Displays of mourning and the contemplation of death were once critical components of public life, yet much of modern society has swept these elements from view. Today fewer people belong to a particular faith and many of us are left to confront death alone without the rituals and reassurances of community. How can our public spaces better address our relationship with grief, which is the most universal yet also most isolating of emotions?

Grief Is a Beast That Will Never Be Tamed is a public art project that offers a meditation on loss and invites passersby to share rituals, practices, and texts which have provided solace. Inspired by the myth of the Minotaur, which originated in Crete, the first mural was created in Heraklion, Greece. Our presentation of this project included discussions about grief and ritual with communities in Heraklion as well as Skagaströnd, Iceland, and Lisbon, Portugal.

Mural in Heraklion, Greece

A Meditation on Grief

Grief is a beast that will never be tamed, a creature born from broken promises and mistakes. We will always be together. I will never leave you. Everything will be okay. No matter how heartfelt these vows might be, one day they will collapse and leave us pacing the floors in shock, half-thinking we might enter a room to find the departed returned, sitting in a favorite chair. Instead we discover a new companion, a shadow in the corner.

Although experienced by everyone, grief remains fiercely private. Only we know the textures missing from our lives. The sound of a loved one’s feet padding down the hall, the heat and history pulsing beneath the way they said good morning—a voice never to be heard again. The shadow howls for answers. Infected by phrases like moving on and overcoming, we push this creature back into the darkness where it grows deformed, torturing us with dreams of running through unfamiliar rooms.

Our psyches are such elaborate labyrinths of defensive architecture, cluttered with alleys and walls that prevent grief from baring its teeth. But cracks always emerge. Grief might arrive on a gust of wind or a glimpse at a calendar, but it seems to prefer the night when silence allows it to be heard most clearly. Nails skitter across memories and regret burns like a fever. We try to fight but there is no battle here, no prize to be won. This creature cannot be buried or slain by a hero. One night it comes to you on its knees, asking for mercy, demanding to be seen. Perhaps grief cannot be tamed, but it can be loved.

The mural at Giannikou 37 near Kafeneion O Lakkos. Acrylic, paper. 5.5 m wide x 3 m tall (18 ft wide x 10 ft tall). Greek translation by Antonis Tsirikoudis.
Temporary installation in Skagaströnd, Iceland. A strong gust wind smashed the glass—this felt like a more accurate representation of grief.
Projection in an old Icelandic fish factory, guts fittingly still embedded in the ceiling.

This project was made possible with support from the Lakkos Artist Residency in Heraklion, Greece, and the Nes Artist Residency in Skagaströnd, Iceland. The collage for the mural was built from pieces of several Renaissance and Baroque paintings, including the works of Caravaggio, Valentin de Boulogne, and Michelangelo.

Sometimes I grieve for the person I have become without her.

Mika, 33, from Heraklion, Greece

He looked beautiful, like a god. It was peaceful. It was the worst moment of my life.

Zeena, 62, from Santa Rosa, California

We are collecting a catalogue of reflections on loss and the rituals which have provided solace. We hope sharing our experiences with one another might offer some measure of reassurance and help others feel less alone. Read the responses here, and we invite you to share your experiences.