When you think about coffins – if, indeed, you think about them at all – you probably picture a polished mahogany casket lined with purple satin. But a free exhibition in the main atrium of the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre in London, that ran from 20 to 29 January 2012 as part of the Centre’s Festival for the Living, showed that death needn’t be depressing.
‘Boxed: Fabulous Coffins from UK and Ghana’ collected bizarre bespoke coffins from the famous Paa Joe workshop in Ghana and Crazy Coffins in Nottingham.
Boxed presented several novelty caskets from the Pa Joe workshop in Ghana and Crazy Coffins in Nottingham. Displays included final resting places shaped like a giant skateboard, a cocoa bean, a wine cork, a lion and an electric guitar, to name but a few. Each of the colourful and curious cadaver carriers was requested by a customer wanting to put the fun back into funeral with a casket to match their lifestyle.
In Ghana, there is a tradition of burying the dead in a vibrant customised coffin that reflects the deceased’s interests. This tradition was started in the 1950s by Seth Kane Kwei, who made his first-ever coffin the shape of an aeroplane so his gran could take her ‘first flight’ after she died. His craft is carried on by Paa Joe, a 66-year-old master craftsman based at the Kane Kwei Carpentry Works in Accra.
Among the bizarre coffins he has made in the past include ones made to look like mobile phones, sharks, Coke bottles, beer bottles, chickens, cars and aeroplanes.
There has been a big increase in demand in the UK for customised caskets, and Vic Fearn and Company have come up with what they call Crazy Coffins. Their designs including a ballet shoe, a guitar and a skateboard. This coffin is based on Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North statue – albeit without the wings, which would need a much larger plot.
Some of the coffins were produced as demonstrations of the company’s skills, some were chosen by the families of the deceased, while others were chosen for themselves by people who are still very much alive.
This coffin was commissioned by Pat Cox, a music teacher and passionate ballet fan.
Retired couple Gwen and Kevin Upex from Newark, Nottinghamshire, commissioned twin coffins which reflect their passion for canal boat sailing. They keep them in their living room, apparently.
Richard Mullard has created his own coffin that will enable him to be buried wearing his skis as if on a final expedition into the frozen north.
Jaws of Death
End of Journey