‘Before I Die’

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Claudio Zonta SJ

 Claudio Zonta SJ / Art / Published Date:9 July 2021/Last Updated Date:16 July 2021


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The wall, often a symbol of division, can become an expression of life, reflection and art. Such is the case of the Before I Die Project by Candy Chang,[1] a street artist who transformed the wall of an abandoned house in New Orleans into an artistic and existential space that helps us “grapple with mortality and meaning as a community today.”

Street art can become not only a form of social expression, but also of introspection: it stands on the urban fringe, where the frame is the suburb itself, whose walls become a canvas for colors that reflect the depths of the sky, the heat of the sun, and the dilemmas of the night.

In this project, Candy Chang experiences the power of words. She relates her deep sense of loss on losing a dear friend: “Joan was like a mother to me for fifteen years. There were still so many things she wanted to do: learn to play the piano, live in France, see the Pacific Ocean. The shock of her death caused me a period of grief and depression. My inner world didn’t seem to belong outside at all, and I noticed how much we avoid talking about death.”

La Civilta Cattolica

The artist made a stencil with the title, “Before I Die_ _ _ _” and stamped it on the wall of a dilapidated house, which she painted in chalkboard black, so that any passerby could write their deepest desires with a piece of chalk.

Chang recounts that by the very next day the wall was already filled with thoughts, ranging from the simplest to the most complex, each revealing hopes and dreams, but also fears and insecurities: “To abandon all insecurities, to take back my wife, to be completely myself, we want to love and be loved. We want to do meaningful work, travel the world. We want to be at peace with ourselves…” Behind each expression is the life of a human being, individual and unique, as is the very handwriting in which the words were written, the fruit of a reflection, even if brief, on one’s own life and finiteness.

Since 2011, more than 5,000 walls in more than 75 countries and in over 35 languages have been recorded by the Before I Die Project, from China to Iran, Brazil to South Africa.

Faced with this simple question etched on a wall, how would we respond?


DOI: La Civiltà Cattolica, En. Ed. Vol. 5, no. 7 art. 14, 0721: 10.32009/22072446.0721.14

[1] http://candychang.com/work/before-i-die-in-nola/ 

Photo: Before I Die in Cordoba, Argentina by Jenny Carden via candychang.com