‘Death, by Koji:’ Two forms of art come together to tell a life story


Jaycie Nelson

Koji Liby speaks with students about his artwork that was apart of the documentary “Death, By Koji,” filmed and directed by his brother Julian Liby. The session was held during Communications Week on Oct. 11.

Two brothers with two different art forms and many animal bones came together to create one documentary: “Death, by Koji.”

Julian Liby, an Elliott School of Communications alumnus and a videographer at Yale, approached his younger brother, Koji Liby, to share the story of his art and his life. 

Along with drawing in a surrealistic art style, Koji’s other art medium is mummifying dead animals and preserving their bones. Koji said the concept might make people uncomfortable but that’s not his intention. 

“[Mummifying animal bones] is very much about preserving and appreciating the beauty of the life cycle and its natural process … not intervening and causing the death, but just the natural cycle of life and death,” Koji said. 

Julian said that Koji has a unique approach and wanted his technique in the film to represent that uniqueness as well. 

“I tried to, you know, force myself to think outside the box with my own medium, filmmaking and editing in this case, and try to tell the story in a way that was visually unique or different,” Julian said.

The documentary has been featured at 13 film festivals and won awards at the LGBTQ Unbordered International film festival, L.A. International Film Fest’s Indie Short Fest and Kansas City underground film festival. 

In the film, Koji discusses being transgender, having depression and anxiety, and being suicidal. 

“I started developing a slightly healthier relationship with death because I stopped being so scared of it,” Koji said. “Because of that, I think I started to view death as something that was really beautiful.”  

Julian was unaware of the challenges Koji had faced and how close he was to losing his brother. Their 6-year age gap created a distance between the brothers; however, working on the documentary helped their bond grow. 

“I think one of the hardest things was definitely learning about my brother’s experiences, especially when he was trying to come out to our parents,” Julian said. 

Koji said that he has tried to come out three different times to his parents, and they still do not respect his pronouns. 

Julian said he hopes their parents will see this documentary and see Koji’s perspective.

“I definitely have a much better understanding of Koji and his journey and what he’s been through,” Julian said. “I not only have an appreciation for the journey itself, but … for who he is now.” 

Koji’s art can be found at www.kojitliby.com.