The Past is a Foreign Body was work produced in response to an artifact in the American Museum, Bath for the Migration Show 2012





















Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship, which struggles on in the survivor's mind toward some resolution which it may never find. Robert Anderson, from the film, I Never Sang For my Father


Of all the objects in the main collection, I found the depiction of a native American widow, the most alluring. The image provides a fascinating insight into the ritual of bereavement within Chippewa culture - for in her arms, she carries the mourning badge/bundle of her husband. According to custom the corpse is openly mourned for 4 days. Before it is buried the wife saves a lock of his hair, and wraps it around a birch plank. This provides the nucleus of the bundle, which is then covered by his best clothes, most precious beadwork and leather.


I visited a lodge today, where I saw one of these badges. The size varies according to the quantity of clothing, which the widow may happen to have. It is expected of her to put up her best, and wear her worst. The "husband" I saw just now, was thirty inches high, and eighteen inches in circumference. Sketches of a tour to the lakes: of the character and customs of the Chippeway Indians, and of incidents connected with the Treaty of Fond du Lac. By Thomas L. McKenney 1827


The widow then carries the bundle home and “nurtures” it for a minimum of a year. It will never leave her side, she will sleep next to it and will even offer it scraps of food. The bundle will increase in size as she wraps anything precious that she makes or earns over the following year. Her role is to maintain a pristinely cared for badge of mourning, meanwhile the widow refrains from bathing and caring for her own appearance. Finally, at the end of her bereavement the widow takes the spirit bundle to the family of her dead husband where she may exchange the bundle for her freedom to marry again.


Themes surrounding memory are a common thread in my work. In the Western World the symbol for bereavement is black dress and a gravestone. We, unlike the Chippewa, struggle to address our needs of holding on and then letting go. The Past is a Foreign Body looks at the life of the individual, and how memories shape them. Each figure is a previous self, outgrown, shed but not discarded, for like a snake we abandon what doesn’t fit. We may mourn our younger previous selves, we may nurture them, hold on to them even, but inevitably still struggle to identify with them once discarded.

dawn lippiatt

The Past is a Foreign Body 2012

Old Clothes, resin, PVA, wire mesh

Dimensions each: approx 300x250x250mm


A Chippeway [Chippewa] widow


I. T. Bowen's Lithographic

Establishment -- Artist