The grief journey when a loved one passes away is one we all take at some stage in our lives. The journey and how we can support others in times of grief is represented in Holding Space.

In creating this work, Artists and Weavers Maryann Talia Pau and Ranu James were inspired by the work of Hummingbird House, Queensland’s only Children’s Hospice for children with life limiting conditions.

Learn more about this project and artwork through the video and story below:

Artist Maryann Talia Pau said, ”We wanted to explore how we hold all these emotions around death and grief and love.  We were inspired by how Hummingbird House supports families with both medical and emotional support to deal with preparing for the death of a child.

“What I really enjoyed in creating work in response to Hummingbird House is that it normalises the process of death and grief and losing the ones we love, it’s important for us to remember that it is a part of life and we have to support others to go through grief,” Maryann said.

Elham Day of Hummingbird House said, “We know for the families that we care for grief is not just something that happens close to the time of death, it is something that is often present in their lives from the time of diagnosis and far more in isolation in contemporary societies.”

“Just as Maryann talks about Holding Space, in the everyday, people can make a space within themselves to hold grief so they can be of service when grief comes to those that you know and love.”

For artist, Ranu James, the collaboration also provided an opportunity to reflect on how we grieve culturally, to think about the ways we walk this journey and how we support and hold up families who are travelling this road, while also providing an opportunity to shine a light on the importance of holding space and time for the journey.

In collaborating with Hummingbird House and researching for the creation of Holding Space, Maryann spent time with families at Hummingbird House and came to know their stories while teaching them traditional weaving and lei making techniques used across various Pacific Island cultures.

Woven baskets and Leis in Holding Space
Detail of ‘Holding Space’ Image by Greg Henderson

The symbolism of the objects in Holding Space and their arrangement is significant. In some cultural groups there are ceremonial practices of filling bilum with gifts for grieving families or for loved ones to have buried with them to accompany them to the after-life. Bilums and baskets woven from Samoan pandanus, referencing the memory boxes that families are given at Hummingbird House, are both used in Holding Space.

Ranu James explains, “The bilums were made in memory of the many children who pass on at the beginning of their lives.  The empty bilum symbolising all that is lost. The lei’s represent the emotions of grief and how it flows through our lives. There are times where we may try and box it in, but grief won’t be contained. It will flow out and through our lives.

“The journey is messy, neat, communal and personal sometimes all at once.  You can see this as the lei’s are held in bilums flowing out and over and into the spaces below.

Colourful Bilums hung from ceiling with overflowing leis connecting to 7 pandanus baskets on the floor surrounded by leis
Detail of ‘Holding Space’ Image by Greg Henderson

“The pandanus baskets that we wove for me symbolise us – as we stand in circles with our families, friends and those that we love, holding them through the journey. The emotions of grief (lei’s) again flowing in and out and around,” Ranu James said.

Close up of one woven pandanus basket with beautiful coloured leis wrapped in circles around basket
Detail of ‘Holding Space’ Image by Greg Henderson

For the artists creating the work was a wonderful opportunity to use and develop their weaving skills, “The first time we learnt to weave we were children. We lay on the laps, sat between the legs or in circles beside our Mothers, Aunties and Grandmothers listening to the chatter, participating in the community that is created when women sit together and weave,” Ranu James said.

“So much more is learnt when sitting in a circle weaving. It’s not just about the act of creating a bag or mat: it’s also about healing in all its forms as we pass on our culture, stories, family knowledge and connectedness.

 As we collaborated Maryann and I shared our stories, I heard about the work Maryann has been doing at Hummingbird House. We laughed and we cried and sometimes we just sat beside each other weaving.” Ranu James said.

Maryann Talia Pau said, “the purpose of Holding Space is to help others visualise how we might physically and spiritually carry the memories of our loved ones who have passed. Drawing on our Pacific Island ceremonies, traditions and objects of death and grief, we want to normalise this process by creating a beautiful space that encourages safety, empathy and love.”

Ranu James’ message for viewers of ‘Holding Space’ is “If you walk with someone during a time of grief remember these things, don’t be afraid to take the time to ‘hold space’ with them.”

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