Luce Artist Talk with Soomin Ham

Ham's "Sound of Butterfly" installation includes photographs of her mother's belongings frozen in ice. Image courtesy of the artist.

The Luce Artist Talks series brings in local artists to discuss their current projects in relation to the objects on view in our Luce Foundation Center. Photographer and multi-media artist Soomin Ham will speak about her on-going project, "Sound of Butterfly" on April 17 at 1:30 p.m. This series is presented in collaboration with CulturalDC's Flashpoint Gallery.

What happens to our bodies after we die? Are ghosts real? Throughout time, humans have striven to understand death and loss and express our grief in a meaningful way. We also look to remember those who have died and honor their memories in both very public and private ways. These themes are especially prevalent in art and many examples can be found in SAAM's collection. In the Luce Foundation Center alone, we have mourning miniatures from the late 18th to mid-19th century. These tiny portraits might be surrounded by pearls that represent tears or incorporate a lock of the deceased's hair, which served as keepsakes for a lost loved one. By the 19th century, the tradition of creating a death mask had become a popular way to preserve a loved one's likeness, like one sculptor Hiram Powers made of his son. We also have early 20th-century memory vessels, delightfully elaborate pieces that grew out of a grave-marking or commemorative tradition found in several cultures.

In the twenty-first century, DC-based artist Soomin Ham combines old home movies, family photographs, and audio recordings in an exploration of her mother's life and death in "Sound of Butterfly." Ham also includes photographs of everyday objects, which she washed and froze before photographing, that belonged to her mother. These photographs are intended to preserve objects that would have otherwise disintegrated over time. The installation not only helps Ham come to terms with her loss and preserves precious memories, kind of like a contemporary memory vessel. Ham's talk on April 17 will discuss how intensely personal experiences affect her work and relate her art to those on view in the Luce Foundation Center. Afterward, guests are invited to visit Flashpoint Gallery to experience "Sound of Butterfly" for themselves.