“Hiraeth” Group Show at Art Elaan
“Hiraeth is the music you play constantly in your head hoping that you do not forget — it’s a place of comfort that you always return to,”
— Eric Ngalle Charles
The quest is simple as it is complex. Four artists illustrate an object of longing, never quite within reach. It is simple because you can locate your home on a map, complex because home is far from what it used to be. The object of longing may not be a place, but it bears the same weight of being unable to return home.
The Welsh have a word for it: “hiraeth”, but it carries a nuance that is not so easily translatable. The English words homesickness and nostalgia do not quite capture it. Nostalgia, which has more to do with sentimentalism, when taken to the extreme is sometimes thought to be a symptom of romanticizing the certainty of the familiar at the expense of the new, a disease of backward thinking, the antithesis of progress and innovation. And yet the widespread phenomena of a cultural retrospect is an indicator that progress and innovation occurred enough to change what life is like today.
Hiraeth is something else, described as a deep longing for home that never was, a deep and irrational longing for a time, era, place, or person. Perhaps the closest translation is the Portuguese word “saudade”, “a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist,” or “the love that stays” after someone, or something has gone away.
The feeling of incompleteness after having irretrievably lost something is still all too familiar, even from a distant past. Life is indifferent to an individual’s sufferings and one has to power through reality without home. Yet the feeling is not altogether unwelcome.
If there is one thing you cannot take away from the Welsh, it is their history. Hiraeth is a reminder of who they were before they were turned into foreigners in their own land by their colonizers. National identity gives them a choice to act upon their own agency.
Hiraeth is a protest. To forget is just cruel.