American Women: Birds of im/Migration
I have created these visual narratives to honor the courageous women, who left their homeland and their families, often under great duress and traveled to America to start a new life. Most of them spoke no English; and holding steadfast to their hopes for a brighter future, faced daunting challenges in order to establish themselves in this new world. I collected vintage portraits as well as images in the public domain (taken either in photographic studios or on the street during the first quarter of the 20th century) and then, using Photoshop, digitally combined them with my own photographs (landscapes, birds, trees, architecture) and tied them together with paint.
I began with photographs of my maternal grandmother, born Masha Bornstein, who in 1908 at the age of 15 left her family behind in Petrikov, Belarus (background image) and traveled alone in steerage to Boston. She soon made her way to Providence, Rhode Island to begin anew. She was an accomplished seamstress who designed and made all the clothes in the photographs you see of her. Warmth and integrity emanate from her face. I’m told that she worked in and then ran a small sewing shop. And after marrying, she and my grandfather sent for her mother and three siblings to join them. She died before I was two and by creating this piece, I feel more connected to her life and my own history.
Each of these three-dimensional mixed media panels highlights the journey of an im/Migrant woman. By utilizing visual storytelling to represent a universal tale, I created a narrative based on what I gleaned from the photo and what I saw in the eyes of each of these women. The result is analogous to creative nonfiction – neither pure fact nor pure fiction. It has been a delightful journey for me so far. I invite you to let your imagination wander into each portrait as well.
After years of collecting ideas and material for this series, I settled on this new format and began work in January 2015.
At this critical time, immigration is seen as a national and global threat throughout the world. These portraits can help us remember and reflect deeply on the reality that most Americans, most of us, are relatively recent descendants of immigrants ourselves.
I started photographing in 1969 and have not put the camera down since. It wasn’t until the early 90’s in Bali that I began painting. And then in 1998, after studying with Holly Roberts, I combined the two medium in my series called ‘Chinese Women: Bound and Determined,’ based on slides I’d taken in China in 1983. Until recently my parallel career had been that of a psychotherapist, and often my artwork reflects a narrative and draws the viewer towards the multiple layers of reality I’m exploring. The subterranean landscape of New York City provided fertile grounds for my series, Subway Reflexions. The equalizing nature of the subway, where people from every race, class and ethnicity share a limited space, while shifting between their private and public personas, was intriguing. Mesmerized by illusion, reflection, the enigma of motion and the passage of time, my career in psychology has profoundly informed my art. I strive to embrace these complexities in each of my pieces, creating my own Time-lapsed Photosurrealism.
By necessity, our brain filters out the barrage of images, patterns and designs which surround us. My goal as an artist is to bring into focus the beauty that the camera can record in a split second, despite our mind’s need to absorb and quickly decipher incoming information. Using paint I can connect several images into a single moment-in-time experience for the viewer. I did that with Blurred Landscapes, in which I used the above principles to reflect on the landscapes we rapidly traverse (in this case by train or auto). I wanted to convey the magic captured by the camera, which we miss because our brains translate our visions into the more concrete notions of tree, forest or stream. In another series entitled, Restructured, I reconstruct the works of architectural icons (Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall, for example) where design elements, the layering of facades and reflections offer luscious material for my work.
In 2011 after a visit to Israel, my focus shifted to social justice issues. First with an elaborate interactive sculptural installation and auxiliary exhibit, entitled “Stonewalled in Jerusalem,” developed to stimulate empathy and dialogue about the Israeli/Palestinian impasse. And more recently in my project, “American Women: Birds of im/Migration” to bring our American awareness to our own recent histories of immigration.