In 2011, when artist Candy Chang lost the woman who had been like a mother to her, she naturally turned to her work as a way to cope with death and to reflect on her own life. The resulting art piece was a giant blackboard spray-painted with a simple prompt: "Before I die, I want to . . . " Chang posted the panel on the side of an abandoned house in her New Orleans neighborhood, giving passersby an open invitation to share the goals and experiences on their own personal bucket lists, from the simple to the profound. She was startled to find the walls already full of her neighbors' reflections the next day.
Cut to three years later, and "Before I Die" has spread to 66 countries — from Kazakhstan to Canada to Kuwait — and has been immortalized in a recently published book featuring photographs of the project from around the globe.
The answers to the prompt range from the lighthearted — "swim with dolphins," "smell Oprah," "go to the World Series," "hug a sloth" — to the haunting and heart-wrenching — "find a friend," "get my wife back," "forgive my molester," "understand why I'm here." But the message clearly transcends language, age, and locale, bringing people together in the public spaces they inhabit, giving them an anonymous place to voice their innermost dreams and desires, and demanding a moment of their attention and introspection amid their daily routines. Read on for a closer look at "Before I Die" projects from around the world, and tell us: how would you finish the sentence?