Ever since I was a kid, I was being bombarded with ideas and ideas and beings surrounded with death. Every summer, my home would be infested with mosquitos, which was common in my culture. I witnessed the first deaths of my life whenever my parents killed those mosquitos. Whatever moved only moments ago no longer moved. Its parts were scattered on the surface where they had met their demise. After that, I asked myself:
“What lies beyond death?”
Everyone had their answer. Some would say that a God awaited us after death. Some insisted on a return to nature. Others concluded that everything would be lost forever after death.
While these opinions did not seem to agree on a select answer, listening to them gave me an idea: An artistic take on what lies beyond death.
Death is the cessation of life in an organism. It is the most visible inevitability that every human must experience for others before they themselves go through the same process. The dead body attracts detritivores and saprophytes, creatures that consume dead material to survive. Layers of the body shed and get eaten by these organisms, eventually leaving bones and
fossilized remains. Warzones, severed bodies, decaying remains, all were either before or after we start to look at death as what it is.
However, because of its material inevitabilities, death became a part of every culture. One of the few species to mourn their dead, humans created elaborate ways to experience and express their losses. Over time, religions appeared and gave humans a way out. They believed
that the essence of a human lives on and perseveres in an afterlife, where the dead would be responsible in their previous lives. Some others thought that our lives are endless cycles, and that each person’s actions in their life would determine their next life.
I intended to capture the process of death in a four-step manner: Fatal events, death, decay, and new life. I chose war to depict the first step, as it is one of the most graphic representations of a cause of death. Then, I focused on the rituals surrounding death and what
happens to the body. Surprisingly, I had found more life in death than I expected. Because the physical exhibition was canceled due to the recent pandemic, I and my classmates created a virtual exhibition on the school website.
1- Last Men Standing
Digital photography (print)
Derived from the term “last man standing,” the work intends to express the violent connection between war and death. The figures are scattered around the surface; the closer a figure is to the candlelight, the more likely that it is standing, therefore alive. The candlelight is to represent the still-persevering life, faintly shining through amid the chaos and death that surrounds it. However, its dim light also points out the apparent absence of life. Thematically, the work represents an event surrounding death.
2- The Rest
Acrylic on canvas
Influenced by Ancient Turkic funerals, this work depicts a newly dead man lying on the ground. While reading through a history magazine, I found some ancient Central Asian customs interesting and decided to draw some things based on their looks. I used animalistic carvings on the stone nearby to represent animal spirits generally present in shamanist culture. It represents the first apparent consequence of death
Sculpture: Plaster, acrylic
The third step to the journey beyond death, this sculpture represents the graphic aspect of decay. The sculpture is colored black due to its association with death, which contrasts to the alive maggots left white. The holes in the eyes and the maggots convey that the body had been dead for a long time. Its jagged edges further express the advanced state of decay. I deliberately used my hands while applying plaster to give it a rough texture.
This animation depicts a small plant growing inside a hollow skull. The body that housed the skull is long dead, leaving a relic of its existence behind. The rest, completely decomposed into the soil, nurtures the plant’s growth. The animation loops, because this process happens indefinitely; life returns to death, and death returns to life. This is the final piece of what lies beyond death: Life itself, which begins the cycle anew.