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The Grief Series: The Leeds City Ofrenda

Ellie is stood in front of the Ofrenda. The background is blue with an orange arch. The Ofrenda contains images of peoples loved ones. Ellie is wearing a blue and orange dress, holding an umbrella and smiling.

Supported by Leeds 2023, The Grief Series have embarked on a 5 week Research and Development programme for their project All That Lives – a 9 day celebration of life and death set to take place in Leeds City Centre in 2023. The event will see artists from Mexico and Leeds’ very own Ellie Harrison come together to reimagine Day of the Dead celebrations with and for the people of Yorkshire. It will be a space to celebrate those we’ve loved and lost and also celebrate Harrison’s decade long body of work The Grief Series.

To mark this year’s Day of the Dead, Team Grief created a touch free Mexican ‘Ofrenda’ shrine in the window of CLAY with contributions from people across the city of photographs and memories of lost loved ones. Artistic Director, Ellie Harrison writes below why this year’s installation had particular pertinence in a Covid landscape.

To celebrate Day of the Dead in Mexico, people build Ofrendas (meaning ‘offerings’) to remember friends, family and people of significance. Ofrendas are brightly coloured displays including tables filled with photographs, flowers, candles, food and significant objects, that remind people of their loved ones who have died. They are a central part of celebrating the dead. Ofrendas are built in people’s homes, in schools, places of work, bars, restaurants and public squares.

This year we have not been able to be with our Mexican friends and collaborators in person but in a Post Covid Landscape we need the light, care, abundance and celebration of those we’ve loved and lost more than ever. The Mexican artists have shared their traditions with us and asked us to share them with you. And so, it felt vital to build a Leeds City Ofrenda. A place to bear witness to the grief people have been experiencing but also to allow ourselves light, colour and hope in our darkest moments.

We received so many lovely photographs and memories, as well as personal messages. Here is a reflection from one of our contributors Morticia (which is a name her dad gave her when she first started wearing purple lipstick as a teenager):

“Yesterday would have been my Dad’s 71st birthday, he wasn’t comfortable with fuss but he did love coffee and walnut cake so I have made one in his memory. We also went to see the Leeds Ofrenda (part of the Grief Series project) which features a tribute to him in the lower left-hand corner.

His loss hurts and still feels unreal – which it would anyway but Covid travel restrictions during the first lockdown meant we could not attend his cremation and that makes it feel even more unreal somehow. It felt nice to do something for and about him as it feels like going some way towards being more of an acknowledgement of his life and death – a cremation where only 3 people were able to go to it definitely feels more body disposal rather than proper goodbye.

RIP Dad xx”

It was a real honour for Morticia to share her father’s memory with us and we have been so grateful and moved by all your contributions. And thankful to our Mexican collaborators who, when sending me a gift in the post, wrote the artful phrase ‘until death brings us together’. Whether in Yorkshire or Mexico City, whether alive, together or with us on the Ofrenda, we raise a glass to you. Until next year. Salud and Cheers.

Image: Lizzie Coombes