Three model butterflies created by members of the public. One is green and the other two are traditional monarch butterfly colours and patterns.

I’m a lecturer in Modern Languages and Linguistics at the University, conducting research on the Mexican Day of the Dead. I’m researching how this ritual is celebrated by Mexicans in the UK and Ireland, and the impact of Covid-19 on this practice. 

Through funding from PER unit, I’ve been able to engage in several outreach activities, including a short documentary on the impact of Covid-19, in collaboration with Professor Nuala Finnegan (University College Cork) as well as several arts-based community engagement workshops. 

Translating physical to digital

As part of Southampton’s Arts and Humanities Festival on November 16th in collaboration with Artist Emily Wood Ramirez Ahmed, we conducted an online workshop on the Day of the Dead. This community public engagement endeavour has stemmed from our dynamic creative partnership. The online workshop focused on the Day of the Dead’s central symbol, the Monarch butterfly, to discuss:

  • environmental degradation
  • how Covid impacted the Day of the Dead practice
  • ideas of loss
  • how the butterfly symbolises renewal and hope
a participant creates a monarch butterfly during an online workshop, using an old pair of tights, wire, and paint.
A participant creates a monarch butterfly during an online workshop

During the session, approximately 60 participants from across the world created their own physical butterflies. As thank you for taking part, Emily and I wished to provide a gift to the participants where they could view others’ artwork.

Three model butterflies created by members of the public. One is green and the other two are traditional monarch butterfly colours and patterns.
Three model butterflies created by members of the public

With iSolutions help, we built a survey where participants could upload an image of their butterfly with text. Participants could dedicate their butterfly to a person or an experience of loss during the pandemic, and/or include thoughts of hope and renewal. We engaged with Digital Learning for advice platforms to share images of participants’ creations, as a collage.

Redefining the digital experience 

For displaying the collage, with support from James Allen in the Digital Learning team, I used ThingLink to recreate a 360-degree experience of the Amazonian jungle, home to the Monarch butterfly which, like the forest itself, is at risk because of human environmental destruction. As well as the forest image, I integrated jungle sounds into the background, further creating an immersive experience.

After participants sent their images and text, I created one Monarch butterfly ‘tag’ per participant. Then I added their art to the jungle. This meant that when participants opened the page, they were offered an interactive experience whereby they could rotate around the Amazonian jungle environment, selecting tags containing the creations of others and their thoughts, in search of their own butterfly.

The amazonian jungle with a collection of monarch butterflies around the image.
Butterfly ‘tags’ are placed across a 360-degree image of the Amazonian jungle

View the Monarch Amazonian Jungle

How ThingLink redefined the collage for participants

ThingLink provides an opportunity to connect people from different parts of the world creatively; to share stories with messages of loss and hope in a period of pandemic and climate crisis. One butterfly had thoughts written bilingually: ‘In remembrance of Covid victims/ Recordemos a las víctimas de Covid. #BeKindToTheEnvironment #Cuidatuambient’. 

Like the Monarch, languages, cultures and geographies have no borders, enabling us to reconnect with others and our environment. This jungle will continue to be repopulated with butterflies and thoughts of remembrance/hope by other participants in future events.

As the virtual Amazonian jungle becomes repopulated with virtual Monarchs, so too does this provide a glimmer perhaps of a better future where humans look after their environment.

More about the ongoing work

I’ll be co-producing the documentary on the impact of Covid-19 on the Day of the Dead and the UK/Cork diaspora. This is funded by PER unit and University College Cork. The documentary will be filmed by award-winning documentary filmmakers Tom Price (The Times Photographer of the Year 2021; Southampton University alumnus), and Stephanie Beeston (winner of the London Emerging Award at Cheap Cuts Documentary Film Festival 2020 for her documentary Those Who Wait which looks at death and death rituals in the Philippines). I’m also writing a monograph with Professor Finnegan examining the impact of Covid-19 on the Day of the Dead in Mexico and in the diaspora.

The online Day of the Dead workshop will also be running in online and face-to-face formats at schools, festivals and at the John Hansard Gallery in 2022 with an installation of a giant skull surrounded by community-created Monarch butterflies. 

Using ThingLink for your project

If you are interested in ThingLink and its features then please contact James Allen in the Digital Learning team. James is currently leading the pilot for using the learning technology across the University. He can enrol you onto the pilot and explore how/what the technology can do for you.

Other ThingLink and 360-degree blog posts

Dr Jane Lavery: an immersive Day of the Dead experience using ThingLink

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