Friday, 3 April 2015

The Rites of Passing in Mourning and Memorial

Kitsch Memorials at Lawnswood Cemetery

Lawnswood Cemetery is just off the Ring Road in North Leeds, north of Headingley and quite near the old Halls of Residence that used to belong to the University of Leeds, Bodington Hall. It has a really interesting topography which is worth checking out on Google earth. It is a well-kept cemetery with intricate pathways that enable you to weave your way around the complex terrain and even has a map at the entrance:

Lawnswood Cemetery has its own architecture manifesting in cloisters, archways and alcoves with memorials everywhere even these tiny kerb-level ones…

…however what I’d like to discuss are the, what I have termed, kitsch memorials, since these are the ones that often cause controversy in graveyards as depicted in the British media.

While there are strict rules at Lawnswood Cemetery about what you can and cannot place at your gravestone/memorial I include a couple that I describe as kitsch. In an article about this on the BBC website sociologist Professor Deborah Steinberg says:
People need to make loss concrete. They need to evoke the person they are missing. There are lots of different gestures that do that for people. I've been to lots of graveyards where I've seen tons of memorabilia, plastic windmills and so on. The disapproval of it has a history about decorum and appropriate behaviour and the aesthetics of mourning. (‘Should Graveyard Wind Chimes and Plastic Displays be Banned?’ BBC 2011).

Placed under the rubric of ‘taste wars’ people are polarised about these self-created memorials, with those who are in support of them offended by the terms used (such as ‘tacky’). Professor Tony Walter says: "There is no right or wrong in all this. But it means that cemetery and churchyard management requires great sensitivity and tact, trying to achieve in death a tolerance of others' tastes and a class harmony that we fail to achieve in life." (ibid.).

Related links:
Friends of Lawnswood Cemetery
St Michael’s Church Graveyard (Headingley)
St Chad’s Church Graveyard (Far Headingley)
St George’s Field Cemetery, University of Leeds
Kitsch and the Danger of Guilty Pleasures

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