Expiration Date

First place: Ammar Badawi

“You can fight against the inevitability of death or you can accept it. I think it’s a mistake to ignore it. The greatest art has been about life and death.” Maggi Hambling speaks on the eye-opening oil on canvas she created.

Hambling has been creating meaningful art throughout her career. During a trip to the UK in 2020, I got to experience the installation of the sculpture she made in Newington Green to commemorate Mary Wollstonecraft, titled The Mother Of FeminismExcavations at the Royal Mint was another touching creation by Hambling.

During the early 1980s, archeologists excavated the Royal Mint in East Smithfield, London. The remains of two-and-a-half thousand Londoners who died, as a result of the Black Death, were exposed. Between 1347 and 1351, the most fatal pandemic recorded in history took seventy-five million to 200 million lives. Hambling saw a photograph of the excavation in a local newspaper and decided to dedicate a large canvas to it. Months after, she described this specific piece as a pivotal point in her career which “takes death as its explicit subject.”

As I stood in front of the five-foot oil composition, I was greeted with a rush of thoughts and jolts of distinct emotion. I was once again reminded of a word many dread, none are prepared for: death. One promise life can make to every living being is that their time will come; whether they are willing to go or not. Hambling did an immense job portraying what used to be a living organism, breathing, walking just like us in the piece Excavations at the Royal Mint. No human will be prepared for the day their heart rate slowly declines. No human has the power to dictate the day their flesh turns to ash. No human can control the time spent alive . . . or can they?

An issue common among many is happiness. It starts with the question of what is it that brings joy to your heart? What fulfills you? Research has been done multiple times over the past years with the same results: the number of unhappy people outweighs the ones who are content. Furthermore, the feeling of unfulfillment is rooted in doing repeated actions that you aren’t passionate about; passion is key to a fulfilled soul.

No amount of materialistic objects will truly satisfy one’s needs. We are guilty of purchasing artifacts in order to get validation from others. The human remains in Hambling’s canvas didn’t have their gold watches or name-brand T-shirts. As one of the most beloved prophets in Islam, Prophet Mohammed, said during the time 630 CE, “If Adam’s son had a valley of gold, he would like to have two, for nothing fills his eyes but dirt.”

Constantly thinking about death is useless; think about the limited nature of time and the ways it can be used to directly result in a memorable, worthy life. Moreover, turning the fact of death’s inevitability into a motivation to strive for greatness, your life will be much more meaningful. Hambling spoke about death and life multiple times, each time referring to the importance of accepting and understanding both. Do what you love because after all, everyone has an expiration date.

About the author

Ammar Badawi is a first-year student majoring in business. He also works as an emergency medical technician, and his hobbies include playing soccer, basketball, and skiing. Badawi enjoys traveling and meeting new people from different cultures. He writes, "I have always used writing as a way to clear my head and by getting my thoughts onto paper it helped me a lot mentally. I wrote about death because many see it as a bad thing so I wanted to introduce it in a different perspective, a way that values the time spent alive rather than that 'time limit.'"

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Top image
Maggi Hambling, Excavations at the Royal Mint (detail), 1985, oil on canvas, Yale Center for British Art, Gift of the Artist