‘The Art of Living and Dying’

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Emmy, from Oxford’s Ark-T Centre, writes –

As a community centre dedicated to the power of creativity to transform lives and unite people in a shared mission for a more peaceful, kind and joyful community, we felt compelled to join forces with the kicking the bucket movement. Some questions held in my mind in the lead up was; Can we as socially engaged artists investigate death, dying and living in joyful, inspiring and importantly safe ways? Will we be seen as weird or as drifting towards the shadows? Will we make people uncomfortable and step back from our front doors? After a day long event full of people of all ages, I am confident that it is possible to explore the issue of our mortality in an open hearted, uplifting way.

This year, Groovy Su,  resident artist, Frida Kahlo of Cowley, a.k.a renound Queen of Transforming Trash to Treasure, led the Ark T Centre’s first Day Long Event as part of the Kicking the Bucket Festival.

Su spent months organising a rich day of activities that would enable people of all ages and backgrounds to encounter the themes of living and dying. Our Centre has been inspired by the work of Kicking the Bucket festival and shares the belief that more community spaces need to be created for people to unload their worries, thoughts and hopes for a meaningful life and death.

In the morning, Resident artist Cait Sweeney led a singing class involving songs linked to the themes of living and dying. Beautiful to listen to the sounds of these songs filling the corridors of the centre and setting up the atmosphere for the day.

At lunchtime, myself and music studio leader Hannah Bruce led a Death Cafe for teenagers in our recording studio. With a certain amount of trepidation we were relieved and ultimately uplifted by the 90 minutes of honesty, connection and sharing these 6 teenagers participated in. Using music lyrics and music videos as part of the process created a safe enough distance and space for the young people to reflect subtly on the lives they wished to lead and the people they had already lost. They began by creating a Bucket List and finished by sharing songs which helped them process feelings of Loss such as Christina Aguileras’ ‘Say Something’, a music video depicting an elderly couple saying goodbye in hospital juxtaposed with images of young couples on the edge of break up.

An image that will never leave my mind and spurs me to continue running Death Cafes for teenagers, was of a 14 year old boy, from Iraq, speaking outloud that seeing his mum again in his lifetime was something he wanted to include on his bucket list. The quiet supportive silence from his peers and gentle nods was astounding. The empathy of these teenagers brought me to tears. I only wish wider society, so often ready to accuse teenagers of a narcissistic outlook, could have witnessed this moment of unity.

Meanwhile in the hall, Groovy Su was busy, dressed in her visual delight of an outfit, leading an afternoon of Mexican day of the dead arts and crafts, also setting up a beautiful and interactive shrine dedicated to the lives of people who have passed on from the local area. Part of this shrine was a memory tree which people could add to by writing a message or name onto  a leaf and attaching it to a branch. Young people from the death cafe closed the workshop by adding a leaf onto the tree and decorating day of the dead skulls, baked by Su and her children. It was incredibly moving to see parents and children immersed in creative activities which enabled them to reflect on the preciousness of life and the importance of those who had been a part of their lives.

Needless to say, Ark T are on board and stand alongside the pioneers of this festival.

Long may it Live.

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