Overlooked Deaths

The Death Café was introduced by Esther Ignagni and Eliza Chandler, who discussed what it entails and the meaning behind it.

Esther Ignagni and Eliza Chandler stand behind podium

We then got to break out into groups and have an open dialogue with the use of readily available prompts. It was great to just sit down and have a conversation with people I otherwise may not have engaged with. Discussing our different cultural and family traditions surrounding funerals and death was eye opening. I’ve always been really into talking about god and religion but not as much about coping with death and the ideas surrounding it.

This in particular struck me as in the past few months I’ve experienced a lot of deaths. The most recent being the passing of RTA’s beloved professor, Dana Lee. Seeing people coping with it and celebrating his life is really impacting. Death is a lot to bare and having moments with other individuals who feel the same way about him has been really meaningful. People live on in our memories of them, and the impact that they have on our lives, which is truly beautiful and worth discussing. Hence, Death Café.

“Black People Die Differently”

Within my group, I brought up the topic of black deaths that are the result of police brutality and the movement surrounding them. We also talked about videos that we witness online of victims of police brutality; which also brought in the topic of school shootings in America later on.

Going back to black death, a statement that stuck out to me is the notion that “death is [black peoples’] life […] in the present” (Walcott, 192). Topics surrounding police brutality are masterfully brought up in Spike Lee’s 1989 film, Do the Right Thing, which is an awards nominated film that showcases the tension surrounding race relations in Brooklyn, New York. It demonstrates that “[…] violence as practiced by police forces can at any time take a Black person’s life with impunity (Walcott, 192).

Overlooked Death

Going forward from our conversations? 1. What worked for you? 2. What surprised you? 3. What feels unfinished or uncomfortable now? 4. What dilemmas do we face in representing death and dying? 5. Where do we go from here?

On a different note, I noticed the lack of conversation about a particular topic we have to find room to discuss within death café that I regret not bringing up.

We must also make sure to discuss animal death. An overarching commonality that I’ve noticed is that human rights activists who care about feminism, black lives matter, LGBTQ rights, do not see the overlap with these themes in terms of animal life, particularly animal agriculture, and our contribution to death as consumers. A specific moment when I thought about this was when we discussed our first experiences with death, an individual shared that her first experience with death was her dog. That was a comment that was surprising because we always think the ones close to us are human, meanwhile animal deaths, particularly dog deaths, sometimes get an even bigger reaction. Why? Perhaps it’s the innocence, the silent, yet powerful, emotional connection.

I always question, why just dogs? Other animals face a lot more and the only difference in how we see it is seeded in culture. Just like we won’t talk about the faults within religion, even when former believers discuss their horrendous experiences, we continue to be blinded by ideas we were brought up believing, that religion is just peace, that the problem is solely on the people who take it “the wrong way”. This notion that it’s purely peaceful while it actively and selectively dehumanizes certain groups.

One of my most real experiences with realizing death was witnessing animal death in factory farm exposing videos which I strongly urge you to watch.

It’s always so absurd to me that we see animals as so invaluable, commodities, just a number that simply isn’t troubling to many who advocate for human rights. There are differences but what are they, when animals are pure innocence, when they feel the same emotions we do? They’re like human babies, innocent, have a tough time communication, and don’t do harm. Just because they’re incapable of speaking our language, but we hear their screams, their resistance, their unwillingness to death.

I want to believe that humans are better than that, we don’t want to do harm, but then when people who are so open minded, serve non-vegan products, not even offering that option in a space where we talk about death, when we are contributing to eventual death, and extreme suffering. Who are we? We completely overlook our place and scientifically proven facts about the health and environmental benefits of not consuming animal products.

I was just prompted to ask the question, why were some sentient beings constantly omitted within the dialogue?

I wonder if this is something that can be introduced within the syllabus, if not this year then next. I realize that it’s hard to make a change when “food” is so personal to how we live our lives but this is the activist’s duty. We need to question everything, no excuses.

Deaf Community Involvement

On a better note, I was really pleased with the level of inclusivity within the Death Café. Giving the deaf community the ability to share their experience and opinions by utilizing an ASL interpreter.

