The Western Veil

This week, I went to the “Focus 4: Four Solo Exhibitions” at the Illinois State Museum Chicago Gallery. It’s an art space that was completely new to me. It’s located in the Thompson Center in the Loop on the 2nd floor. It’s a rather sizable and airy gallery.

I wanted to check out the exhibition “The Western Veil” by artist Julia Haw. I have been a fan of Julia Haw’s work for several years. Many of her pieces remind me of circus posters (which I adore) but they deal with deeper issues of self-identity, addiction, and more. The works are highly detailed, almost hyper-realistic, and have incredible gravitas. I thoroughly enjoy her work and have frequently gone out of my way to see her work.

Her exhibition “The Western Veil” is wonderful. The series came out of her research about the veil in the Middle East. The exhibition, however, focuses on how the use of the metaphorical veil in the West through paintings and drawings. She looks at how we “stand apart from the perils of social interactions, while remaining a part of it… The veils are daily rituals and patterns that are continuously acted out.”

One painting depicts a couple seated at dinner with their upper bodies and the tabletop covered in a single, long veil. It is delightfully unnerving. it reminds me of Rene Magritte’s “The Lovers” with two lovers kissing but their heads are covered in a white veil. This piece made me think about how the mere ritual of everyone sitting down to eat can be tied to our class, age, and even gender. A meal says a lot about our home situation. Does everyone work 9-5 jobs so they can eat together or do they work at odd hours of the day to make ends meet so they eat apart? Or maybe you eat alone?   After all, it was a mark of status in the Victorian Age how many forks were at the dinner table and if you knew how to use them. This painting reminded me of how something seemingly simple can be fraught with these social considerations. I love it when art makes me think deeper into the ordinary.

Another piece that touched me was “The Veil of Memory.” It is a painting of an old man with a lace veil on top of his face so you cannot see his face. You can barely see his lower jaw. Memory is very much a veil. We see the past through indistinct moments, impressions, and feelings. Sometimes all we have is a shadow of a moment or a taste. But the painting also speaks to how we interpret reality. The man looks like an older everyman. I immediately thought of my beloved late grandfather. Someone else will look at it and think of someone else. Just looking at this painting and interpreting it to my own experiences, I’m distancing myself from another person looking at it even while we share the same experience. Fascinating.

Another piece that I really loved was a drawing “Greenwood Cemetery” drawn ontop of a book page. (The book is Spanish language incidently). It depicts a cemetery with tombstones all covered in cloth. The first thing that it made me think of was how I feel there is something creepy about veiled inanimate objects. Who knows what could be lurking underneath? But here, you can see through the transparent cloth to see the tombstones beneath. Somehow it didn’t unsettle me. Second, I felt that the work talked about how we try to distance ourselves from death. We try to make death more palatable. I read obituaries for work and it’s amazing to see the different ways people use euphemisms for death. There are a lot of “returned to G-d,” and “left for a better place.” I’ve also seen “promoted to the heavens.” Here the symbols of death are literally veiled, removed from this place and time.

Check out her website:

Anyway, I highly recommend the exhibition. I believe it is open until mid-August.

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