Life and Death in Ashes: Exhibition in New Yorker Gallery Reflects about Cremation

Heide Harty

Death as esthetic, symbolic, and emotional event of life is the key principal under which Heide Hatry, German visual artist, presents her new exhibition Icons in Ash: Cremation Portraits in New York; an exhibition with portraits of people dead in different times, made by the artist based on different techniques, including the ashes of the portrayed.

In October 25, 2016, the last Vaticano’s statement was revealed about cremation and its worry because an “unstoppable increase” of it, together with the announcement about its veto to scatter ashes of dead people in any space beyond a graveyard. While the Catholic Church spread the restriction specifically to homes and jewelry shops, Heide Hatry’s work (German painter and sculptor living in the United States since 2003) leverages the silence of the announcement before the use of ashes in artworks and, specifically, in paintings.

That’s how the exhibition titles Icons in Ash: Cremation Portraits is born. The exhibition is presented in the New York’s Ubu Art Gallery since this month and until March 7. The exhibition has 24 portraits that the artist created based in three techniques that include ashes of the characters (famous and anonymous) captured in her work.

The art Gallery, specialized in the inter-war period’s avant-garde of the twenties centuries, extends among its exhibition to the scene that “historically has not received appropriate attention.” In this sense, the organization defines Harty’s exhibition as “a social project, deeply humanist, and esthetic,” highlighting the idea of this creation as “a way to integrate the inexplicable fact that death in human life’s process, of securing that by means of death, and its meaning remain present as much as respected by us.”

The techniques used includes ashes mixed with pulverized birch charcoal and marble dust expressed with beeswax, other times with ventilated ink or an emulsion of ashes and paint. Heide Harty worked with people and families that took the decision of being part of the project. Among the portraits, it’s some highlighted characters in arts, as the Peruvian documental maker, winner of the Montreal Festival, Roberto Guerra (1942-2014,) the novelist and poet James Purdy (1914-2009,) the US television producer Emily Jordan Boxer (1928-1994,) and the novelist, storyteller, and scriptwriter Joseph Petracca (1913-1963.)

The exhibition accompanied with the publication of an homonym book of the artist, with the participation of 27 authors and intellectuals that develop a discussion about the multiple aspects of death linked to the history of art as much as the social sciences, semiotics, ecology, and other discussions that include the taboo and the personal impact.

Check the artworks of this exhibition in the Ubu Art Gallery’s official web page

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