Mourning Class: Grief In Three Languages


Zina Saro-Wiwa is Artist-In- Residence at Pratt Institute, New York. In December 2016, she commissioned and guided the creation of new work made by her video art students that continue her investigation into mourning and grieving “Mourning Class”.

Mourning Class: Grief in Three Languages, is a one-night only exhibit that sees three short videos exploring the intersection between grief and performance from highly personal perspectives. Though deliberately responding to the cultures from which these voices emanate – in this case Greek, Chinese and Israeli – the struggle between personal choreographies of grief and wider national mourning praxes provide the dramatic tension for these video offerings.

Shiva (Seven) 7 min. by Yotam Ben-Hur

Shiva (Seven) is one of the most important rituals in Israeli society. Ben-Hur’s work represents the individual’s effort to reclaim personal grief from the collective/public sphere. Grief ads are the most common visual marker used to deliver the grief and spread it throughout Israeli communities. These pieces of paper appear on trees, buildings and fences in the neighborhood where someone has died and  where the family is sitting shiva. The ads claim territory and spread the news of the death in question into the community. In 7 min. we encounter a room covered with these grief ads. Ben Hur tears down the papers by exposing the walls, he, the mourner, is able to take control of the space, and re-instate his ownership of the room and of his own sorrow.

哀思 by Dan Ran

In this film a masked figure is burning joss paper in an undefined dark space. A space that could either be infinitely large or womblike. Layered over the top of this action we hear the official radio announcement of the Cultural Revolution: (The “Decision of the Central Committee of the Chinese Party Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”) made in 1966. The figure has its back to us and reveals little, continuing it’s action. The dynamic between secrecy and power is in constant flux: is the figure defiant or afraid? Is the state all powerful or desperate?  Where does the “spirit of the people” reside? Where does culture live? Burning joss paper is a traditional ritual in China for mourning dead ancestors. In the context of this work, this pre-Mao ritual takes on the loss of cultural identity in China. The work expresses the complexity of an individual’s identity as it negotiates freedom in a stifling system and also highlights the conflict between modern ideologies and traditional religion and superstition.

Thrinos: Display / Πρόθεση by Marilia Kaisar

Thrinos is an art work consisting of four individual video pieces presenting the archetype Greek funeral in 4 scenes. Prothesi/ Display is the first part of this project.
In this the era of severe economic crisis, when the old European order is crumbling, Greece is the first country to fall. This piece explores the question: if Greece is dying, how do we mourn for her? Display offers a disrupted choreography by way of an answer. Based on the rituals of a typical Greek funeral, the choreography and the filming draws on Classical Greek theatre, vernacular Greek popular film and Greek avant garde cinema the old rituals are renewed. She writes: “Upon the empty table, anyone can mourn for whatever he feels has been lost. We are mourning shadows and ghosts, lost dreams and realized nightmares, for anyone and nothing. The table with the void sheet becomes a place of projection, rebirth and transformation.”