Must See Exhibition Encourages Engagement with Death

One of the symbols of death - a plaque mask!

On Thursday evening my husband and myself were privileged to attend the  preview opening of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery's brand new exhibition: Death: the human experience.  With well over 200 people anxious to see the new display, and with a maximum capacity of 60 people allowed in at any one time, there was a long queue to contend with.  We were however happily entertained by a great (and energetic!!!) live band and new friends were made as we waited. Was the long wait worth it?  I can honestly say a huge YES! 

A large crowd mingled at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery on preview night

The exhibition is a feast upon the eyes and the mind.  There are 225 objects on display and remarkably, 95% of them are from Bristol's own collection.  The diverse array encompasses many cultures from around the world and covers a vast timescale from early humanity to the modern period. Items include a Ghanaian fantasy coffin, a Victorian mourning dress, a plaque doctor's mask and a Day of the Dead skeleton figure.  To describe any further the things that you can see would only spoil the surprise of encountering the eclectic mix of items you come across when visiting! An audio guide is available which is easy to use. You choose which exhibits you want to learn more about by activating a button next to it and then can listen to the soundbite through your individual headphones.

The brilliantly easy audio guide that accompanies the exhibition

A number of themes are addressed through the exhibition.  For example, there is a section looking at the symbols associated with death.  Another theme considers how different cultures, and different eras, have approached death and mourning.  Visitors also learn about death in our Western culture and the processes that are attached to it.  The history of its mourning rituals and how they have changed are also explored. Furthermore the exhibition refuses to shy away from considering and confronting the ethical issues that surround death.  The visitor is never told what to think.  Instead it gently introduces you to some important questions which encourages you to make up your own mind - or at least to start thinking about it.

All in all I feel the exhibition is well thought out and planned and the curators have succeeded in taking an emotive subject and making it accessible to all. I learnt so much from it.  Unlike many other exhibits I have attended, I wanted to read every information sheet and not skip a thing!  Death is addressed in this refreshingly original exhibition as being an important part of life and by encouraging us to talk openly about with others, it better helps us to understand our universal human relationship with it.  The visit led to an in-depth (and surprising) discussion between me and the hubby on the way home which we had never really touched on before. We talked about how we would like to be remembered, what celebration of our lives we would want and importantly, what type of funeral we favoured.  Surprisingly, we both agreed, the conversation we had was not in the least depressing!!!!

If you are in the, even if you have to make a special visit...go see it!  You won't be disappointed!!!

The Ghanaian fantasy coffin
A number of events are accompanying Death: the human experience.  To keep up to date with upcoming events, go to the website: Bristols Museums

The exhibition runs from 24 October 2015 to 13 March 2016.

There is no fixed entrance fee: you have the choice to pay the amount which you think the exhibition is worth to you!


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