ASL Interpretor signing for deaf folk

This was more surprising for me even though I know individuals with disabilities are involved in death café discussions but the fact that I got to attend, participate and witness it in action was great. It’s nice to know when an institution doesn’t just talk about representation but actively participates in engaging with numerous communities.

A young mans comment really stood out to me when he discussed the lack of access and equal life opportunities for a deaf individual that ended up dying.

In relation, I wanted to share a short film that I got to see at TIFF, which won the Oscar for best live action short, called The Silent Child.  It dealt with ideas of invisibility, extremely limited understanding, and unwillingness to learn about deaf culture and ASL. I thought it was phenomenally done, and really showcased situations that no doubt, many deaf youth experience.

Going back to the young man that was mentioned, reading Eliza Chandler and Esther Ignani’s “Strange Beauty”, and hearing stories and watching films makes me truly realize the importance of creating inclusivity and access for all. I’ve been an advocate for so many human rights issues and animal welfare but accessibility is something I’m now realizing to a different extent than I previously have. ASL is a language that has really fascinated me and I’ve wanted to learn it for a while so I’m looking at classes I can take. Deaf culture really interests me and I feel inspired. Thank you.

-Amreen Kullar (500763822)

Works Cited

Chandler, Eliza & Ignani, Esther, “Strange Beauty: Aesthetic Possibilities for Desiring Disability Into the Future” (unpublished)

Walcott, Rinaldo, “Black Queer Studies, freedom and Other Human Possibilities” in Queer Returns, Insomniac Press 2017


Death Café! Yay!

By: Valentina Laudari

Student #: 500643736

As I walked into the event’s room, I was a bit anxious about attending my first Death Café. I was not sure what to expect from the event given the current discourse surrounding the topic of Death. I was not expecting to have a conversation on, what I thought, was a very personal and intimate topic. The Death Café was explained as a “loosely structured” discussion about the political, personal and cultural effects of Death. 

death cafe picture

I believed that Death (with a capital “D”) is a topic typically reserved to be discussed behind closed doors with people that you know and trust. Death is dark and scary so you would be led to believe that other people would not like to talk about it. As Eliza Chandler’s states, “death is more imaginable than a life with difference” (n.d.). What this statement means to me, is that we would rather die than cooperate with others that are different than us. 

When I read the conversational prompts the mediators handed out to me and my group members, I realized that we may be confronted by each others opposing views about Death. I was anxious for any possible conflict the personal questions such as “what happens after you die?” or “what are some cultural practices surrounding death?” could lead us to have. 

However, our group was extremely respectful in sharing our personal beliefs and experiences. We value each other’s perspectives and realized the importance of opening a dialogue with those that may not share your exact opinion. The group came to an understanding that the first step in accomplishing equality is continuously expanding your perspective through learning the viewpoint of those around you. I now feel more comfortable in having an open dialogue about death with others. 

By the end of the night, I felt more willing to share my thoughts with the whole crowd as I gave some insight into how the event made me feel. Thanks to the Death Café, I now see the value in exchanging individual Philosophies with one another and can see myself doing so in the future. 


Chandler, E., & Ignagni, E. (n.d.). Strange beauty: Aesthetic possibilities of sustaining disability into the future. Unpublished manuscript under review.

Discussions On: Death and Disability

Jacqueline Black, 500777500

As part of the ARTivism Lab Speaker Series, hosts Eliza Chandler and Esther Ignagni facilitated a Death Cafe on Ryerson’s campus. Aimed at bringing space to conversations typically silenced within Western cultures, Death Cafes work to create casual conversations around the typically muted subject. While often sensationalized in mainstream media, the concept of death often goes unmentioned or talked about within social settings. Revolving largely around the centrality of death within disabled identities, the event brought attention to the lack of space provided for people with disabilities within the public sphere. After a brief overview of central concepts and guidelines, guests of the ARTivism Lab Speaker Series were encouraged to form smaller groups to continue conversing. Acknowledging the possible discomfort accompanying such conversations, questions which acted as prompts were provided to further facilitate discussion.

