Spontaneous Shrines

"We who build shrines and construct public altars or parade with photographs of the deceased will not allow you to write off victims as regrettable statistics…They are, I believe, the voice of the people." –Jack Santino

Talking back to the shrines

There is one issue I’ve been considering quite a bit since starting this project.  I’m wondering how best to contact people who have created the shrines.  The last shrine I wrote about, to the person called “A,” poses a particular challenge.

The people who made the shrine left 2 pens on top of the box and taped a blank sheet of paper above it, presumably for anyone to write a note for “A.” Part of me is very hesitant to write something on the paper that is not a “in memory of…” comment. However, because the pens are an invitation to participate in creating the shrine, part of me thinks it would be the perfect opportunity to engage with the memorial in a different way.

Because I recognize the shrine as a sacred space, I do not wish to defile it by writing all over it in a non-memorializing way.  However, it does present itself as a participatory shrine.  I wonder if I should strike a compromise– tape my own piece of paper up near the shrine with contact information, but not actually write on the paper provided as a space to remember “A.”  Another issue I’ve thought about: Does my simply taking a photograph of it use the shrine in the same way that writing a note to its creators would?

It’s tricky…and one of the challenges of getting in touch with people who build these memorials.  How must a person coming in from the outside interact with these sacred spaces respectfully?

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2 thoughts on “Talking back to the shrines

  1. If I had created a public shrine for a loved one, I would have really appreciated your interest. To me the purpose of a public shrine is to pay tribute/honor the deceased. Passers-by who did not even know the deceased are now part of that tribute. I like your idea of placing a separate note (informing them of your work). Please keep us posted regarding the outcome. Thank you for your project, this is fascinating. Here in the Tucson area there are many roadside shrines, some of them are kept up annually.

  2. If you are ever in contact with someone who makes one of the shrines in the Tucson area and would like to share their story, I’d love to put it up here! Thanks for all you feedback; I really appreciate it and know I’ll learn a lot from it.

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