Challenging the taboo of death

Is there a positive way to approach the concept of death? An art exhibition, three-day symposium and various happenings will attempt to reverse the stereotype of death as a taboo subject, as the «Death as a Cultural Event» festival kicks off today. The festival is organized by the Society for the Research of Cultural Diversity, with the support of the City of Athens, and will take place at the Athens Cultural Center until May 20. The society’s past events include a tribute to puppet theater as well as a face mask exhibition exploring the relationship between religion, magic and ritual. Sofi Daskalaki-Mytilineou, president of the City of Athens Cultural Organization, as well as Fotis Kangelaris, the society’s honorary president, presented the program at yesterday’s press conference. «We were hesitant when the idea first came up. Daily life is hard enough as it is, so culturally we try to convey a different feeling,» said Daskalaki-Mytilineou. «But Kangelaris had a very mature approach. The cultural aspect of death is very important – every society has found its own, different ways of including death in life. We have an entire culture of dealing with death.» «People don’t talk about death today. It is treated as something shameful. Our society wants everybody to be young, successful and healthy. It refuses to accept death, which is seen as a weakness, and shuns the mourning process, which is essential. That was one reason that made us want to explore this,» said Kangelaris. The festival will open at 7 p.m. today, as Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis and Minister of Culture Michalis Liapis will inaugurate the exhibition accompanied by the Athens Symphony Orchestra Quintet. Curated by Thanassis Moutsopoulos, the display will feature works by 15 Greek artists who have tried to depict death in different ways. Part of Kangelaris’s personal collection of death masks and objects from death rituals from all over the world will also go on display. At the symposium, which will start on Friday and continue on May 12 and 13, expert academics and artists will tackle various topics, such as mourning rituals and the depiction of death in art. Guest speakers will shed light on the different ways that Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism see death. A variety of parallel events will enrich the main program, starting off with tomorrow’s traditional musical death ritual from western Africa, by African performers. There will also be live performances of rebetika and traditional dirges as well as film happenings, by Greek filmmakers Nikos Alevras, Vassilis Vafeas and Lukia Rikaki. «Death is difficult to approach because it is something we cannot experience. The only way we can get close to it is to see it as a fact of life, which is how we have tried to depict it,» said Kangelaris. City of Athens Cultural Center, 50 Academias, tel 210.362.1601.