Modern Musings of Mummification

Story & Photos by Elaine Van der Merwe-Louwrens
“I wanted to create work that made people curious, made them think. Allowing the mind to wander beyond the mundane. Art that is worthy of sparking conversations. I wanted to create a narrative that transcends trends....”

This editorial is an artistic expression. A vision fostered during months of seclusion on our farm in South Africa.

It was brought to life shortly after our lockdown was slightly eased and we were able to cross provincial borders again and gather in very small numbers.

The photographs explore the beauty and promise surrounding the notion of the afterlife, the journey that surrounds it and the inevitable rebirth. It celebrates mummification beyond the macabre or morbid by portraying the continuation of the artistic consciousness in the afterlife. When one grasps the intricacy, the beauty and the subtlety of life and death, a sense of elation appears. Great emphasis was therefore placed on using natural light, flooding the photographs, to dispel darkness and the morbidity associated with it; playing of our interpretation of fashion and conceptual, modern visual art.

“We wanted each image to exude the beauty that surrounds the impermanent nature of life…”

Rituals and traditions from different burial rites were loosely borrowed to suit the narrative:

The art of mummification itself were borrowed from the ancient Egyptians. As a young girl I spent numerous hours in our farmhouse in South Africa pouring over encyclopaedia that shared knowledge and insight into ancient Egypt, its inhabitants and their curiously intriguing customs. I was instantly drawn to the selection for burial goods that would be painstakingly prepared to assist the deceased.

When dreaming up Modern Musings of Mummification I kept on thinking what each artist would deem worthy to take with should they be preparing for another life. What would they choose to sooth their "ka" and allow them to create in the next life? This fascinated me endlessly.

In India on the other hand, white cloth is worn during Hindu funeral processions signifying purity. White is however an absence of colour. We therefore chose to wrap our whole scene in white by using a space devoid of colour but rather filled with the nuances of light and shadow. This light filled barren space embraces the young persona and emphasizes her lonely yet defiant demeanour and becomes an instrument aiding in the misconception of what “Modern Mummification” could mean.

Another ritual from Greek mythology, Charon's Obal: where two coins were placed over the eyes of the dead to pay their passage across the Styx River, were altered to suit our Modern Musings storyline.

We chose to use two identical coins brough back from our travels abroad. By using coins that had great personal meaning, we wanted to infuse the photographs with our way of interpreting the world. We wanted each image to exude the beauty that surrounds the impermanent nature of life.

Each photograph represents a moment of preparation for the long journey through mummification into the stages of rebirth. Each pays visual homage to the artisans and the profession each artist valued and the visions they brought to life.

A collection of objects and trinkets represents the ka, or life-force of the craftswomen and are everyday curiosities used in their trade. They are the unique objects these individuals would carry into the next life to continue their processes and artistry.

The garments portray the notion of creating something out of nothing. Something insubstantial. Each outfit only existed for the few moments it was photographed, falling apart afterwards.

The act of laboriously wrapping the muse myself for each individual chapter of the project, becoming an integral part of the scene. It mimicked the sacred and careful manner in which Egyptians during the “Old Kingdom” period would wrap the deceased.

The rudimentary yet repetitive face painting were chosen as a distractive element, drawing the viewers’ attention to her eyes before forcing them to circle endlessly around her face. It pays homage to the intricate death masks that we can see throughout the ages. Some elaborate, some deceptively simple.

As an ongoing independent project planning it became a lifeline, a profound source of focus and spirituality. Each individual chapter will shine the spotlight on another artform and how I interpret their take on preparing for the afterlife and the subsequent rebirth of their craft..

Photographers

Elaine Van der Merwe-Louwrens & Steph Louwrens | website

Creative Direction & Concept Creation

Elaine van der Merwe-Louwrens for THIRTEEN Creative Emporium | website

Stylist & Wardrobe Designer

Elaine Van der Merwe-Louwrens | website

Model & MUA

Philipa Otto | website

Floral Artist

Teneale Coetzee Creations | website

Location

South Africa

Elaine Van der Merwe-Louwrens is a photographer and owner of Dust and Dreams Photography as well as owner/creative director of Thirteen Ideas Emporium.