In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. —Genesis 3:19 (King James Version)
Death stirs our sense of the spiritual, of the meaning of life. In the hands of an artist, the subject of mortality can be eloquent in a way that words cannot. Visual imagery becomes a lament, a meditation on death and on that which we cannot grasp. Artists have responded to a variety of deaths—a celebrity, a culture, a city—and each object, in its way, is a memento mori, an artistic or symbolic reminder of mortality.
These objects are loaded with memories of death, constituting them as sacred relics. Yet many of these deaths were tragic, even sacrilegious. So although these artworks are, by their nature, memento mori, are they merely reminders of death’s inevitability? Or do they push further, asking the viewer to meditate on the nature of death? Is death always sacred, even when the circumstances are unjust?
—Elizabeth Armstrong, curator of contemporary art and director of the Center for Alternative Museum Practice (CAMP) with David Francis, intern, CAMP; and Alex Kelly, intern, CAMP