Spotlight: Wham, Bam, Pow! Artists’ Use of Onomatopoeia Is Traced in a Group Exhibition at Huberty and Breyne

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What You Need to Know: Onomatopoeia is the imitation of sound, either aurally or visually, that signifies a thing or action, such as “hiss” indicates the sound of a snake. The presence of onomatopoeia is commonly associated with comics, where actions are illustrated with word balloons like “Biff! Bam! Pow!” It is also the subject of the group exhibition “Onomatopée” at Huberty and Breyne gallery in Brussels, through January 7, 2023. Curated by Cécile Angelini, the show includes works by more than 50 contemporary artists from around the world, each of whom have a different cultural and contextual relationship to the linguistic presence of onomatopoeia. Both the artists in the show as well as the genres represented are incredibly diverse—covering everything from painting and sculpture to video and installation art.

Why We Like It: Because cartoons both popularized and translated onomatopoeia into the realm of visual art, deeper interrogations of the form are often overlooked. The exhibition “Onomatopée” seeks not only to rectify this shortcoming, but also make a case for the linguistic tool’s singular ability to convey meaning in art. Although the basis of the exhibition is solidly academic, the show itself is a fun, colorful, and intriguing exploration of art, and the use of onomatopoeia by artists around the world. The works on view offer a whimsical and imaginative take on the use of language in visual art, like David Tremlett’s collection of words that reference his past travels, Agnès Thurnauer’s “noisy” canvases, and an “articulating” snake by Gilles Barbier, among others.

According to the Curator: “Onomatopoeia is a very fruitful concept in art, evoking the subtle associations that exist between sound, image, and text. It raises questions about translation, since the same sound is expressed differently depending on one’s geographical location. The artists in this exhibition hail from the U.S., South Africa, China, Uruguay, Ukraine, England, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Italy. They are sculptors, painters, visual artists, comic book authors and writers. Their works are enormously varied and explore every aspect of onomatopoeia with great dynamism.”—Cécile Angelini

See inside the exhibition below.

Installation view, "Onomatopée," 2022, at Huberty and Breyne, Brussels. Courtesy of Huberty and Breyne.

Installation view, “Onomatopée,” 2022, at Huberty and Breyne, Brussels. Courtesy of Huberty and Breyne.

Installation view, "Onomatopée," 2022, at Huberty and Breyne, Brussels. Courtesy of Huberty and Breyne.

Installation view, “Onomatopée,” 2022, at Huberty and Breyne, Brussels. Courtesy of Huberty and Breyne.

Installation view, "Onomatopée," 2022, at Huberty and Breyne, Brussels. Courtesy of Huberty and Breyne.

Installation view, “Onomatopée,” 2022, at Huberty and Breyne, Brussels. Courtesy of Huberty and Breyne.

Installation view, "Onomatopée," 2022, at Huberty and Breyne, Brussels. Courtesy of Huberty and Breyne.

Installation view, “Onomatopée,” 2022, at Huberty and Breyne, Brussels. Courtesy of Huberty and Breyne.

Installation view, "Onomatopée," 2022, at Huberty and Breyne, Brussels. Courtesy of Huberty and Breyne.

Installation view, “Onomatopée,” 2022, at Huberty and Breyne, Brussels. Courtesy of Huberty and Breyne.

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