4 week online course
Tuesdays 23 February and 2, 9, and 16 March from 7:30- 9:30 pm GMT
PLEASE NOTE: All classes will also be recorded and archived for students who cannot make that time
Taught interactively via Zoom to a small class by Morbid Anatomy Founder Joanna Ebenstein
Text Book Death: a Graveside Companion (PDF to be provided)
Death is the great mystery of human life. Each of us – barring some medical miracle – will die. Foreknowledge of our own death is a defining characteristic of humanity; the ancient Greeks reserved the word mortal – meaning ‘subject to death’ – for humans alone. Some people believe that it is foreknowledge of our own death that drives all human culture, from religion and philosophy to mythology and art.
With the current global pandemic, our awareness of death is closer to us in the industrialized West than it’s been in over a century This historical moment will, for most of us, pass. This class seeks to use this moment to look death in the eyes, to get to know it, to create a closer, less fearful relationship with it. To make friends with it. And to create art from that encounter.
To do so, we will explore the ways in which death has been understood and represented in different times and places. There will be a special focus on imaginings of death manifested in time of plague—such as Memento Mori, Ars Moriendi (literally, The Art of Death) and the Danse Macabre, or dance of death—or when death is an unpredictable part of every day life, such as Mexico’s Santa Muerte, literally saint or holy death. A PDF of the book Death a Graveside Companion will be provided to each student as reference.
The class will consist of slide-illustrated lectures, readings and reading discussions, journal prompts, guided image collecting, meditations, and, if technology allows, special guests.
Students will draw on what they have learned for their final project: the creation of their own personal memento mori—an object intended to remind you of your own death to help you live your time on earth more fully. This can take the form of an image (painting, drawing), object (collage, mask, sculpture, talisman, icon, artist’s book, retablo, ex voto, graphic novel) short film, or even words (essay, creative writing). It will embody your unique vision of death, developed or clarified over the course of the class, be it a deity, a personal or impersonal force, a symbol, or something else entirely.
Students will leave this class not only with their own memento mori, but also with an enhanced understanding of the ways in which death has been understood and represented in different times and places, as well as a more nuanced and critical view of contemporary attitudes. It is also my hope that students will leave the class with less fear of death in these uncertain times.
Joanna Ebenstein is a Brooklyn-based writer, curator, photographer and graphic designer. She is the creator of the Morbid Anatomy blog, library and event series, and was cofounder (with Tracy Hurley Martin) and creative director of the recently shuttered Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn. Her books include Death: A Graveside Companion, The Anatomical Venus and The Morbid Anatomy Anthology (with Colin Dickey). Her work has been covered by The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Guardian, The Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Wired, National Geographic, The Atlantic, New York Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek and more. You can see her Tedx talk—Death as You've Never Seen it Before—here.