New exhibition brings the subject of death to life for museum visitors: image00022

03 May 2024

New exhibition brings the subject of death to life for museum visitors

Leeds City Museum Museums and galleries Arts

A spectacular lion-shaped coffin is among the colourful and eye-catching objects from around the world helping museum goers in Leeds to think differently about death.

Leeds City Museum’s Living with Death exhibition, which opens today (May 3) features a remarkable array of objects spanning thousands of years of world history and tradition which all explore how different cultures experience death, dying, and bereavement.

On loan from Nottingham-based ARTDOCS, the lion coffin was made by world famous Ghanaian coffin carpenter Paa Joe, known for carving elaborate custom abebuu adekai, or ‘proverb boxes’, which aim to capture elements of the deceased person’s life.

These coffins have great cultural significance in Ghana and Paa Joe has crafted custom coffins for a number of important Ghanaian cultural figures as well as exhibiting his creations around the world.

The lion is on display alongside a large, colourful panel from the Yorkshire ‘Speak Their Name’ Memorial Quilt, on loan for this exhibition, created as a lasting memory of loved ones who have died by suicide. People across Leeds have also loaned a number of personal objects for the display.

Other objects featuring in the exhibition, which is sponsored by Co-op Funeralcare, include a Roman period painted mummy portrait from Egypt, on loan from Manchester Museum, The University of Manchester while a stunning Leeds Ofrenda, on loan from artist Ellie Harrison, recreates beautiful, traditional Mexican Day of the Dead displays.

And as well as more modern burial traditions, the museum will also display a 1,600 year-old lead coffin to the public for the very first time.

Discovered by archaeologists from West Yorkshire Archaeological Services in a field in Leeds in 2022, it contained the remains of a woman aged 25-35, believed to have been of high status and perhaps a Roman aristocrat. It also contained the partial remains of an unknown child, thought to be aged around 10 years old.

Kat Baxter, Leeds Museums and Galleries’ curator or archaeology, said: “Death and dying are uniquely unifying topics, which every person around the world experiences in their own way at some stage.

“It’s fascinating to see the remarkably varied, and imaginative ways people throughout history and across different cultures have confronted, commemorated and even celebrated death and grieving and how much we can learn from one another.

“Death can be incredibly difficult to talk about, but we hope that the exhibition will also gently encourage conversations among visitors and help them approach the subject with a new perspective.”

Living with Death has been developed with input from local communities, and is supported by Dying Matters Leeds, part of a national initiative promoting public awareness of dying, death, and bereavement.

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s deputy leader and executive member for economy, culture and education, said: “Museums have an amazing capacity to approach difficult subjects in an accessible and thought-provoking way, and to encourage us to consider what we can learn from history and different cultures.

“The scope and scale of objects in this exhibition is particularly impressive and I’m sure it will give visitors a fascinating and memorable experience.”

Lucy Brown, Regional Operations Manager at Co-op Funeralcare, added: “We’re so thrilled to be able to support such a fascinating and important exhibition like Living with Death.

“At Co-op Funeralcare, we understand the need for people to be able to talk about a topic which is often viewed as taboo but affects every single one of us, and we see firsthand how important it is for families to be able to celebrate their loved ones in a way that is fitting to that person.

“Through this exhibition, it’s fantastic that people can explore how attitudes to death have changed over time and how funeral practises have evolved into what we have today.”

Living with Death will be at Leeds City Museum from May 3, 2024 until January 5, 2025 and is free to visit. The exhibition will also be supported by a varied programme of events.

For more information, please visit: Living with Death - Leeds Museums & Galleries


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Leeds City Council Communications team