Blog: Ellie Harrison

The artist takes inspiration from Mexico to talk about grief

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In Mexico death is such an integral part of the culture. There is an acknowledgement that bereavement is something we will all experience at some point and, rather than being depressing, it is used as a prompt to celebrate life and those we love, both living and lost. Over a week in Leeds a team of artists from Mexico and I will be taking over an empty unit in Leeds’ Merrion Centre to host drop-ins, free craft sessions and a feast that brings together the best of Leeds and Mexico. You can drop in for a cuppa to say hello to our collaborators from Mexico or roll your sleeves up and learn how they work. We’re creating a space where it’s all allowed so stay for five minutes or two hours – whatever feels right.

The team of artists are a collective called Zion Studio who are based in the Faro De Oriente in Mexico City. Meaning the “lighthouse” or the “beacon”, the Faro invites anyone from the surrounding neighbourhood in to learn new skills, build confidence and foster a sense of community. Shining light on the subject of death, Zion Studio specialises in traditional Mexican paper craft and sculpture using recycled materials. Making large-scale sculptures for the annual Day of The Dead parade or teaching locals to work on smaller projects like the mythical Alibrijes animal sculptures – a tradition in Mexic, they act as your spirit guide in the afterlife – Zion Studio members are deeply embedded in the community. This is the first time they have worked in the UK so come along and give them a warm Leeds welcome.

On 10 May we’ll be hosting a feast as part of Leeds International Festival where you can see the work Zion has been producing in collaboration with communities in Yorkshire, eat great food and raise a glass of mezcal.

All That Lives, Feasts is the first step in a journey towards a large-scale Day of the Dead celebration in Leeds bringing together artists and communities in the city and Mexico. I think it’s important to get people involved right from the start. What would you want Leeds’ very own Day of the Dead celebration to look and sound like? This is a chance to have a chat, bask in a little patch of Mexico right in our city centre and shape the future of the project. People often ask me if talking about death with people is depressing but when we talk about grief, we are really talking about people we love. I still cook the things my mum taught me so why not celebrate her life and all the things she gave me, from recipes to a distinctive nose. Let’s come together to celebrate those we’ve loved and lost, from David Bowie to your great grandma.

Ellie Harrison is an artist who has spent the past 10 years on her body of work The Grief Series  (@griefseries)

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