Contemporary Art Exhibition Faces Death
To promote openness about death, the Norwegian Cancer Society opens a portrait exhibition of dying and dead people
The exhibition “Life before Death” is a collaborative project between the Norwegian Cancer Society and the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology in Oslo. It portrays 26 people who know they are dying. Photographer Walter Scheler and journalist Beate Lakotta are artists who have followed and photographed people who are terminally ill through their last weeks and days. All were photographed shortly before and immediately after their death.
“These are beautiful portraits that awaken very powerful emotions. With this exhibition, we want to contribute to promote openness around death. We experience that many people contact us and want to talk about death. This may be the consequence of the artificial distance that now exists between life and death nowadays. Death was a more natural part of life,” says Secretary General Anne Lise Ryel of the Norwegian Cancer Society.
She points out that death has increasingly become professionalised these last 70 to 80 years. From the hospital to the funeral parlor, everything is taken care of for us.
“Many people go through life without seeing a single dead body, and therefore may have difficulty visualizing death. Many relatives say it is difficult to talk about death because they are afraid the words may come out wrong, and the dying is perhaps afraid to burden others with their thoughts. Our hope is that this exhibition helps start a serious conversation about life and death,” says Ryel.
The Norwegian Cancer Society has long focused on advocating for more openness to break the taboos about death. This past year, the Norwegian Cancer Society has organized many public events with death as a thematic focus. Thousands of people participated in the conferences and the event in Oslo turned out to be the most-attended open meeting ever.
“I think that these meetings have touched people and that we have opened a closed door. We will contribute to open this door even wider,” says Ryel.
The exhibition at the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology is open until September 1, 2014. The 26 people portrayed in the exhibition spent their last days in hospices. All those who come to such places realize that their lives are drawing to a close. Yet hardly anyone is devoid of hope. This is depicted in the captions Lakotta wrote. Many hoped for a few more days and that a dignified death awaited them.
This article originally appeared in the Mar. 21, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.