Upon breaking up into groups to discuss death further, we initially began by talking about how frequently we all individually think about dying. While being able to approach death in a relatively casual and positive light, I would not say it is at the forefront of my mind on a daily basis. This is different than that of a person living with a disability, for death is central to the discourse of disability. As stated by Chandler and Ignagni, “death is more imaginable than a life with difference” (2). Such notion is aided by a lack of accommodation in physical spaces, which work to restrict and silence disabled voiced through a lack of access. This lack of access further perpetuates the belief of death being a more desirable option for those living with a disability. In addition to physical spaces, individuals with disabilities also experience a death of culture when their cultural needs (ASL) go unmet. Discussing the portrayal of disability within cinema, Hayes states that in movies “the ultimate paternalistic act in these movies is the death or murder of the disabled character”. The silencing of people with disabilities through confinement or death is often seen from an able-bodied viewpoint as an easier and more attractive option than the accommodation of differences. My lack of consideration about death is indicative of my able body, as dying is not central to my identity.

As a whole, I enjoyed attending my first Death Cafe. Discussing the prospects of dying in such a social atmosphere brought attention to the importance of such conversations. I believe that the role of death is to make our finite lives more meaningful. While I appreciated having the time to discuss the topic of death in such a casual manner, I acknowledge the privilege present in being able to do so. I personally approach death in a relatively positive light and am therefore comfortable conversing about it, however I am also lucky enough to be in a position where death has not significantly impacted my life. For example, I live with no life-threatening ailments nor has anyone extremely close to me ever passed away (despite grandparents, who fortunately died peacefully prior to my birth, or well into their eighties/nineties). In such cases, I imagine the topic would carry a heavier weight. However it is in these scenarios where the practice of the Death Cafe may be of even greater use.


Works Cited

Chandler, Eliza, and Esther Ignagni. “Strange beauty: Aesthetic possibilities for desiring disability into the future.” Ryerson University. Accessed 6 March 2018.

Hayes, Michael. “Troubling Signs: Disability, Hollywood Movies and the Construction of a Discourse of Pity.” Disability Studies Quarterly, vol. 23, no. 2, 2003, http://dsq-sds.org/article/view/419/585

Exploring the Politics of Death Through Film & TV

6 March 2018

Written By: Melissa Fernandes

The conversations around the subject of death – a natural part of human life, is often taboo to raise. Death is the unavoidable end of human life that we all encounter and when we talk about the end of life that is death, the focus tends to be on the life of the person and the discourse surrounding a ‘good life’ is to be youthful and able-bodied. But how does the conversation shift when a person has a disability or lives outside the normative view?  How is their life valued? And how does film and television perpetuate these norms? The Death Café presented by the ARTivism Lab raises concerns about the relationship media makers have with death and how it is represented.


Eliza Chandler proposes the issues that arise when representing minorities and racialized bodies in the media. How do we include them without using them as a means for aesthetic purposes of having “diversity?” The talk in the media about representation in film is very prevalent. In order for a film to not be ostracized by the media, there needs to be an emphasis or inclusion of people of colour, people with disability, and overall people whose stories, historically have not been told by the media. While it is important to be inclusive, Chandler points out an idea that I have only recently come to realize; while having a person of colour in a film looks good, what is more important is the way in these bodies are presented in the medium. Hayes describes the way disability is presented in film as a something to pity and to fix.  Death is seen as the solution and we are challenged to think about alternative ways “a good life” is approached.

As a creator of media, it is important to be genuine and authentic in the ways minorities and racialized bodies are represented, especially when the media maker does not personally familiar with the life of that person. We cannot use people as means to progress personal political agendas. The way in which it needs to be done, like discussing the idea of death is in safe spaces and open spaces – meaning spaces in which people do not go in with pre-conceived judgemental ideas.

What I have and still do struggle with is how to find that medium between acknowledging a visible difference; and glossing over their difference and assimilating that difference into the “norm.” When is the appropriate times to celebrate and acknowledge their differences and their struggles, and when is the appropriate time to demonstrate that ‘they’ are just like ‘us.’ I feel like normalizing a disability is not the solution because it enforces an unfair power relation and reinforces the idea that their way of living is not challenging and devalues their real struggles to live in a world that was constructed for able bodied people. Living a life in a space where one is not a welcome guest is what Walcott refers to “refusing a life that is a living death” (Walcott 196). Where living is tolerated and living a life that is invisible by means of disregard.

