Louis Vuitton Multicolor Handbag, from the series In Case it Rains in Heaven

by Kurt Tong

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Artist Statement

 

Traditionally, many Chinese believe that when a person dies, he leaves with no earthly possessions, and it's up to their descendants to provide for them in their afterlife until reincarnation. Joss paper, made from coarse bamboo paper, is burnt as offerings for the dead. Depending on the region, Joss paper is decorated with seals, stamps, silver or gold paint. These are often folded into the shape of gold or silver ingots. Plain Joss paper is offered to newly deceased spirits and spirits of the unknown. Silver is given to ancestral spirits, as well as spirits of local deities. Gold spirit money is given to higher gods, such as the Jade Emperor. Some believe that the money will enable their ancestors to live lavishly in the afterlife. Others believe that the money is used to bribe the guards and the Black Judge of the afterlife in order to escape early.

More contemporary varieties of Joss paper include Hell Bank Notes and paper credit cards. In the last 50 years, more and more elaborate items have been made out of paper as offerings for the dead. Cars, servants and houses were common sights at funerals. As consumer culture takes over in China, Joss products have become more and more outrageous. While this practice is officially banned in China, it has always been tolerated. Some see the offerings as compensations for what a person never had during his lifetime. Many consider the items as a reflection of the values of the living and of society. In 2006, it was reported that paper prostitutes, Viagra, condoms, ecstasy and gambling equipment were found outside of cemeteries. This led to a crack down of the more extreme products. The images in this series reflect some of the products currently available to burn for the dead. All items were burnt as offerings to my ancestors.

 

Kurt Tong

 

Kurt Tong was originally trained as a health visitor at the University of Liverpool. He has worked and traveled extensively across Europe, the Americas and Asia. In 1999, Kurt co-founded Prema Vasam, a charitable home for disabled and disadvantaged children in Chennai, South India.   Kurt became a full-time photographer in 2003. He was the winner of the Luis Valtueña International Humanitarian Photography Award and the City of Port St. Elpidio Prize with his first picture story. He gained a Master's in documentary photography at the London College of Communications in 2006. He has since been chosen as a winner in the first Lens Culture - Rhubarb Photo Book Award, the Hey, Hot Shot! competition and the prestigious Jerwood Photography Award.  

Kurt's photographs have been widely exhibited around the world at numerous venues: Jen Bekman Gallery in New York, Impressions Gallery in Bradford, The Royal Academy in London, La Casa Encendida in Madrid, Abbaye de Neumunster in Luxembourg and the CPA Exhibition in Chengdu, China.

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