A Matter of Life and Death

Birmingham festival tackles the final taboo.

A Birmingham arts and culture festival is tackling the taboos of death and dying with a programme of theatre, film, food, art and crafts, exhibitions, tours and discussion.

A Matter of Life and Death, between May 10th-26th, is aiming to encourage open and honest conversation about death and dying through a variety of events aimed at all ages.

Organised by BrumYODO, a diverse community collective featuring health professionals, undertakers, artists, hospice staff and lawyers, this is the third year the team has organised a festival in the city. This year it takes in a range of venues including the Electric Cinema, The Coffin Works, Library of Birmingham, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Ort Gallery and the John Lewis Community Hub.

Kicking off A Matter of Life and Death is Annabel de Vetten of Conjurer’s Kitchen with a Movie Taste-Along to the cult horror Sleepy Hollow, starring Johnny Depp. Audiences will be biting into delicious treats inspired by the Tim Burton film.

“It will be a light-hearted night to set the mood for a positive start to the festival,” says Annabel, whose Conjurer’s Kitchen creates fantastical works of food art. “Sleepy Hollow is ideal for a death-themed festival but it also has a real fun element to it. During the Movie Taste-Along I pause the film at certain points and then hand out an edible representation of what is on the screen – I’m not saying what they will be because they are a surprise and they certainly won’t be what people expect!”

Annabel held a hugely successful Death and Dine event for last year’s A Matter of Life and Death and says she is honoured to be launching this year’s festival.

“It is a real privilege to be included in the festival full stop but then I am thrilled to have the launch event,” she says. “I hope this event will set the whole tone for the festival. A Matter of Life and Death is so important because it’s about making people aware of the possibilities that are open to them and that there are so many ways of celebrating someone’s life after they have gone. These things can be very personal and very positive.

“Death is something which is going to happen to us all and we can plan for it but instead we leave it until it’s too late and then it’s all mixed up with grief and loss. The festival is about making people have those conversations as they are so often viewed as taboo in society.”

Another highlight of the festival is also food-related. Death over Dinner is an evening of dining and death talk with performances and speakers. Taking place at Stirchley Baths on Saturday May 12th, programme manager and BrumYODO committee member Antonia Beck says Death over Dinner will be a very special evening.

“Death over Dinner will be a truly unique event,” she says. “We are inviting audiences to gather around a table to enjoy a delicious three-course feast, intriguing conversations about death and dying and a line-up of performances and speakers.

“Our evening programme so far includes performer Joanne Tremarco who will sharing an extract of her beautiful show The Birth of Death and speaker Hilary Grainger of the Birmingham and West Midlands Victorian Society and we’re still adding to the programme.”

Birmingham participatory artists Jane Thakoordin added, “We will work with participants to create a series of miniature extinct, fanciful and surreal creatures. They will be entombing precious objects, ‘dead’ creatures and artefacts in beautiful, precious, intricate final resting places. These tiny creatures will be exhibited in a bespoke cabinet, reminiscent of a lepidopterist’s cabinet.

“We hope people will be engaged in thinking about extinction, loss to the planet of creatures – some of whom we may never have even seen other than in images or drawings. This metaphor of imaginary creatures is one that enables us to talk about loss, death, acceptance and the rhythm of life.”

“BrumYODO is a wonderful way to entice people into a world where they can immerse themselves in the creative process and allow themselves to reflect and contemplate their own journey through life It is always a pleasure and a privilege to have conversations with people about their views on death – for some people it can be for the very first time.”

For full details of all the A Matter of Life and Death events and tickets see www.brumyodo.org.uk