Hanne Hagenaars: grieving processes in a remarkable art book

Hanne Hagenaars asked artists all over the world about their dealings with the death of their loved ones. She collected fifty stories and at least that many works of art. Conclusion: making helps.

Miss as a round shape by Hanne Hagenaars (1960) is a remarkable publication. That starts with the outside. It is a book without promotional blurbs, without a photo and introduction of the author, without any indication about the nature and purpose of the work. And then the cover is only glued to the back of the book block, so that the spine with the sewn together sections is open and exposed. The whole therefore makes a rather vulnerable and mysterious impression.

The only thing you know when you start this book, after turning the pages under your thumb, is that it contains a series of short texts with the occasional poem and many images of works of art. There is no other option than to start at the beginning and gradually discover what the intention is.

Lost memories

In the first texts, we get to know Hagenaars, who until a few years ago was curator of modern art at the Fries Museum, as someone who lost her mother at a young age. Her father and his quickly appointed new wife acted as if the mother had never been there. ‘We hardly spoke about her anymore, as if she had not only died but had disappeared from our lives completely.’ Hagenaars, now older than her mother ever became, wants to make up for that loss in some way. The reader follows her on a search for lost memories. From energetic healers and shamans with whom she visits ancestral fields to a concrete dive into a collection of family photos. But mainly she travels the world to visit artists to hear their stories about how they deal with the loss of loved ones.

Round shape

Artists give shape to loss by making art and this appears to be possible in many ways. By putting together an installation from the things a beloved grandmother surrounded herself with. By painting the room where the artist heard of her father’s death over and over again. By turning mother’s old sheets, towels and cleaning cloths into soft cuddly toys. And of course by painting portraits. But you can also make art together with others.

Transgender women in Brazil

One of the most moving stories was recorded in Brazil. A group of transgender women commemorate the murder of one of their own by dragging a large white cloth across the ground of the crime scene, soaking up mud and blood residue. The women then embroider ‘a beautiful representation of hope, sadness and connection’ on the canvas, as a tribute to the deceased.

Hagenaars herself also started working with textiles based on her mother’s wardrobe. She writes: ‘I recreated the clothes, smaller, the clothes as I remembered them. With every stitch I came closer to you. With every stitch we fell more together.’

As a reader of this book, just like in a grieving process, you do not know what to expect. In that sense, the fragile physical appearance of the book with its puzzling lack of information is appropriate. Only when you finish the book and close it will all loose threads be tied off and the story will be complete.


Title Miss as a round shape

Compound Hanne Hagenaars

Publisher Art Paper Editions

Price 29 euros (394 pages)