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Final Farewell: The Culture of Death and the Afterlife

Funerals, Burials and Mourning

back to Funerals, Burial & Mourning section homeMourning WearMourning AccessoriesThe Funeral Tomb of the Old White KingAt Durer's Grave(Approaching the Guillotine)James & Lonise BiasLenin at the Palladiumto Final Farewell exhibition beginning

James and Lonise BiasJames and Lonise Bias, from Songs of My People series

Songs of My People was conceived by D. Michael Cheers, photographer, journalist, and documentary filmmaker, along with photographer Dudley M. Brooks, and writer, producer, and media consultant Eric Easter. Over fifty black photographers were invited to share their vision of a balanced view of the African-American experience. The scene captured by Ron Ceasar is a funeral for Jay, the lost son of James and Lonise Bias. Their painful experience of a tragic death inspired the creation of a nationwide campaign for community involvement and nonviolence.

Ron Ceasar
(American, n.d.)
James and Lonise Bias, from Songs of My People series
1990
Photograph: gelatin silver print
(95.6.24)
Gift of Dr. D. Michael Cheers/New African Visions, Inc.

The modern funeral in America can sometimes facilitate a denial of death. The body is embalmed to preserve the image of a living person and to create the illusion of the continuation of life. The American institution of the funeral home has generated a death industry, as “doctors of grief” coordinate mourning and sorrow, while aiding a return to normalcy. The monopoly on death held by hospitals and funeral parlors can remove dying and grieving from the home and make a commercial arena for death. The elaborate casket, personalized floral displays, large processions, and elegant tombstones represent not only consolation for mourners, but also consumer culture.

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