This artist lost his whole family, and his death-inspired collages help him remember his mortality

Zeph Mitchell uses his art to help make peace with death after spending years unable to confront it.

Zeph Mitchell uses his art to help make peace with death after spending years unable to confront it

(Zeph Mitchell)

With old magazines and a pair of scissors, Edmonton collage artist Zeph Mitchell rummages through images and pulls inventory for his next work. Each collage inspires nostalgia — memories of his lost family. And each artwork is a reminder that death is imminent.

At the age of 26, Mitchell became an orphan. Over the course of five years, he lost his two brothers to cancer and both of his parents to health issues. Then for many years, the idea of death silenced him. He couldn't think about it. It had taken too much from him.

Mitchell believes our society hides from even the thought of death. But recently becoming a death doula changed his life and transformed the way he views each day that he is alive. Now, he's using his artwork to shine a light on mortality.

Watch the video:

Edmonton artist Zeph Mitchell uses collages to confront and become more comfortable with death after his entire family passed away. 5:15

It was in late 2018 that Mitchell decided to pursue his new career, recently becoming certified and starting to volunteer at a hospice in Edmonton. He wanted to further grasp the idea of death and why we tend to ignore it.

"I think that a lot of times, people push away the thought, idea or topic of death whenever it comes to mind...because it's become so taboo," he explains.

(CBC Arts)

"We have become a death-fearing society and, in turn, it creates an unhealthy relationship with death...Doulas become advocates for the dying, and they help the dying keep living until their last breath. They can help facilitate those extremely difficult conversations."

Comfort for Mitchell often comes with a trip to the antique mall. He picks up some TIME magazines that speak to him and creates collages that often reference the idea of death. And he believes that this obsession with death is a good thing: with every piece he makes, his mind and heart find a little more peace than with the last.

(Zeph Mitchell)
(CBC Arts)
(Zeph Mitchell)

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About the Author

Tamarra Canu is a freelance filmmaker, recently a grant recipient to produce her film The Act of Being Normal. She was Cinematographer and Production Assistant for Vital Bonds on CBC's The Nature of Things and Production Coordinator for CBC's Equus- Story of the Horse. She began her career at CBC News Edmonton as Associate Producer and is proud to be able to keep telling stories for the CBC.