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The challenge of living through lockdowns and ‘new normals’ has been exactly that - how do we live with death in such times when we do not have the space to enact ourselves as social individuals, or ‘perform’ the rituals of remembrance that help construct the collective meaning of who we are? We think we can approach this question by allowing stories around death to be a liberation instead of a trauma.
We designed Nomadic Cemetery (NC) to publicly and performatively facilitate that space that people need in our community now - to begin to process the enormous loss we have endured, and are still enduring because of the coronavirus pandemic. NC would consist of a mobile tent-like structure, visiting people who enact their daily lives.
It would be a place to remember, tell a story, and to recognise the value of something still present. Death ‘doulas’ would be present to record those stories as a democratic and honest portrayal of the impact of the virus. These stories would then form part of an online archive monument, a virtual ‘grave of the unnamed soldier’ as well as a place for individual obituary and remembrance.
NC would be presented in two ways. The first incarnation would be part-procession, part public ritual, part celebration of life, where we would bring the structure down Deptford High Street as a mark of our great public loss. We want to expand the meaning of mourning not only with words but with actions. This would be carried out safely, with Covid-19 precautions, and co-produced with members of our local community, ensuring diverse and relevant traditions are represented. The second incarnation would allow people, in particular the elderly/more vulnerable to request the NC to attend their homes, outside, through windows, or in gardens. People in our area are suffering from extreme social isolation, and a safe space to confide, and to tell one’s story will make our online archive monument an authentic act. Importantly, this intergenerational activity will also build social cohesion and peer support networks that will have a legacy beyond the pandemic.
In South London our community is one of the most multicultural in the world and so it was important to create something that brought together people of different faiths, beliefs, and race in solidarity with each other. We want to witness those we have lost, those that have died alone, those who see their loved one die and celebrate the things we value dearly.
Faced with the suspension of life as we knew it, we were confronted with the tragedy of death that transcended the escalating numbers of victims. The numbers are horrifying in themselves, but did not pay service to the important human acts of grief, mourning, and celebration of life, that define how we deal with mortality and create acts of memorial.
Our own experience with loss motivates us to help people and our community find their way through, where our government has so far failed in honouring those who have passed.
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