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EXHIBITION REVIEW: ‘Extinct Icons and Ritual Burials’ @ ONCA, 23/11/17

The Verse’s Hannah Aston attends the launch event for ONCA’s exhibition, ‘Extinct Icons and Ritual Burials’ which runs from 23 November – 10 December 2017.

ONCA is a gallery of constantly shifting exhibitions, and the launch event for its newest installation ‘Extinct Icons and Ritual Burials’ once again proves its quality. This exhibition, largely formed around the embroidered works of Katie Tume, AKA Mother Eagle, focuses on ‘biodiversity loss’. It is ‘timed to coincide with Remembrance Day for Lost Species 2017’.

At six o’clock the launch event commenced. Art enthusiasts and those conscious of our perilous relationship with animals started trickling into the warmly lit gallery. ‘Extinct Icons’, a collection of lavishly embroidered animal skeletons and embellished with jewels and beads, ‘pays homage to some of the most famous extinct species’. It considers the juxtaposition of these animals’ place in culture: ‘persecuted in their lifetime, but revered and worshipped in death’. Mother Eagle asks us to reflect on our relationship with animals and their status to us. The 6 exquisite pieces, each given a name such as ‘The Sacred Beest’ or ‘The Witch of St Kilda’, encourages us to think about how animals, once sacred, are now exploited for their ‘material’ worth. Also, Mother Eagle suggests most extinctions were ‘wrapped up in colonisation’, ‘European exploitation’ and ‘extractive capitalism’.

‘Ritual Burials’, also by Katie, Mother Eagle, is a collection of embroidered work that ‘explores the practice of ritually honouring animals in life and death’. This collection brings together animals native to the British Isles; either hunted to extinction, endangered, or strictly protected. Katie’s work looks closely at Foxes, Bats, Frogs, Arctic Hares, Wildcats, Wolves, Bears, Deer, Otters and Barn Owls. Embroidered symbols linked to each animal surrounded it; moons for the wolf, harebells for the hare. Did viewers know the United Kingdom had native wolves until they were hunted to extinction in the 18th century? Or that bears used to roam this island? The interplay of beautiful embroidery and anatomical representation of these animals highlights that the revered space animals used to possess has changed.

Alongside Katie Tume’s ‘Icons’ was a display of insect specimens provided by the Booth Museum. These specimens are ‘junk’ due to their lack of information. Highlighting the ‘tension between the impulse to categorize and the experience of the unknowable’. Accompanying the exhibition is work by local artists: Clare Whistler, Megan Powell, OX Art and Hannah Battershell.

‘Hihi’, its populations and the negative impact of humans on species was as a door painted with gold islands on the floor of the gallery.  Magnifying glasses highlighted the beautifully painted detail. But also the species affected, and the ‘ingenious ways’ people were intervening to protect them. ‘The Pollen Path’ considered the Navajo tradition of a path spread with pollen to represent the passage into spiritual enlightenment; blessed cloths hung on the wall. Photography also highlighted the importance of Bees to our existence. Whilst downstairs, there was the opportunity to act out your own ‘Ritual Burial’.

Accompanying poetry also sits alongside these works, by Lynne Shapiro, Megan Hollingsworth, Sol Howard, Susan Richardson and Hannah Aston.

ONCA’s newest installation is an immersive, engaging and highly beautiful exhibition. ‘Extinct Icons and Ritual Burials’ brings wildlife into the heart of Brighton and asks us to notice how we are destroying it. But also, makes us aware of our power to restore balance.

‘Extinct Icons and Ritual Burials’ runs from 23 November – 10 December. More information here.

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