The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

‘Before I Die’ artist on bringing people together

Candy Chang spoke to students about how her work connects communities
Aliya Gibbons
Candy Chang’s “Before I Die” wall has inspired students to reflect on human nature.

Candy Chang, the artist behind the “Before I Die” wall, prompts viewers to pick up a chalk stick to share what they want to achieve before they die.

Chang joined other creatives for the 2023-2024 Ethics of Design program, an event hosted by the Mudd Center which invites artists to delve into their works and discuss the conversation of ethical and efficient design.

Chang wrapped up this year’s program on Feb. 19 with a Q&A reception next to the “Before I Die” wall in Leyburn Library.

She then gave a public lecture, entitled “Designing Space for Uncertainty,” at the Stackhouse Theater.

“It inspired me to think about what ethics really means when talking about community,” Emily Scaff, ’27, said about the lecture.

Chang uses urban planning to focus on her local community.

She said she tries to engage her community through city projects, like providing multilingual guides for street vendors.

The “Before I Die” wall first represented one such effort to engage Chang’s community.

During Chang’s early works, she said she struggled with depression after her loved one passed.

During her grieving, Chang struggled with confusion, and she asked her community to help reflect with her on the uncomfortableness of mortality.

The wall on which Chang drew her question— “Before I die, I want to…”—was filled within a day.

Then, the wall went viral.

“Eat more everything.” “Name a star.” “Be the one she believes I am.”

Chang listed dozens of quotes she remembered to this day, noticing common themes always traced back to love, creating meaning, traveling and being at peace.

“A neglected space became a constructive one… an intimate one,” she said.

People in Chang’s community volunteered to help the project by donating chalk and washing the wall. In turn, the city block became cared for and safer.

People all over the world reached out to Chang, asking to create their own walls.

So, she created resources to guide the process, even traveling to create some herself.

Today, there are over 5,000 “Before I Die” walls ranging in over 70 different countries in multilingual formats.

Being anonymous, Chang noted, increased people’s willingness to share confessions when given the opportunity and resources to do so, a first step to public vulnerability and honesty.

Chang said she continues seeking and drawing out this reassurance by embracing belonging. Her work revolves around the ethics of being a good neighbor and friend through open-mindedness.

She prioritizes man’s “fundamental need to connect with others,” as all of Chang’s works ask the same question: “How can we create emotional infrastructures that speak to the pains of our age?”

The “Before I Die” wall opened at Washington and Lee in winter term 2024 and will be displayed until June 1.

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