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The Mantle of Animism

Marcelo Camus from the Arts Team at St Christopher’s Hospice tells us about a project initiated through the Horniman’s new art programme The Studio, which was performed at one of our summer Big Wednesdays.  

Her mantles are made from the finest materials, including gold threads, and her mantle covers all of her body apart from her face and hands...her devotees can touch her mantle, leave prayer notes beneath her feet or place their head on the back of her mantle and ask for a miracle. This is the custom of the shrine... The Handbook of Contemporary Animism by Graham Harvey

What inspired the project?

The Horniman’s new co-curated area The Studio with a programme and commissioned exhibition have offered opportunities for community groups to create their own project for visitors for the family summer programme.

  • The Mantle of Animism, Planning the Mantle of Animism, St Christopher's Hospice
    Planning the Mantle of Animism, St Christopher's Hospice

Patients and carers visited the Horniman with the St Christopher’s Arts Team to see the collections and to understand ideas of ethnographic curating and collecting. Inspired by the theme of animism in nature, introduced by The Studio Collective and artist Serena Korda, but looking at it from a perspective of healing and medicine - two topics very close to the hearts of those in end of life care.

Inspired by this visit to the Horniman, patients began working on a large-scale magical mantle and other animals and objects. Made of a myriad of hand-felted imagery to create a large human-animal mask, the Mantle was worked on intensively and was majestically performed at the Hospice as part of our annual summer exhibition.

What processes were involved in making the Mantle?

We ran groups every day of the week and brought the animism concepts into all of them. On Mondays the community choir, made up of 80 members, created a song for the performance.

  • The Mantle of Animism, People making the Mantle of Animism, St Christopher's Hospice
    People making the Mantle of Animism, St Christopher's Hospice

On Tuesdays, our Open Access Art Group explored dry felting to create a large surface fabric, while on Wednesdays, the group designed masks made into flying bird-like puppets.

Thursdays and Fridays we continued to work with the mantle through dry and wet felting techniques.

We also invited school groups to come to work with the patients on the theme and to contribute to the project. This enabled young people to visit the Hospice and dispel fear, taboos and stigma around death and dying.

Eventually, after tremendous effort, we created a magnificent magical beast!

Seeing the Mantle take shape and progress week after week was so exciting. The stories, conversation and imagination that take place in sessions from each person is powerful. We hope this was communicated to audiences at the Big Wednesday event at the Hormiman.

  • The Mantle of Animism, The Mantle of Animism during a performance, St Christopher's Hospice
    The Mantle of Animism during a performance, St Christopher's Hospice

Tell us about St Christopher’s Hospice

The Hospice has been building their partnership with the Horniman over the last two years, and have a dedicated team of arts therapists and artists who run workshops for patients, families, carers and community members.

As neighbours in Sydenham, we think it is important to establish a working partnership with the Horniman. The many collections available right next to us, from anthropological funerary and ritual items through to musical instruments, all play a role in the importance or moment of death in our lives.

No one goes untouched by this, yet our tools to deal with it are underdeveloped and unspoken.

The Arts Team at St Christopher’s places this at centre stage, creating artworks in response to what people are thinking and feeling at the end of their lives. What better place to showcase this powerful message that a Museum dedicated to the objects we leave behind?

Tell us about yourself

For St Christopher’s, I have helped lead on many large-scale collaborative projects both in and out of the Hospice.

My own artistic practice sits within what is termed Social Art Practice. I have been commissioned by organisations to create live immersive events, installations, social interventions and outdoor arts with communities and the public.

I contribute this experience to the Arts Team at the Hospice to consider how we can enable the patients and give them agency to create powerful social gestures. The focus of my work is about collaboration, co-authorship and positive group dynamics.

See The Lore of the Land exhibition from 20 October in The Studio.