CLEA VAN DER GRIJN DISCUSSES A RECENT RESIDENCY IN MEXICO, WHERE SHE EXPLORED IRISH AND MEXICAN ATITUDES TO DEATH, MOURNING AD IDENTITY.
Sayulita is a small coastal village of 4000 inhabiants situated in the heart of thick jungle in Bahia de Banderas, Mexico, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This is where, on 31 September 2014, I took up a 10-week residency with my family.
My aims for the residency were to explore rational, social and emotional constructs around death and loss, in order to make a body of work showing the disparities and similarities between Irish and Mexican cultural attitudes to death, focusing on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and Samhain.
I’d visited Sayulita back in February and become enchanted with its graveyard – a beautiful evocative place. It nestles amongst the thick of the jungle, balancing precariously on the hilltop that leads down to the small bay, Playa de los Muertos (Beach of the Dead). Each brightly painted grave has a candle that is lit every night.
Since the death of my brother Ruriko in 2008, I have been working extensively on the challenges and perceptions around the culture of death. I was artist in residence at the North West Hospice in Sligo (northwesthospice.ie) for nearly three years and my practice to date has investigated themes of loss and death.
Coming across the graveyard in Sayulita affected me so strongly that I knew somehow I must return. When I got back to Ireland in March I looked up the Mexican Ambassador to Ireland, Carlos de Alba, and we subsequently met a number of times to discuss my project and funding possibilities. I also contacted the Irish Ambassador to Mexico, Sonja Hyland. She too was interested in my work and informed me that Ireland and Mexico were celebrating 40 years of diplomatic relationships and that there could be funding for a cultural project such as mine.