Iliya Zaki

“My current project started out of curiosity. I went to a Taoist divinity ritual done by family. You use joss sticks to transmit your message to your ancestors, and you’ll receive their messages via two wooden moon blocks. I was interested in the ritual because I see myself as an atheist but still feel a connection to the ritual because that was what I was brought up with– my mom is a devout taoist, and my dad does it out of filial piety.

My parents don't care what religion I practice as long as I do what they tell me to. I thought the myths that founded religion were folk lore that people used to make sense of reality. I’m torn, coming from the position of a son with Confucius values of filial piety. I’ve recently thought maybe religion exists not so much for its stories, but because it fills a sort of void in people, Maybe people want to experience a spiritual connection. 

I have an older brother who’s aligned with Buddhism so he doesn't feel like that he has to continue the family tradition. I interviewed him for my work as I was trying to understand other people’s beliefs of the afterlife. If one relative passes away, which afterlife does he go to? My brother believes in reincarnation. Taoists believe that your soul will reside in a spiritual tablet and you become a sort of deity– if rituals are performed correctly. Otherwise, you become a wondering spirit. I think we just disappear.

I think this outlook has allowed me to take life more seriously. There is no post game– just try and do as many things as you can and have as little regrets as possible. Always learn new things. I think it’s important to think about your mortality. The knowledge that you have a limited amount of time pushes you to do things. It’s easy to forget time when you’re consuming entertainment.”