New exhibition at ROM

Jules Lemaire
Publié le 23 October 2023
New exhibition at ROM

Life and death come together at ROM in Death: Life’s Greatest Mystery

Encounter the exhibition that asks the big questions this October

Prepare to meet death, in its many forms, and celebrate the ways in which life endures in Death: Life’s Greatest Mystery. Opening at ROM on October 28, 2023, and continuing until April 7, 2024, this exhibition was organized by the Field Museum and made possible by Lilly Endowment Inc.

Photo © Field Museum, Michelle Kuo

In Mexico, the dead are celebrated and remembered during Day of the Dead (November 1 and 2), where families gather in graveyards with food and drinks to welcome the return of those who have died. Images and figures like this calaca are made by Mexican artists to reflect the everyday activities that somebody’s loved ones might have enjoyed in life.

Through artifacts, specimens, interactives, and immersive media experiences, discover amazing animal and plant adaptations for survival and learn how various cultures commemorate life. This multi-sensory exhibition embraces how death and life are interconnected through cultural and biological perspectives and how that can inspire meaningful reflection on grief, remembrance, and survival. The exhibition asks the big questions about death and life we’re all destined to face: What is death? What will happen to my body? What will happen to my spirit? Do I have to die?  How will my death affect others?

Photo © Field Museum, Michelle Kuo

Ghanaian families honor the dead by burying them in coffins that symbolize something about their life, whether that be a job, skill, hobby, or ambition. For example, this 9-foot canoe-shaped coffin would have been made for a fisherman, and the connection to water can also be a symbol for their passage to the afterlife.

“From death-defying microscopic animals to the heartache of grief, this exhibition explores the many facets of death,” says Josh Basseches, ROM Director & CEO. “In doing so, it opens up important conversations about one of life’s greatest mysteries.”

The exhibition draws upon the diverse collections of Chicago’s Field Museum and also includes some feature objects from the ROM collections that span art, culture and nature.

Photo © Field Museum, artwork by Blue Rhino Studios

When a whale dies, it eventually sinks to the bottom of the ocean, where it becomes the foundation of a new ecosystem, like the one seen here. This 10-foot-long diorama shows how the whale’s body serves as nutrients and supports hundreds of species for decades.

“How we experience death, celebrate life, and wonder about what’s next are all part of what makes us human", says Chen Shen, ROM Co-Chief Curator, Art & Culture. “This exhibition enables us to explore death through culture, science, and art, with an examination of the diversity of cultural practices and the myriad ways death is observed in the natural world.”

Photo © Field Museum, artwork by Blue Rhino Studios

Tardigrades are one of the most resistant creatures known to science. They can survive dehydration and starvation and have been found alive in volcanoes, the deep sea, and even outer space. Tiny but mighty in real life, they’re about 0.5 mm (0.020 in) long, roughly the width of two human hairs. This six-foot-long replication details what the human eye can’t see without a microscope.

Through cultural and biological perspectives, Death: Life’s Greatest Mystery welcomes visitors of all ages to contemplate an inevitable experience. While the subject may be taboo or emotional for some guests, the exhibition is designed to encourage dialogue and thought in a safe, and comfortable environment. Through visiting, people will reflect on death as part of the cycle of life, and leave reflecting on life’s most universal experience.

Photo © Field Museum, Michelle Kuo

Ceramicists used molds and casts like these to create shabti figurines. Some ancient Egyptians buried their dead with a different servant shabti for every day of the year.

Members will have the first opportunity to attend Death: Life’s Greatest Mystery during the Member Preview on Friday, October 27 and Saturday, October 28, 2023.

ROM Boutique is selling the exhibition catalogue Beyond Death: Beliefs, Practice, and Material Expression. This book is also available to read online.

Guided Tour: Book our latest guided tour for groups, What's Death got to do with it?. All that lives dies, from the tiniest bacterium to the biggest dinosaur. And in this tour, you will encounter a slew of specimens to help you better understand death’s role in the natural world. But you will also probe the meaning of death in human cultures. For as much as death is a force of nature, it's also a human obsession, which informs our religions, rituals, and worldviews. Come join us. Death is waiting…