Projecting Grief exhibition: what to expect

Words by Laura McDonagh
From Projecting Grief

Projecting Grief – a portraiture and storytelling project exploring the relationship between creativity grief – will be holding an exhibition in Victoria Gate as part of LIFI from 18-27 August.

We asked Laura McDonagh, writer for Projecting Grief, to explain the project and what visitors can expect.

My mum, Anne, died in December 2019 after suffering a massive and catastrophic brain haemorrhage. Those were the doctor’s words: “massive and catastrophic”. ‘When is a brain haemorrhage not catastrophic?’ I wanted to ask, but I didn’t want to seem rude. I remember someone at the hospital giving me her clothes in a long white bin bag and a leaflet with the title “When Someone Dies…” It wasn’t clear where the ellipsis led.

Three months after Mum died, coronavirus arrived. In lockdown with my husband, two small children and recently widowed dad, I started to write. I wrote and wrote and wrote: about her; about my parents’ native Ireland and the North East where I grew up; about who I was because of her and who I was without her. I felt a terribly urgent need to record things before anything else could be lost.

Nick captured for Projecting Grief
Stacey captured for Projecting Grief

Leeds-based photographer Jo Ritchie lost her brother Jack to suicide in 2017. Afterwards, she struggled with the idea of picking up her camera again. But as she started to seek out people who’d been through something similar, she was fascinated to find friends and acquaintances who were channelling their grief into something creative. Feeling the need to document these stories of human resilience, she began taking portraits and asked writer Faye Dawson to join her by interviewing sitters and writing up their stories. Since 2019, Projecting Grief has featured almost 40 personal monologues in its online gallery and the audience has grown significantly.

When I came across Projecting Grief on Instagram, I devoured the stories of love and loss and creativity and resilience in one go. After feeling like I’d been too sad for too long, it was a relief to find a community of people talking openly about grief and healing by doing something creative. And when Jo asked if I’d like to join the team to support Faye, who worked on the project from 2019 until 2022, I immediately said yes.

“Some of our sitters were already established actors, comedians, musicians or artists; others were trying out a creative practice like painting or writing for the first time,” explains Jo. “We make a point of featuring people from all different walks of life, and all different types of losses – parents, children, siblings, partners, friends and others. Grief has no hierarchy; every loss is so personal.”

The online format has proven hugely successful at starting conversations about grief and building a sense of community and shared understanding. “The shareability is the awesome part – the ability to give others insight into your own experience through someone else’s words. Or the ability to send along a post to let another griever know they’re on your mind and in your heart,” says follower Drew. “Grief is so universal, and yet so unique – I like the way you honour its complexity,” says Claire, another Projecting Grief follower.

Next month, Projecting Grief will find a temporary home in Victoria Gate as part of a collaboration with LIFI. From 18-27 August, members of the public will be able to browse Jo’s portraits, stories from the sitters and engage in a series of hands-on creative workshops, all run by project participants and centred on loss and memory.

Participants can craft beautiful forget-me-nots with paper flower artist Moni Escobar on Saturday 19 August, and discover creative writing with author Freya Bromley on Sunday 20 August. There’s also an opportunity to make an embroidered memory pocket with textile artist Hayley Mills-Styles on Saturday 26 August, and experience a performance from spoken word artist Mstr Samuel on Sunday 27 August. The workshops are suitable for beginners, free and with all materials provided, but places are limited so early booking is advised. Full details are available on the LIFI Eventbrite page.

“We’re really excited to get people talking about loss and creativity in the run-up to LIFI’s How Do We Talk About Grief panel event,” says Jo. “Moving offline into the real world – in Victoria Gate, right in the centre of Leeds – will allow lots of people to engage with the thorny issue of grief and how we deal with it. I know there’s going to be some really meaningful moments and interactions.”

Visit the Projecting Grief exhibition in Victoria Leeds from 18th -27th August.

You can also take a look at Projecting Grief’s online gallery, or follow the project on Instagram.

Tickets for the panel event How Do We Talk about Grief? featuring Dame Prue Leith, Will Young and others are available here.


Words by Laura McDonagh
From Projecting Grief