Death: Dear Archetype of Transformation

On this icy, foggy, frozen in day, I put my energies into Dad’s old moniker: Keep the clean and everything else will fall into place. I’m suspecting that this is a remnant of the Chinese Kitchen God, translated through the heart and hands of my engineer father who always had a word of wisdom, albeight practical and earthbound. Have you ever found that the best ideas come to you when your hands are in hot soapy water? My thoughts turned to a current graduate school project: my cultural self portrait.


The creative problem given was to fashion an aesthetically cohesive self portrait using your choice of media that reflects your cultural identity, values and experience. For those familiar with the multicultural counseling acronym: ADDRESSING, you will know that the following elements are considered:

A for Age and generational influences

D for Developmental and acquired

D Disabilities

R for Religion

E for Ethnicity

S for Socioeconomic status

S for Sexual orientation

I for Indigenous heritage

N for National origin

G for Gender (1996, Hays)

Just reading through this acronym, for me, opens up perspectives of the various facets making up the unique identity and experience of any one individual.


For my own portrait, I found that I see myself as heavily impacted by the religious and ethical values of my parents. Mom’s Catholic upbringing resulted in my lifelong education within the Catholic school system with teaching nuns figuring strongly in my learning and academic experiences. Dad’s Confucious based system of ethics was infused in so much of our homelife, this was a silent education communicated through decisions, actions and interactions of daily life. Living in a biracial household with one immigrant parent and one parent living with mental illness was isolating. It is no wonder that my support came from these value based and more or less spiritual elements. To communciate this more directly, and to accentuate the dark figure from the dark background, I surrounded her in phrases that reminded me of my parents, and places with strong personality where my parents lived or where I lived that contributed to my cultural identity.


One thing that did startle me was the appearance of a skull as my artistic process emerged, and in particular its central placement as the face of the figure. Even though I am a person who thinks about death often, one who has experienced loss, and am currently working in a hospice program learning about art therapy with bereaved children and adolescents, I was STILL surprised to see this grinning skull appear. It rather gave me the creeps, the chills and the full on heebie jeebies. This is supposed to be a “Self Portrait” emphasis on self, note the skull face. CREEPY.


But after reflecting and reading up on the archetype of death as transformation, I suddenly felt surprisingly good, warm, even affectionate towards my little skull faced figure. When I view death or ending as creating the space for beginning, as part of a circular cycle of life that happens rather frequently as we grow, explore, learn and change, I feel empowered rather than devastated, interested rather than in despair, hopeful and energized


What would your cultural self portrait look like? Which archetype are you feeling resonance with these days?

Image: by me, rendered in chalk pastel on black drawing paper. words included as follows: Keep the kitchen clean, Joi de vivre, Be kind, Be kind to others, Love you lots, Eat the bitter in bitterness and become man above men. Thank you, world. Places included: Shanghai, Topeka, NYC, Riverside Drive, Chicago, The French Concession, San Francisco, Soo Chow, (and how funny I did not include NJ where I have lived so many years – I must be in denial, ha ha )

Information on the ADDRESSING Acronym : Hays, P.A. (1996) Addressing the complexities of culture and gender in counseling. Journal of Counseling and Development, 74, 332-338.

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About reneetamara

Writing about death, mental illness, spirituality, art and perfume. Because beauty feeds the soul, and love is beyond what we think.

6 responses to “Death: Dear Archetype of Transformation”

  1. garceus says :

    It’s a startling image. Jungian. At first it looks grim and then when you look again it looks cheerful and playful. Like a Day of the Dead calaveras.

  2. YAPCaB says :

    Very moving and powerful piece of art. I think it’s my favorite of all your work you’ve posted.

  3. hajusuuri says :

    Wow! I really have a lot more to say / ask so will slowly digest this epic piece. I, too, immediately thought of the Day of the Dead artwork, the most recent of which I saw at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans.

    Why 3 pairs of hands? I would venture a guess – all are yours: one pair influenced by Dad, another by Mom and then one uniquely yours?

    The multicultural counseling acronym is genius. All except for Disabilities are things that everyone has for being human (even no Religion is Religion, in my opinion). Disabilities just seems out of place to me, but then again, I have not read the underpinnings of ADDRESSING.

    Finally, the bottom of your self-portrait looks alternately like a phoenix rising and the side profile of an animal with a long tail, both surrounded by love / hearts.

    Well done!

    • reneetamara says :

      hajusuuri, thank you so much for your detailed and thoughtful response to the specific visual elements in this piece. I love your interpretation about the three sets of hands….will think about that. I borrowed the six armed goddess inspiration from tibetan traditional art forms that I have viewed at the NYC Rubin museum. The elements and hand gestures, the posture etc. has symbolic meaning and I adapted it to my own intention.

      Since I work every day with adults living with developmental disabilities, I guess the D and D part of ADDRESSING makes great sense to me. It can also include mental health concerns, or physical, medical illness that people are dealing with which may limit you or impact your quality of life and accessibility to benfits, experiences and activities that others unaffected by these things are only too aware of.

      Gee, I love that you referred to this as “epic” 🙂 must digest that.
      WIll add links to the Rubin and postural meanings over the next day or two.

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