For Grief (2013)
My father used to own a house in Odawara, Japan. Odawara is a town under historical Odawara Castle, only a couple hours away from central Tokyo, with a beautiful tiny beach which only locals visit. The old two storey house my father used to own was originally a traditional restaurant for Japanese soba noodles, and it came with a deep well which produces beautiful spring water. My father lived upstairs in that house and I stayed there several times to spend some time with my family. Downstairs, which used to be a restaurant, was disused for a while after he purchased it. One day I went to the house to stay with my father and sister when my father explained to me that he was now leasing out downstairs—it was now occupied by a funeral home. He said to me, as if it were nothing really important, “It seems that they are quite good tenants with a stable business, if you don’t mind the fact that they keep dead bodies there for vigils sometimes.” I remember I felt a little awkward about sleeping that night in the house, knowing there might be a dead body downstairs.
I have never been ashamed that one of my father’s houses is a funeral home; however, I have never been proud of it, either. I believe I have never mentioned it to my friends. A long time ago when we were dating, I told my future husband about this house, but I was very careful with the manner in which I spoke. I think I tried to talk to him as if this were nothing important and nothing unusual, the same way my father did for me. This was the very beginning of my journey. I started wondering, “Why did I felt awkward about sleeping in the presence of a dead body downstairs?” “What is this, even though we all die one day?”
Death and funerals are considered taboo subjects in most of societies. “Death” and “dead” are often rephrased as “loss”, “gone” or “passed away”, and the words “deceased” or “remains” are used instead of ”dead body” and “corpse”. Many of us do not even realise that we don’t know the detailed process of conducting funerals and what happens to the dead body after the rituals — people often avoid talking about it. I followed three funeral directors to investigate their jobs. The funeral directors are sometimes stigmatised, dealing with their own grief affected by their line of work, having only a few people to openly talk about it with. This social documentary multimedia piece consists of video interviews and still photographs that reveal the funeral director’s work, as well as tackling the question of whether we should really avoid discussing the topic of death and funerals.
Exhibitions and research outcomes:
- 2005 For Grief: A photographic social documentary of funeral directors and their experiences, published in Create World 2015 conference proceedings, AUC (pdf is available from Research Gate)
- 2015 For Grief: A photographic social documentary of funeral directors and their experiences, CreateWorld 2015 conference, Griffith University
- 2014 ‘For Grief’ Things we avoid talking about: Society’s denial of death and the stigmatisation of funeral directors, Life of Things Conference, University of Queenslad
- 2013 For Grief, Group exhibition ‘liminal’ at the Arts Centre Gold Coast
See also a selection of behind the scene images of funeral homes, ‘Not forbidden, but hidden’.