Throughout this year’s Festival two blackboards will be placed in Dulwich inviting residents and festival-goers to finish the sentence ‘Before I die…’ with an aspiration they’d like to share.
The boards – designed by local artist Anna Jacobs – will be placed at 27 Barry Rd and 265 Lordship Lane in Dulwich and will coincide with Dying Matters Awareness Week, which aims to promote the importance of making the most of life and sharing our aspirations.
We asked Anna about the artistic inspiration behind the creation of the boards.
You will be designing the ‘Before I die…’ boards – how did you go about seeking inspiration for your design?
I decided to use birds from my ‘Flying’ series, because they represent a time for me when I finally decided to live the creative life I had always wanted to. Until that moment, I had always been too scared to show my art in public or pursue it as a career, because I was terrified of failure and rejection. But five years ago I realised that life is short and time was marching on, so there was no time to lose – it was now or never. How many cliches can you get in one sentence?! But it’s true, so I ignored the fear and took the plunge – it was the best thing I ever did. I now know that when I die I won’t have any regrets about not giving it a go. These particular birds are also vivid and joyful and mirror the joy of that moment of seizing life and really starting to fly.
Are blackboards a medium you’re used to using?
No they’re not! I’ve only used blackboard once before and that was to up-cycle the side of an old fridge. It worked really well. I hope this does too!
You’ll be using a technique called decoupage to illustrate the boards – could you explain to the uninitiated what decoupage is?
Decoupage is the art of decorating something with paper cut-outs. You glue them on and then varnish over the top to seal them. Sounds simple, but can be trickier than you think! It originated in Siberia and then became very popular in China, before it came to Europe. Traditionally you would put 30 to 40 layers of varnish on until the image looks as though it has been painted on, rather than stuck on. I’m not sure if I’m going to have time to put 40 layers of varnish on these boards though..
You will be taking part in the Artists’ Open House initiative this year – where can Dulwich residents pay you a visit?
I’m exhibiting my art and homewares at 209 Friern Road, SE22 0BD. I’m part of a fantastic line-up with eight other artists, including 2015 Turner Prize winners, Assemble; Adrian Chappell with his gorgeous story telling prints made around Tate, an upholsterer, a sculptural ceramicist and some other wonderful painters. We also have wine and cake and a gorgeous garden to wander through.
Could you explain a bit about the aims of Dying Matters Awareness Week and the work of Dying Matters in general?
Dying Matters is a coalition with 32,000 members drawn, amongst others, from the NHS, the care sector, faith and community organisations, and the funeral sector. Its mission is to encourage people to talk about death and dying, as well as discussing their wishes towards the end of life – because in Britain this is something we are often reluctant to do. Yet experience shows that if people can overcome this, both they and those close to them will benefit when their life approaches its end, as well as after they die. This is not just about coping with dying itself – there are many practical things to be done in advance that can make life easier at a difficult time, like making a will; making an Advance Decision about your treatment if your health deteriorates; or giving someone you trust a Lasting Power of Attorney to manage your affairs if you become unable to do so.
One of Dying Matters’ main initiatives to promote this is Dying Matters Awareness Week, which usually takes place in the second week of May – this year from 9th-15th May. Awareness Week provides an opportunity to bring their work to the public’s attention. This year’s ‘slogan’ is ‘The Big Conversation – talking about dying won’t make it happen.’ Volunteers around the country are encouraged to develop ideas, which can range from discussion panels, art exhibitions on the theme, or ‘deathcafes’ at which small groups discuss the subject.
In Dulwich, I have worked with the Dulwich Festival to develop two ‘Before I die…’ boards, giving people the chance to at least think about what’s important to them in this life, often in a light-hearted way.
Why do you think people find it so difficult to talk about dying?
In order to talk about dying you have to face the prospect that you will die. Many people would rather not do that, although you could say dying is just another part of life. Through my work as a humanist funeral celebrant I have witnessed on a regular basis how family and friends often regret not having done so before someone close dies. This may relate to unfinished personal conversations, or to not knowing what the deceased’s wishes were about burial, cremation, or the content of a funeral ceremony. Not surprisingly, I’d encourage everyone to have these discussions sooner rather than later – it is far easier to do this when you are well and not terminally ill, for example.
How would you finish the sentence ‘Before I die…’?
So much to do, so little time! Lots of personal adventure and goals. But of wider impact: ‘Before I die I want to see an end to the ivory and rhino horn trades.’
More information about Dying Matters Awareness Week can be found here: http://www.dyingmatters.org/
On 13 May we will play host to some local social entrepreneurs who have resolved to devote their lives to making a positive difference to our society. Taking inspiration from Edward Alleyn who in 1616 had a vision to help shape many lives, they’ll be discussing what part we can all play in shaping our society today. Join a lively event to hear from the founder of Magic Breakfast, Carmel MacConnell MBE, Chair of the Black Cultural Archives, Dawn Hill, the founder of Brass for Africa, Jim Trott and Trustee of Link Age Southwark, Neville De Souza. Come and add your voice to the debate: http://dulwichfestival.co.uk/product/contemporary-radicals-following-in-the-footsteps-of-edward-alleyn/