IN a world where death often remains an unspoken mystery, sculptor Leanna Gheseawan is passionately advocating for a transformative shift in the approach to honouring loved ones through life casting, and is challenging the taboo surrounding the delicate artform.
Similar to belly casting – a three-dimensional plaster sculpture of a pregnant woman's belly – life casting is done on a body part, most times the hand, of a dead person. But there is a major difference.
“A belly cast has a very surface-area finish, so there's no definition of the skin and belly because it is specific to pregnant woman. A life cast can be done on anyone, any body type, alive or deceased. It can even be done on pets as well on animals," Gheseawan, owner of the Couva-based Belly Casting told WMN.
The belly casting process involves laying wet plaster bandage over the belly at around 37 weeks into the pregnancy, then allowing it to harden to create a perfect replica of the pregnant form. With life casting, there are two basic methods of creating molds. The first uses the molding material into which the the body part, such as a hand or foot, is inserted until the material sets. The second method, usually reserved for larger body parts and faces, requires that the molding material be applied directly to the body part then secured with plaster bandages.
Gheseawan has done over 300 belly casts and close to 100 life casts on humans and pets.
She encourages people to embrace the power of memorialising their loved ones through sculpting. She said she is seeking to reshape the way loved ones are commemorated.
“People tend to do this when it's too late. It makes no sense. I reached a point that I don’t even try to market it to people to do it when there loved one is still here because again, people forget things and they prefer to take their money and spend it on something else. A lot of my jobs comes from grief.
“Some people may not understand why you want the hand cast (of a deceased person). They say, ‘that's weird, that's creepy,' but we have to not judge on how people grieve...It’s their coping mechanism, who are we to judge?”
Gheseawan first started with belly casting in 2018 and soon after began trying life casting after learning the process through YouTube videos.
“Our eyes are now more exposed and our minds are more exposed to more things out there. So imagine ten years ago, doing something like this, and people couldn't really wrap their mind around what they were seeing.
“Belly casting isn’t a new concept, so when my friend was expecting, I said this would be something very fun and interactive to do with her. After I did my first belly cast with her she was very impressed with the way it came out. She was the one that encouraged to start the business because she understands the sentimental value my work hold. And from there this is where I started my business."
She said at that time not a lot of people knew about belly casting so she had to do a lot of marketing. She visited doctors' offices to advertise her services and the doctors would assist by educating their patients "about the materials I use, especially when it comes to safety for both mom and baby. And they were able to guide my clients and even market my work as well. And this is how my belly casting journey has started.”
She said it took her years to learn the skill, and when she saw pictures of life casting it piqued her interest.
"There were a lot of sleepless nights trying to understand how is that done."
She said there are different types of materials on the market and different types of techniques, but she was able to find what works for her. And once she learned how to do it well, she visited funeral homes to promote her life casting services.
"And when it comes to detail," which is very important in live casting, she said, "I have an eye for detail...A major part of my technique came down to chemistry and physics.
"There is a lot of details to it, even down to the pores of the skin. If you have a tattoo on your body, that comes out. If you have a piercing, that comes out. Everything comes out to its true replica of the body.”
Despite the hesitation and stigma involved in dealing with the dead, Gheseawan said it comes easy to her because as a child she was taught to care for the dead in the same way as she would care for the living. But before she started she took her belly casting clients into consideration.
“I love belly casting and I always wondered what would happen if I started working with the deceased. What if people are superstitious? What if mommies don't want me touching their bellies because I'm touching the deceased? These were just things that were going through my mind because I didn't want to sacrifice that business for something else, because belly casting is where it all started."