Currently Exhibiting at Flatland Projects

Who Do We Tell When The Bees Are Dead (Paper Version)

The title comes from — a ritual called of “telling the bees”. it may have its origins in Celtic mythology where the presence of a bee after a death signified the soul leaving the body, but the tradition appears to have been most prominent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the U.S. and Western Europe. The ritual involves notifying honeybees of major events in the beekeeper’s life, such as a death or marriage. While the traditions varied from country to country, “telling the bees” always involved notifying the insects of death in the family—so that the bees could share in the mourning. This generally entailed draping each hive with black crepe or some other “shred of black.” It was required that the sad news be delivered to each hive individually, by knocking once and then verbally relaying the tale of sorrow.

Artwork by Alexi Marshall

Handprinted Linocut, Ink on Japanese Paper, Panel 1 & 3 — 100 x 140 cm, Panel 2 — 100 x 190 cm

The population of bees is declining rapidly due to climate change. Without bees to spread pollen, it's estimated that a significant percentage of crops — and thus, food— would vanish from our planet. How can we envision hope in this time of ecological collapse, death, and destruction? In cultures and histories around the world, the bee is regarded as sacred. It appears extensively in folklore in many different forms. Honey and bee venom are used in several different traditions of folk magic. In Celtic mythology, the bee is a messenger between our world and the spirit realm. We tell the bees when man is dying, yet through ecological collapse, much of the natural world is dying too. Who do we tell when the bees are dead?

Panel 1 // Life, innocence, reverence for native

In this panel, there is a rich natural world – a river flows, trees, an unknown entity, perhaps a nature spirit watches over. Two young girls watch as a dead bee floats down a river. This panel was inspired by the artist's own childhood memory of being 6 years old, finding a dead bee on her best friend’s farm. The bee was given an elaborate funeral, and the two young girls read bible passages and dug a delicate grave. In this version, a gargantuan bee floats down the river which runs through all three panels. The figures look on, a first encounter with death but with an innocent reverence for the natural world.

Panel 2 // Death

A woman enacts the ritual. Her brain is exposed to the elements, wise crone to counteract the young ‘maidens’ of the previous panel. Tears stream down her body in sorrow, and the flowers she holds are wilted. A swarm of bees clouds the sky. A spiral looms in the sky.

Spirals are an important symbol for me. We start in the dark, in ignorance, and move forward through life, to centre, and inwards we travel to enlightenment. Towards the light, towards the true self. Lessons learned and relearned, patterns created and destroyed in Nature’s cycle; we spiral on.

The moon looks on at the scene, while a white face separates the night to whisper the news from the shadow place to the central figure. The river running below is polluted, sea snakes wind through bones and debris. Small figures of men flail in the dark water, unsure if they are drowning or swimming or souls in limbo.

Panel 3 // Regenerative culture, rebirth, hope

A utopian vision of hope, rebuilding, and creating a new world. Women work together as a collective, building a hive-like structure in the background with a fire inside – reminiscent of the hearth. A central figure scatters seeds and water, and small men flow out of her vessel. The sowing of the seed evokes every form of procreation.

In the corner there is an interpretation of a Dakini; a ḍākinī is a type of sacred female spirit in Hinduism and Vajrayana Buddhism. The term can also be applied to human women with a certain amount of spiritual development. In the piece the Dakini is adapted to be holding a honey jar, large droplets of honey falling down as she collects them. A mother carries her child on her back, a hairy body and animalistic crawl echo a return to the primal call of nature. Upon the baby’s lips rests a bee. The Greeks believed that a baby whose lips were touched by a bee would become a great poet or speaker. A seedling sprouts from the bones of the past in the earth.

Women rebuild the earth in a vision of a new and hopeful future; one that is hard to imagine in these ostensible ‘end’ times, when all we hear is of destruction and collapse. No matter how unlikely, the third panel presents an image of hope to counteract the crises of our modern planet

Exhibited at

Cursebreakers, September 2021 January 2022
De La Warr Pavilion | Bexhill, East Sussex