Exploring the ‘Death-bed selfie’ art in Australia


AUSTRALIA – Artist Hayley West has been unlucky in life – and death. Her three-year-old sister drowned next to her in a suburban pool when she was 6 and she has since lost both her parents to cancer, her uncle to drink-driving, before another family member committed suicide last year. The experience had led to her latest and perhaps most unusual work I Remember You, to debut in Canberra this weekend at the Art, Not Apart Festival, where she will invite Canberrans to lie on a “cooling bed” used to keep corpses from decomposing, and snap a “death selfie”.

“When people walk into the apartment there will be the bed … and I’ll be asking people to think about a memory or object they want to give someone when they die and then hashtag it.

“Not many people are aware you can die at home and keep the body at home for five days. I’m hiring one of these cooling beds so people can experience it. [It’s]  a strange thing to do as you will never experience it when you’re alive,” West said.


Her “death selfie” idea came from the phenomenon of  “funeral selfies” where young Americans created outrage across the internet by posing for shared pictures outside services, next to hearses and even with coffins.


West is also part of the growing death café movement which aims to give people a place where they can discuss death openly and making the most of their lives over tea and biscuits.

“A lot of the time even with friends and family it is still a taboo subject so to be able to sit down with people and have a cup of coffee and cake and talk openly and honestly about these experiences is really great,” she said.

French artist Sophie Calle’s ‘Couldn’t Capture Death’ 2007, a video of Calle’s mother taking a final breath, left a big impression on her, but it took a while for her to realise the direction of her work was in themes of death and dying.

“I dabbled in it but it really became apparent when I gave birth to Ramona and I didn’t have any grandparents around to help. That is when it really hit me and my art took this turn,” she said.


Photo: Hayley West with daughter Ramona Richardson, photo by Tobias Richardson.

Originally published by The Canberra Times , author Primrose Riordan.