ON STATE FUNERALS

By Nii B. Andrews

A funeral is always a very delicate and sensitive matter particularly in our part of the world.

It is a treacherous minefield of fragile egos, arcane customs and sometimes puerile traditions. Then of course there is the often histrionic dance between genuine grief and hypocrisy.

When it comes to State Funerals, the combination of mass participation and mass mourning make for even greater complexities.

As Ghanaians we must by now have acquired considerable expertise based on the not infrequent number of State Funerals that we have had.

But have we bothered to define the components of a State Funeral?

Never mind if we have or do not have criteria for who deserves one.

UNTITLED/?DEATH OF VIRTUOSO: George Afedzi Hughes, mixed media, 37 x 26 cm, 2000. Signed and dated lower left corner. Private collection, purchased from the artist.

Can the State compel both grief and memory?

Aside from the funerals of their sovereigns, in the UK over the last 500 years there have been only NINE state funerals; yes, only nine people have been deemed worthy of this honor – Benjamin Disraeli was offered one, but he declined.

But of course, we are different; we have HIGHER standards and funerals are part of our DNA.

There have been numerous artists from many parts of the world who have been interested in funerals and depicted them in their work.

Detail of MADE.

El Greco in the 16th century produced an exuberant painting of a grand funeral- The Burial of the Count of Orgaz – wherein impeccably dressed men witness the miraculous transportation of the dead Count to heaven.

JFK’s massive state funeral moved the world and Andy Warhol’s silk screen paintings of the event (that he completed in 1964) make for harrowed viewing. The raw black of newsprint images contrasts starkly with Warhol’s potent painted colors.

Our celebrated Ghanaian artist George Afedzi-Hughes has in a series of collages given us his perspective on a state funeral. He does not explicitly say that he is depicting one, but we can surmise that he is from the titles.

MADE; DEATH OF VIRTUOSO; etc.

Do the titles not fit with our circumstances?

MADE: George Afedzi-Hughes, mixed media, 59 x 44 cm, 2000; signed and dated lower left corner. Title verso. Private collection, purchased from the artist

For Hughes, the mourners are hard faced, their real feelings remain buried, beneath the masks. The hotch-potch of cut outs and text replicate the inherent disorder that is part of our funerals – at the most hectic, they sometimes border on a low intensity riot.

The raucous music from the DJ who insists on playing the music at high volume; the MC/Okyeame  with his frequent announcements sometimes interspersed with risqué asides and anecdotes; the heat, flies and dust; sweat, wailing and “bad dancing” all make for a unique experience.

Hughes eschews coffins and tellingly has other cachectic bodies lying around. The presence of a fish atop the body ( in Death of Virtuoso) invites intense symbolic speculation based on your perspective.

State funeral of Churchill, London, January 1965.

As to the text that says “made” and “sale” perhaps only a state funeral can seem to provide some insight and there are lots of examples to explore……and I dare say, easily one every month.

But make no mistake, any well organised funeral (state or private; commoner or royalty) is a proud assertion that man is certainly not an animal that dies alone in a hole.

Every funeral ought to be a well orchestrated and dignified gesture of contempt to the face of death.

2 thoughts on “ON STATE FUNERALS”

  1. As always a beautifully written commentary …
    I still cannot fathom the Ghanaian love of State funerals!

  2. Interesting and thought provoking. The language is vivid and picturesque. State funerals are our community funerals writ large in broad strokes. A joke has been making the rounds that in some communities people wake up in the morning on funeral days already geared up in mourning costumes before they even ask who is dead. The tales are more graphic and telling for the clergymen whose duty it is to perform the rituals that eventually pave the way for the dead to enter the celestial world. We know of instances where costumes of the dead are changed every hour whilst they are laid in state.

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