Listening for a Heartbeat

Works by Emily McIlroy

Listening for a Heartbeat

Listening for a Heartbeat 1024 604 Gallery ‘Iolani

Gallery ‘Iolani continues to celebrate Windward CCʻs 50th anniversary with Listening for a Heartbeat: Works by Emily McIlroy, an exhibit showcasing a body of work spanning 10 years.

Listening for a Heartbeat brings together a collection of Hawai‘i artist Emily McIlroy’s mixed-media drawings and paintings, spanning the years from 2008 to 2021. McIlroy’s art practice is rooted in her relationship with the natural world and fueled by internal exploration. With the deaths of her twin brother (2007), mother (2015), and father (2019), McIlroy came to see her inner realm of thoughts, memories, and emotions as a wilderness—a space that harbors great danger as well as extraordinary wonder.

February 3 – March 3, 2023

Gallery Hours:
Monday–Friday 1–5PM
Sunday 1–5PM
Closed Saturday

“This exhibition is sensitive and powerful at the same time.”

– Toni Martin, art professor and Gallery ‘Iolani director.

The Lilies How They Grow Series

The nine panels that comprise The Lilies How They Grow are an attempt to navigate the forces and features of a bewildering inner territory–a landscape simultaneously replete with both perils and marvels. They are an attempt to understand and accept an existence that is at once breathtakingly beautiful, unendurably painful, infinitely fragile, and prodigiously resilient. Created as prayers for passage out of all that holds us back, these pieces look towards hope and faith in the capacity to love, and for the possibility of a life aligned with presence, openness, and joy.

Through The Lilies, the artist came to see that the question “Who am I?” cannot be answered in terms of the static or the singular. We exist in relation to a whole host of other life, other flesh, and this life is always shared, always in flux, always wondrous, and always—in any one particular form—very brief.

The title of the series comes from a dream McIlroy had a month after the death of her twin. As she was walking along the edge of a cliff at night she slipped, and while falling, saw two small daylilies appear. She grabbed onto them and pulled herself back up and out of the blackness. “Now, whenever traction becomes weak, when I don’t remember who I am, I consider the lilies. I search for the handholds in the dark. I take the seeds of those life-sustaining flowers and try to grow them, not in little pairs, but in full, feracious fields.”

We floated together, facing out to creation. The curve of my small spine pressed against the curve of his small spine. The soles of my feet pressed against the soles of his feet. I had a heart outside myself—ten thousand hearts outside myself—pumping thick red blood out to the fingers and toes of the world.

Our tiny heads rested on the skulls of those who had come before us. We dreamt their dreams. Thought their thoughts. They told us who we were and what we would become. “Not this, not that,” they said. “Not a boy, not a girl.” They spoke softly of mountains and rivers and winds, hooves and scales and wings. “You are a whole wilderness,” they said, “rising up from earth.”

With this they made certain we understood what was most important to understand: that we knew the borrowedness of our bodies. Knew that we were no one thing. Hair would sprout from our scalps and teeth would drop from our gums, but we had fur and fins and horns and antlers, all inside of us as well. “You are a whole wilderness,” they said, “falling down to earth.”

And when all went quiet and we could no longer make out the sound of these murmurings, I leaned back just a little into the spine that curved against my spine, and I said to the heart outside myself, “Where are you?” And the heart outside myself said, “I’m right here. Where are you?” And I said, “I’m right here, too.”

And that’s how I knew I was alive and of the world. That I was nothing less and nothing more than everything that had already been, and everything that would ever be. Who I was was happening, and this happening could never be undone.

— Emily McIlroy (2021)