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London exhibition highlights Halloween traditions from around the world

Posted on 23/10/2013

The Clanwilliam community, in South Africa, celebrating their ancestors (Credit: Mark Wessels)

As children prepare to celebrate Halloween with scary costumes and pumpkin lanterns, an international research team at Royal Holloway will host an exhibition that reveals the importance of the spirit realm for different cultures around the world.

A series of Halloween-special events at the EcoCentrix exhibition of performance arts will showcase how native communities honour the dead and connect with the spirit world.

“We think about traditions such as trick-or-treating, lighting bonfires and telling ghost stories as quintessential to Halloween in the UK and Ireland”, said exhibition curator Professor Helen Gilbert, from Royal Holloway’s Department of Drama and Theatre. “But in other parts of the world, many different cultures have their own unique and fascinating ways of connecting with the spirit world around the same time of year.”

On Halloween, Thursday 31 October, the exhibition will host an evening of spooky short films at Shortwave Cinema, in Bermondsey Square, London. Lost souls harass the living in an episode of the Māori television series Mataku, and the haunting story of Windigo, the malevolent being that possesses people, is rendered in a dark and gritty take on the Native American myth.

Dr Charlotte Gleghorn, Film Associate for the EcoCentrix exhibition, said: “Many indigenous cultures have stories about powerful legendary creatures or spirits and they are often shown as integral to the history, and even the future, of a community. This exciting programme, which experiments with horror, thriller and ghost story genres, shares some of these rich traditions through film.”

A number of trailblazing artists at the exhibition will also demonstrate the unique cultural philosophies and spiritual customs of Latin America. A stunning display of the kites used in the Giant Kite Festival, which is held annually in Sumpango, Guatemala, is among the highlights. Maya artist Victorino Tejaxún will be on hand at the event in the Bargehouse, on London’s South Bank on Friday 1 November, to share his experience of making and flying kites and the meaning behind them.

Dr Gleghorn added: “Many native festivities from across Latin America gave new meaning to the Christian festivities of All Saints and All Souls, following the invasion of the Spanish in the 16th century. This led to a reshaping of Catholic feast days that incorporated the celebration of life, rather than a fear of death, that we still witness today.”

In addition, an event devoted to the Day of the Dead, Mexico’s internationally-renowned festivity, will take place at Rich Mix, in Bethnal Green, on Sunday 3 November. Visitors will be able to experience a unique commemoration and ceremony through dance, music, skull face-painting and traditional food thanks to this collaboration between the EcoCentrix exhibition and London’s Origins Festival of First Nations.

The EcoCentrix: Indigenous Arts, Sustainable Acts exhibition is the culmination of a major research project Indigeneity in the Contemporary World: Performance, Politics, Belonging, led by Professor Gilbert.


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