Bristol exhibition aims to show death in a “brighter” light through design

Death: the human experience, taking place at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, aims to encourage discussion around the ethical issues of death, and make the topic more welcoming through “bright, vibrant” colours.

Death facebook

An exhibition looking at death has opened at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, and aims to “move away from gothic” and open up the topic with “bright design”.

Death: the human experience, which runs until next March, explores ethical issues around death and looks at the rituals and attitudes different cultures have towards the topic. It aims to encourage people to talk about the topic.

It was designed in-house, with Simon Fenn leading the exhibition design, and Julian Abbott creating two-dimensional elements such as the poster graphics and wallpaper. The show was co-curated by Lisa Graves and Amber Druce.



The exhibition is split into sections, each with their “own design and look”, says Graves. It opens with Symbols of Death: a “theatrical” pink curtain walk-through with spot lighting, containing “eclectic” objects from different cultures and time periods.

The objects section includes a Ghanaian fantasy coffin – which aim to represent the life of the person – in the shape of a lion, a mortuary slab from Bristol General Infirmary, a Victorian mourning dress and bottles of medicines used in assisted dying.

“A lot of exhibitions look at death from an art point-of-view,” says Graves. “We’re looking at it as object-based. Many of the pieces are beautiful to look at, but have deeper issues to consider.”

Death wall paper VISUAL

The wallpaper of the objects section is also pink, and has cross-cultural symbols of death printed on it, such as Mexican death gods, graveyards and angels.

“We wanted to move away from the gothic look,” Graves says. “The design is quite celebratory and colourful. There’s a feeling of brightness and vibrancy that counteracts the macabre.”


Other sections include Funeral and Memorialisation in bright green, Science and Ethics in purple, Stages of Death in navy and a Reflection area in light blue, which forms a contemplation space with beanbags, and a fake “fire pit” where people can put written notes.

“The area is a curved, womb-like pod where people can take a breath and have a moment,” says Graves. “It’s a place where people can write down their profound thoughts, or get something off their chest.”

The exhibition, which has seen 2,000 visitors since opening on 24 October, has been supported by the Wellcome Trust and sponsored by the Co-operative Funeralcare.

Death: the human experience runs at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery until 13 March 2016. The museum encourages visitors to “pay what you think the exhibition is worth to you”.


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