After the death of his beloved, Emperor Wu’s grief consumed him and he no longer wanted to rule. He could not bear to leave his bed, let alone tend to the nation’s affairs. As the country teetered on the brink of chaos, he offered a reward to anyone who would bring his lover back to him. Upon hearing this, a wise man carefully cut out a silhouette of the departed woman and displayed it behind a white cloth for the emperor, who smiled for the first time in years. The sight of his beloved restored his desire to live and prosperity returned to his people. This two thousand-year-old myth from the Han dynasty not only describes the origin of shadow puppets, it is a reminder that art can mitigate grief and even deny death.
After a young man in his community died before his eyes, Noël Gaskin created a wall in his neighborhood in Brooklyn. He was there for his last moments. Here’s his story:
On May 1st, a young man known in our Prospect Heights, Brooklyn neighborhood as a nice kid was gunned down on the block where we grew up, outside of a barbershop he frequented on Washington Avenue and St John’s Place. He was shot in the head and torso at 763 Washington Avenue, near St. John’s Place, about 9:51 p.m. He was taken to Methodist Hospital and pronounced dead.
I was in the barbershop on that night of the shooting. The barber gave me a shave while the young man swept and took the day’s trash out. Moments later, three gun shots rang out from behind the door. Frozen in my seat, I sat and turned slowly, recognizing the young man gunned down, lying across the threshold of the door he just crossed over. I managed to get up, to kneel at his head before his last moments. I said, “Take it easy, brother . . . don’t struggle . . . they will be here soon, just don’t struggle.” I didn’t know this young man personally, and in his fatal moment I didn’t realize I was inferring to his angels.
I grew up in Prospect Heights, before this neighborhood was dubbed its present name. I have been equal to challenges and learned how to live here, as well as prospered from obstacles I have overcome. I needed to engage members of my community to think about what they want in this life, what they were up to, and what was important to each of them, and to all of us. Using the build-your-own-wall guide provided by Candy Chang, I was inspired to remix it and construct my own stencil titled Before I Die I Will.