Sources Referenced

Chandler, Eliza & Ignani, Esther, “Strange Beauty: Aesthetic Possibilities for Desiring Disability Into the Future” (unpublished)

Hayes, Michael T., “Troubling Signs: Disability, Hollywood Movies and the Construction of a Discourse of Pity”, Disability Studies Quarterly Spring 2003, Volume 23, No. 2 pages 114-132.

Walcott, Rinaldo, “Black Queer Studies, freedom and Other Human Possibilities” in Queer Returns, Insomniac Press 2017

Thinking of Death

Michael Italiano – 500714232


This week’s Death Café was the second part of the three-part Artivism Lab Speaker Series. Death Cafés are group conversations about death guided by questions revolving around personal, cultural, political, or spiritualexperiences. While originally the death café sounded like something that would be very difficult for me to face, it actually ended up being a satisfying experience which opened my eyes to the way many others see the topic of death versus what I imagined to be the “norm”.

Eliza Chandler and Esther Ignani spoke of death relating to their article “Strange Beauty: Aesthetic Possibilities for Desiring Disability Into the Future”, which speaks more about the idea of death through the eyes of the disabled, with insight to the differences in the way death is accessed (or not) between able-bodied people and the disabled. The assertion that many people think that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than a different one”, or suggesting that it is easier for an able-bodied person to imagine death than to imagine being disabled is an important thing to consider when observing or creating art that pertains to the topics of either disability or death.

From the experience of the Death Café, I’ve noticed that people who are roughly around my age (20) seem to have a different outlook on the topic of death versus generations before us like our parents and our grandparents, who see it with more of a religious and spiritual lens. From my point of view, death is a subject that I don’t like to talk about, while older generations seem to talk about it all the time. This is bothersome for me, as conversations typically arise around me which prompt me to either zone out by focusing on something else or even just leaving the room.

This stigma around the topic of death seems to be common in my own age group, although something about the Death Café did allow each of us to open up a little bit and speak freely about our thoughts. Since nobody was being pressured into answering the questions or speak about their personal experiences, there was a very relaxed and casual feel to the conversation that allowed us all to give our own insight to the topic.

Through our conversations, we came up with a rough observation that while it is difficult to talk about when or how we will die, we can easily talk about what we think happens after death and how we can interpret the deaths of those we know versus how we interpret the deaths of strangers. Answers to questions like “what do you think happens after you die?” or “when did you become first aware of the realities of death?” help open a window into a persons cultural background and give some insight into how the topic makes others feel, thus influencing how we think that we should feel.


Chandler, Eliza & Ignani, Esther, “Strange Beauty: Aesthetic Possibilities for Desiring Disability Into the Future” (unpublished)


And thus we met together in a space of mindfulness addressing the discourse of death, encircling reflections of culture’s influence on the multitude of ways in which we respond to non-normative bodies. The term mindfulness is the word of choice used in the presentation of the guidelines outlined for the Death Cafe, hosted by “The ARTivism Lab” Speakers Series of 2018. Conscious or not, the use of this word resonates significantly with the unraveling of tip-toed topics, further uncovering a major flaw in the loudly presented political media.

As the term mindfulness is a noun, it describes an element of identification of people(s), place(s), or thing(s). This quality not only presents the nature and intellectual ambience that the Death Cafe successfully instilled, but also highlights a lack thereof within our collective. This lack can be seen as the two major themes that were prevalent both throughout the presentation as well as entwined within the discussions held in smaller groups.

This method of immersion allows for an intimacy to exist surrounding topics of normally avoided discussion(s), within individuals as a reflection on or acceptance of emotion, and between individuals to create understanding and consideration. These ways that intimacy is capable of existing is lost in the many media our society chooses to communicate through over any actual interaction. Thus allowing for individuals or groups of power to manipulate the collective discussions, reflections, emotions, and understandings of the world, or in short to manipulate the state of and the way we are/not being mindful.

