Death is an inescapable certainty for all of us, but for many people the subject of death is very difficult to approach. Death and Biggie Smalls are two complementary exhibitions just opened at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. Why Biggie Smalls? Biggie Smalls was a Brooklyn hip hop artist and became the face of East Coast gangsta rap. He grew up in violent surroundings, launched his first album Ready to Die in 1994 and was shot and killed in 1997 at the age of 24. Some of the many facets of death and life are explored in both exhibitions, curated by Toni Bailey. At the exhibitions’ opening on Friday, May 22, Madrid-based performer, choreographer and producer Pepa Molina, above, performed the dramatic flamenco, Pentenera. It was a deeply moving performance filled with grief, anger and mourning.
Death and mourning in a very different cultural context were expressed through the funeral and burial poles of the Tiwi and Melville Islands, right above. Nearby, through a range of animated vignettes, Richard Lewer tells the stories of a series of characters and their wilful or accidental experiences of threatened or actual death. There is quiet philosophising, gentle comedy and real poignancy. It is mesmerising to watch this parade of characters as they are brought to life, right below, with disarming simplicity in a continuous loop of black and white sketches. The vulnerability of being human is all too apparent.
Vulnerability, is also evident in the art works gathered together in Biggie Smalls, below top. Many of them seem like reflections on life and affectionate reminders and mementos of relationships – the threatening, the mundane and the uplifting.
Children and adults are invited to give practical expression to the meaning of death in their lives and the focus it can bring to the values and material items of importance to them. In Shelf Life, visitors young and old are invited to create their own art works from materials provided that represent those things they would most like to take into an afterlife. They then pack their finished items into large clear plastic jars and slide them along a shelf to sit alongside the selections of fellow makers. Three of the opening night Shelf Life jars, lower left.
Death and Biggie Smalls continue at Casula Powerhouse until July 5. My only regret is that exhibition catalogues are not available at exhibition launches, although primary and secondary education kits are already available. Without a personally escorted tour or the use of a catalogue, the lay visitor is at risk of missing some valuable insights.