Dirge– a Lament for the Dead: Art Gallery of Guelph Exhibition Review

By Katherine Percival

As you walk up the stairs to the second floor of the Art Gallery of Guelph you first see a paper mache head in brown paper. It’s easily missed if you are not paying attention, as it has similar value to that of the brick wall and hangs high above your head. However, as you step on the landing to the second floor and the motion sensor lights kick in, you are greeted by 100 paper mache heads. You startle at first. As you are confronted by these larger than life sculptures dangling just above a 5’3 eye level. All the sculptures are similar with subtle variations. You walk through the rows of faces and that’s when you notice it, burns on one, holes a few rows down, markings and colour variations in another, is that tears?

The heads turn slightly as the motion of you slowly walking around them creates a gentle breeze. You are confronted by direct eye contact with these larger than life eyes. 

To see this work as whole demonstrates Insoon Ha’s reference to “the way media reportage of mass death can render separate individuals as faceless hordes” (Art Gallery of Guelph, 2023). However, the more you walk through the space, the more you notice each sculpture has its individuality. Ha’s work is rooted in isolation and death experienced during the pandemic as well as the horrible truth of residential school’s mass graves. 

Ha’s work expresses the recent health and historical discoveries in a reflective way that reminds the viewer of the current relevance of things we so wish were in the past. Ha’s work moves you to remember, to mourn, to grieve and to feel the impact of what we as a country, community and individual experienced, retrospectively not so long ago. 

This moving work reminds the viewer that the effects of the pandemic and the tragedy of mass graves at residential schools is still fresh, raw and worthy of remembering.

Dirge by Insoon Ha is on until April 30, 2023 at 358 Gordon Street. The exhibition hours are Tuesday – Sunday, 12 to 5 pm.

Reference:Insoon Ha: Dirge. Art Gallery of Guelph. (2023, January 20). Retrieved February 14, 2023, from https://artgalleryofguelph.ca/exhibitions-detail/insoon-ha-dirge/

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