Death Masks And Body Bags
Death Masks and Body Bags|Walking with Ghosts
Yesenia Vega – Masters Project
University of South Florida
School of Architecture and Community Design
My masters project consists of two parallel explorations, “Death Masks & Body Bags:An Analysis On Death Theory and Mortuary Rituals” and “Walking with Ghosts: A Funerary Path In A Mexican Landscape.” The first, “Death Masks and Body Bags” is a research based project that explores how we hold the dead, both physically and emotionally. It distances itself from our reality by focusing on the world of taxidermy, and the collection of insects. It explores the preservation of the dead as curated display of life, a designed catalog of life to learn from. In the end, the research was “bagged” and pinned to a wall, becoming a physical inventory of the data, not unlike the display of insect collection.
The second part, “Walking with Ghost,” consists of a design project in Rancho El Toro, Guanajuato, Mexico, the hometown of my family and the location where all my family members taken to be buried no matter where they pass away. In Mexico, faith and life intertwine so much so that Catholic rituals permeate life, and are thought of not just as religious practice, but fundamental elements of culture. When someone passes away, there is a viewing held in the family home of the dead, then there is a procession on foot to the cemetery 5 miles away, where a funeral is held. The project proposes a series of architectural interventions along this procession. The distance between the interventions is timed to the rhythm of the rosary and they prayers that the family says as they walk. They serve not only as physical resting spots for those carrying the casket, but as opportunities for kinship, collective storytelling and prayer. The interventions have a sense of emptiness, to be filled with the body of the dead and the prayers of the living. They are incomplete without the rhythm of the rosary to tie them all together, creating a unified procession of mourning.
The final component of the masters project is a set of reliquaries that tie together concepts from “Death Masks & Body Bags” with the personal and cultural notions of “Walking with Ghosts.” Both of my grandfathers are buried in Mexico and my parents feel distant from them living in Florida. I felt the proper response was to present them with a reliquary.
So, I constructed hat boxes to hold my grandfather’s’ sombreros, a tangible relic of their life. They are the stature of my grandfathers so as to feel like you are face to face with them. The boxes are reliquaries that not only hold hats but become a physical presence in a room, like a body they engage and occupy space. The text engraved in the glass is the text that is written on their headstones at their tomb.It was important to create a place to offer a votive because we always light a candle during prayer as a symbol for the Holy Spirit. The hat boxes collapse the physical distance between our home in Florida and my grandfather’s burial site in Mexico, uniting the family’s past and present.
PHOTOS AND NARRATIVE BY YESENIA VEGA