Oftentimes in our society we don't give ourselves permission to really talk about our experiences after the loss of a loved one. We go through our day to day with a smile on our faces, despite the dumpster fire in our psyche. Shawn Mishak's latest opus at Doubting Thomas, Fear and Death, brings together 14 artists, including himself, in an attempt to delve deeper into communication on the topic of death, grieving and everything in between.
Mishak's inspiration is drawn from The Death Café, which is a phenomenon happening around the country and abroad. It's a community event where people get together, usually over refreshments such as tea, coffee or cake, and have thoughtful discussions on the most taboo of subjects: death and dying. During a trip to Portland, Oregon, Mishak went to a death café and experienced relief and elation, something he is hoping to inspire in visitors to Doubting Thomas when it hosts its own death café on Oct. 31.
Mind you, this is not a Halloween exhibition, and Mishak was quite adamant about that in the call for artists. "It is October, the month of ghouls, ghosts and werewolves. I get it, but this is not what we are looking at here. I did not want a bunch of artwork based on mummies and witches," said Mishak, who has curated exhibitions in Cleveland for over 15 years. "I wanted to address the topic in a visual way to help us transform our perspective in order to prepare ourselves for the great beyond and to deal with the fears we all ace on a daily basis. Through this, I hope we can meditate on and find peace with the concept of mortality."
As for her participation in Fear and Death, Cat Swartz said: "I continue to suffer from a strong sense of grief [from losing a parent] and everything attached to that loss, and felt a strong desire to express that with this exhibition." Swartz's meticulously detailed sculpture, "Loss, Near & Complete," carries with it a strata of symbolism. A black barn owl and winged mice are striking images. "In some cultures and folklores the barn owl is a spirit realm and other world traveler," said Swartz, continuing (that), "it is also symbolic of facing fears. I decided to use the symbolisms of the black bard owl due to its one in a million rarity and they are genetically stronger than white barn owls. The winged mice in my piece are symbolic for heightened awareness, important details and checking the fine print, which is why they are carrying scrolls." Each scroll is imprinted with a tiny S for her parent.
Shari Ellen Ross's dark piece, "Neurosis & Spit," has us dangling from the open maw of what can be considered either cave or carnivore. The spit begins to resemble entities trying to reclaim any sort of edge on the situation at hand. It resembles the deep pit of despair and gnashing teeth of the monster that is grief. It is off-putting and unsettling to look at, yet we can't pull our eyes away.
Mishak's own work is titled "Shattered." Shadows and light layers dance on what look like torn, metal grate screens. Fleshy peaches and burnt bronzes set the positive and negative spaces between the world of the living and the world of the dead in "...our limited scope of trying to perceive them simultaneously," as he described it.
Among the other artists included in the show, we anticipate some real gestalt from the ever formidable Douglas Max Utter, and rising art star Nickie Choo Choo, whose provocative work is catching our attention of late.
Fear and Death offers a promising and unique exhibition of thought-provoking work and, hopefully, discussion and relief.