Who would imagine that a fascination with death would inspire artists to create portraits, sculptures, photographs and other forms of mixed media? The Suffolk County Historical Society is the newest venue for the exhibit “Death Becomes Her: Objects and Art of Death and Mourning.” Concurrently with the SCHS exhibit is the East End Arts Council mixed-media exhibition “La Morte,” displaying an array of paintings, drawings, photography, video, sculpture and poetry from local artists.
Death is a part of life that affects everyone differently. Although it is a time of sadness, it is also a time of remembrance and celebrating a life. There are many burial traditions and customs that have been followed in history. The ancient Egyptians, for example, believed that the body should be intact in order for the next world to accept it. (This was the reason for cleansing the body first before preparing it for the mummification.) According to Amish tradition, the body is washed and then dressed in clothing that has been created by the family, before being placed in a handmade coffin.
Many other cultures dress include dressing the deceased in their most elegant outfits and decadent jewelry prior to burial. Hair and make-up are also important in certain cultures.
Family wishes are followed with great care and detail in order to ease their time of mourning. Creating such a display allows us to capture the true essence of the individual who has died. It is a very personal preference and whereas one tradition may seem strange to some, others may find immense comfort and a sense of peace through the practice.
The exhibit in Riverhead, “Death Becomes Her,” offers a look at a collection of Victorian-era mourning jewelry, memorial hair wreaths and hair jewelry, mourning veils, a tombstone and a coffin. The preservation and history behind many of the items in the exhibit is something to see in person.
Two artists have been chosen by artist and guest juror April Gornik as the “Best in Show” in the “La Morte” exhibition: North Haven-artist Anne Seelbach, with her painting “Death Serves Life,” and Cynthia Perry with “Le Petit Mort.” This mixed-media show is a platform for various local artists to showcase their portrayal of what death means to them.
Sentimental items such as jewelry and clothing help maintain a connection with those who have passed on. Perhaps the best way to remain connected it to always hold the memory of someone dear close to our hearts.
The Suffolk County Historical Society exhibit, “Death Becomes Her: Objects and Art of Death and Mourning,” will be on view Tuesday-Saturday through May 26, 12:30-4:30 p.m. For more information, please call 631-727-2881.
The East End Arts Council will be showing its all-media exhibition “La Morte” through June 1. For more information, please call 631-727-0900.