Hypocrisy is a quality one would wish not to portray, as it is merely an envelope covertly handling uncovering of cyclic awareness to flaw that can be traced quite far back in time or thought; complexity and ultimacy. In turn we fixate, establishing a flourishing of different communities that are each collectively striving to challenge normative notions, media, and values. Within this fixation, like any imbalance, there are tendencies to lose sight of our mindfulness to that which is similar to the existence of mindfulness concerning individuals living with disability. The lack of considering, or the way in which we consider disability within our society is flawed. As discussed in Strange beauty, disability becomes desirable yet at the same time those living with disability are seen as a life of less value. Contradiction can be a game of trickery in that the manipulations from within structures of power can be hard to source, which leads up to the relative current in that without full understanding and mindfulness both ways we are merely left with a tolerance.

The latter definition of mindfulness successfully coincides with the Death Cafe’s send off message. It considers the term to be a mental state that can be attained through living in the present which entails aspects such as “calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations…”. This sense of spirit, mind, physicality, and emotions are all essential to a human being having life and facing death. As well, this sheds light on being mindful of context, particularly the fact of the present, the reflection of the past, and acknowledgement of the future – only the present moment is definite; relating to dealing with concepts of death and a mindfulness to consider when approaching differences. The final notes encouraged a mindfulness to be carried onwards of our individual living actualities; our worth, our honesty, and our ability to express emotions regarding any topic. 

And then we parted the communal safe space into a singular head space that felt a little less lonely, despite the TTC gray and lingering thoughts of disability and death.


a.m. #500744855

Let’s Talk About Death

Cara Licastro: 500650562


On Tuesday (March 6), we attended the second event of the ARTivism Lab Speaker Series which was a Death Café. Prior to this experience, I vaguely knew about these types of social gatherings. I either came across it randomly in various articles/blog posts and it was also briefly shown in an episode of Long Island Medium. Regardless of my prior knowledge, I would have never seen myself at an event like this.

Death, for me, is a touchy subject. After losing my grandmother four years ago , and as of recently my grandfather, it’s a topic I tend to avoid. Not because I’m uncomfortable with talking about death, but because I associate death with my own personal and upsetting experiences. Anytime death would come up in a conversation, I immediately had the connotation to relate it to myself and what I experienced, which made me shut down all together.

It wasn’t until the Death Café that I realized I was more open with the topic of death than I thought. It is so much more than what we personally deal with. It involves many things such as discussing the experiences of passing that others may face, or what was mentioned in our class reading Strange beauty: Aesthetic possibilities for desiring disability into the future, people who may have a “greater access to death” (pg. 3). It can also delve into how people view the process of the after life and what we think is there for us.

You don’t realize how certain people, whether it’s because of their race or physical limitations, are seen to be associated with an ‘unliveable’ life. Listening to Dr. Eliza Chandler and Dr. Esther Ignani speak at the Death Café, in combination of internalizing certain parts of their article (mentioned above), it made me more aware of how often disability is “entangled with the representation of death” (Chandler, Death Café). They brought up topics I was even shocked to know about. One that especially stuck with me was when Ignani was discussing the “Why A Death Café in Disability Studies?” slide, people associated disability as a threat to future generations.

I think media is the main culprit behind people viewing disability as an unliveable way of life. It’s a combination of being an underexposed subject and not really discussed, or over-dramatized in movies like “Me Before You.” As someone participating in the Death Café was saying in regards to people viewing disability (especially deafness), if you limit what people with disabilities can have access to, then there is no way of the public knowing that “deaf is not death.”

As the series went on, I felt more comfortable with discussing death in such an open way. It was reassuring to know that you do not always have to participate and get personal about topics. Something else that is helpful is that every question is viewed extremely generically, so being personal doesn’t even have to be an option. It made me more interested in how to view death in the future and how to discuss it with other people. I want to, one day, delve further into all the unanswered questions we have about death and make it a more accessible conversation for everyone to talk about.



Chandler, Eliza & Ignani, Esther, “Strange Beauty: Aesthetic Possibilities for Desiring Disability Into the Future” (unpublished)