dead and alive

Klaus Bo

2011 - Ongoing


”The only things certain in life are death and taxes,” said Benjamin Franklin. Death certainly is part of the human condition and one of the few events we all share, across cultures and borders, albeit we address it in very different ways. The project Dead and Alive combine photographic documentation with anthropological and ethnological dissemination through an open exhibit that will introduce a number of chosen death rituals from around the world. The exhibit is intended to contribute to public debate, encourage conversations about death, and allow people to familiarise themselves with the topic in more depth.

In some places – like Denmark – death is taboo, in other places death and the deceased are natural parts of the life of the living. The background for this project is also the desire to show how death rituals often reflect life. With its selection of different death and burial rituals, visitors to the exhibit will gain insight into how much any given culture’s values, hopes and dreams are reflected in their thoughts about death and life after death, and how differently we treat our dead from culture to culture.

The intent is to present a different and enlightening exhibition about death and the rituals connected with bidding life farewell.

A lot of research and interesting papers, dissertations and articles have been written about death rituals from many parts of the world but visual documentation is sparse if it even exists. Thus, the photographs is the supporting component of the project, and it will promote and give the visitors a visual insight into practical rituals. Both the rituals that we, in principle, have access to experience - but have perhaps never witnessed or taken part in – and the rituals we’re normally cut off from participating in for religious, cultural, national or geographical reasons, etcetera.

The work on the project generates a huge amount of imagery and interviews is being conducted and includes audio recordings of the people I work with on the documentation of each ritual. This documentation must, of course, be shared with all that have an interest in the subject and can find application for our work. Knowledge sharing is a critical part of the project purpose.

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  • GUATEMALA - In Santiago de Sacatepéquez a Mayan family is "burying" a young deceased relative in the cemetery. Due to lack of space people are buried in these shelves.

  • MADAGASCAR - The late Mr. Rabemanantsoa of the Betsileo tribe is laying in state in the family home in Antsirabe. The next day he will be transported to the family tomb where he will be given a quick burial. Later he will be elevated and become an ancestor.

  • MADAGASCAR - Famadihanas are usually held every seven years in the highlands. When someone dies in between two Famadihanas, they are given a quick burial and at the next Famadihana they will be elevated and become an ancestor.

  • MADAGASCAR - A Famadihana is a funerary tradition of the Malagasy people in Madagascar. Known as the turning of the bones, people bring forth the bodies of their ancestors from the family crypts and rewrap them in fresh cloth, then dance with the corpses around the tomb to live music.

  • MADAGASCAR - A woman is carrying am ancestor back to the family tomb at the end of the Famadihana.

  • NEPAL - A red blanket is covering the body of Ramri Tamang during the ceremonies. A "crown" is also placed on her head to keep her spirit in place during the rituals. Candles and favorite foods (rice) also help keep the spirit in its place.

  • NEPAL - Ramri Tamang died from asthma at the age of 53 in the Timal region. When someone dies here, they are placed in the lotus position so their spirit/soul are closer to Buddha. The coins in her mouth is for the transportation to the land of the dead.

  • NEPAL - Ramri Tamang was cremated in the mountains during the night. In the morning, her family will visit the cremation grounds so they can find a piece of her skull for use in the next part of the rituals - the Ghewa.

  • NEPAL - The lamas (buddhist priests) are chanting and reciting The Tibetan Book of Death while playing different instruments og which some are played to keep the evil spirits away.

  • GHANA - The body of Joseph Huno Nomo (aka Nene Nomo), a poultry farmer of the Ga tribe, is being prepared by an undertaker for the ceremonies . The family lives in the village of Ashaiman on the outskirts of Accra.

  • GHANA - After the undertaker prepared the body of Nene Nomo, he was laid on top of the coffin that he will be buried in. His coffin pays homage to his profession, chicken farming.

  • GHANA - Nene Nomo is laying in state while his widow and family members sits outside.

  • HAITI - A priest and a hunsi perform a ritual over the body of a 23-year old mambo (Vodou priestess) to lure her spirit from her body. When a person is inaugurated as a Vodou priest or priestess a spirit (Lwa) chooses the person and becomes his/her guardian angel. It is very important to remove this spirit from the deceased. Otherwise it will become a ghost and haunt the living.
    Bodies are sometimes kept for a long time if the family cannot immediately afford the funeral rites.

  • HAITI - Hunsies (female temple servants) in a small Vodou temple in Port-au-Prince chant to lure the spirit of a deceased mambo (Vodou priestess) into a kalabasa squash (seen floating in a bowl in the center). Afterward, they will release the spirit at a nearby road junction.

  • HAITI - Family, friends and members of the deceased Vodou temple say goodbye to the mambo.

  • INDIA - Varanasi is the holiest city in India. It is believed by Hindus that if you die in Varanasi, if you are being cremated in Varanasi or if you ashes are thrown into the river Ganges in Varanasi, it is possible to escape Samsara (the cycle of death and rebirth) and achieve Moksha (salvation).
    Funeral parades are common in the main street of Varanasi . Bodies are dressed in different colors to signify their virtues: yellow for knowledge, saffron for innocence, and red for purity.

  • INDIA - Family members sprinkle water from the holy Ganges onto a dead relative. It is believed that the water from the river Ganges are holy and can wash all the sins away before the cremation.

  • INDIA - Bodies are cremated at Manikarnika Ghat, Varanasi’s main cremation grounds. More than 150 bodies are cremated there every day, and its frequent use has caused deforestation in the area.

  • INDIA - A body anointed with ghee, a type of clarified butter, burns in a funeral pyre. The ghee makes the burning temperature higher.

  • GREENLAND - In Upernavik, the soil is too hard to bury the dead. Instead, they are laid to rest in concrete and stone-covered coffins above ground with plastic flowers on top. Often, these coffins face the ocean, so that dead sealers can watch the place they once worked.