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What inspires the artist? The process is varied as much as it is guarded, so we’re asking some to share. First up, musician Anita Lester on religion and living death.
An ode to the ghosts in my life.
Thank you for the music.
I saw death with my own eyes at a young age.
I saw the rattle of the body letting go.
I saw my father’s giant soft lips struggle for air and his dying tired body contract
and shrink like burning hair.
The learning of someone’s passing is like a vicious vibration – a jumble of images rupturing in a single moment – an intense release of memory.
It comes in waves, as does the feeling of frantic and desperate recollection. But there is something beautiful about release and something sacred in the silence of mourning. The transition of something tangible to something that exists in the space between.
My family belonged to a Synagogue called Shira Hadash – Shul of song. Their ethos being that through song, one creates a deeper intimacy with the dance between god and soul.
After my father’s passing, we were cradled by this community, as well as the multiple, religiously inclined chanting groups my eccentric mother was a part of (I can openly thank her for the music and my father for the words).
In between the deafening silence amongst the disbelief, I heard music.
I fell in love with song around this time. It became entirely spiritual and undeniably a place of escape and freedom.
As an artist, I’ve also always been obsessed by religion as a vehicle for inspiration. I am by no means god fearing, nor do I believe in a modern construct of god, however, I believe that the innate human desire to search for answers to the unknown is where art is born.
Religion is brought to life by music and art. It’s carried by the illustration of story. It’s immortalised by song and paint, and how fucking beautiful is that?
When I want to write and am stuck, I find the closest church. I am completely elevated by the whispers in the cracked walls and wooden floors. I am illuminated by the repetitive light pouring through the immense stained glass.
At its core, besides the telling of stories and attempt to create a societal construct, religion is the foundation for which one prepares for death and the connection between the conscious and unconscious.
The first collection of words I ever wrote was speaking to death. I was fascinated by the subject as soon as I realised I could express my feelings about it through art.
Now, when looking back at traumas and recollections of change, specifically relating to death, I hear soundtracks.
Even memories that aren’t my own. For example, the Holocaust, which is very much part of my blood, is accompanied by a very specific period of music.
This year on Yom Kippur (the Jewish day of atonement), my mother and I travelled to a Paris synagogue to listen to the Kol Nidre (the song to open the fast). We were in a place where her parents met, listening to the same ancient song, sung in the same physical space, that my grandparents would have been in just a year after liberation.
I was knocked off my feet by the emotion that the song carried. It immediately pulled me into the bloodstream of my family. It was visceral and bigger than my body.
It connected me to the ghosts of my past.
When I want to write and am stuck, I find the closest church. I don’t mind if it’s pretentious. It works. I am completely elevated by the whispers in the cracked walls and wooden floors. I am illuminated by the repetitive light pouring through the immense stained glass.
We’ve evolved into egomaniacs and spend life being opportunistic. So why not be opportune about death? It’s such a painful process. It’s something even the most well-adjusted fear in their own home. But if we can find some respite here on earth – whilst our beloved are departed to the great silence – whilst we are stuck in the noise – why can’t it be that we turn noise to music?
Every nightfall is the death of a day.
Every morning a rebirth.
Every breath, the death of another.
Every second the death of the moment before.
Scrambled memory to aesthetic order. Moments lost in the space between, into stories.
Death is the greatest muse. Living is an art. It’s a gift. It’s full of pain and challenge that is endless like a fractal unfolding.
But I think once you can embrace the constant change, there is so much fire to use.