who knows if it will actually be my own coffin; it is cardboard and I hope to live to an age where it might have got a bit shabby round the corners. However, I have realised that I would love to do this for other people. Cara has kindly agreed to show the coffin in the Arka shop so who knows when I shall be getting my first commissions!
I also facilitated a harmony singing workshop with my friend Amy Star where we taught a bluesy funeral song and a Xosa song from South Africa called Avulekile Amasongo meaning 'the gates of heaven are open'. It is traditionally sung at funerals and when someone is born. We had a great sing and interesting discussion about why singing in funerals is often rather poor - hymns being unknown by most of the congregation and pitched too high. I really do think that singing at funerals could be so much better with tiny bit of teaching by ear and practising so everyone knows what to sing. Russell also Deejayed for this event, playing a mixture of people's funeral requests and some of his own soulful music. Unfortunately due to a rather last minute planning of the event, Russell ended up without access to the decks so couldn't play any of his fabulous vinyl collection. Hopefully we will fully realise our idea of a Death Disco where we dance for our ancestors soon.
The day had such an interesting atmosphere: celebratory and colourful, yet serious and reflective too. For me one of the most powerful moments was walking down Weston Road with our banners and coffin and bagpipes playing to the awestruck shoppers who were snapping away with their phones. The day gave me strong sense that people are opening up to really talking about death and confronting their feelings about it. Lets do it again next year.