Paper Garments for the Grave was a project conducted in 2014 in which 10 Tasmanian artists created and exhibited paper burial garments and works designed to generate conversations about death, dying, grief and bereavement. The initiative was funded under the Tasmanian Association for Hospice & Palliative Care Inc ‘Networking End of Life Care Across Tasmania’ Project. Alongside the exhibition, program, Natasha Foster produced a compelling film about the project, beautifully capturing the poignancy of the garments and the heartfelt stories that inspired them.
‘Christening Shroud’ was the work I made for this project. It was inspired by my grief at the stillbirth of my Grandson Cody, by my love for him and for my daughter and by my admiration at the resilience of my daughter and all parents of stillborn babies that live with grace in the face of such tragic loss.
No-one begins a pregnancy expecting to end up with empty arms. Yet in Australia, more than 2000 pregnancies a year end up with a baby being stillborn. This is the same as the breast cancer mortality or suicide rates, yet stillbirth receives less attention than these causes of death. Stillbirth is 35 times more common than SIDS. 60% of stillbirths are late term stillbirths and one third are unable to be explained. Six families a day have to deal with the unbearable tragedy and trauma of stillbirth; in a society where it is not discussed and where people are expected to move on in a relatively short space of time. For a stillborn child, the garment they are buried or cremated in is also their christening gown.
The Christening Shroud references the traditional style and delicate embroidery of a traditional christening gown with construction adaptations appropriate for dressing the dead. The delicate papers used in the ensemble remind us that life is ephemeral and fragile. Often referred to as angels too beautiful for the world, the angel wing in this work both symbolise the innocence of the child and offers protection for a journey where a parent cannot travel. The attention to detail and patient crafting are a sacred acknowledgement of the children whose footprints will never mark the earth but will forever be imprinted on the hearts of those who love them.