sara friedlander: statement

default style

printer friendly

I started photographing in 1969 and haven’t 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. 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 all this incoming information. Using paint I can connect several images into a single moment-in-time experience for the viewer.

Prior to this latest “Stonewalled” project, my most recent series was “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.” This same concept can apply to any subject matter and I’ve been working on another series entitled “Restructured,” in which I reconstruct architectural icons (Gehry’s Disney Hall for example). Though there is no motion involved, the design elements, the layering of facades and reflections in glass or metal offer luscious material for my work.

The Artist’s introduction to Stonewalled in Jerusalem

Born into a secular Jewish family in Rhode Island in 1950, I remained the only family member who had never visited the Holy Land, until conditions aligned themselves for a trip to Israel in June 2011. I’d traveled extensively before that, but felt such ambivalence about the Israeli-Palestinian dilemma, that I intentionally avoided Israel as a travel destination or a topic of discussion for that matter.

click for complete statement

printer friendly

I adhere to no formal religious practice and, in fact, fear religion’s effect on the fate of the world, yet readily identify myself as Jewish. At the same time, because of my progressive political perspective, the Palestinians’ plight, though far from blameless, has made it impossible for me to support Israel’s policies, its separation walls and settlements.

In 2011 my daughter went to Israel on a Birthright excursion to explore her Jewish identity. That same year my cousin invited us to visit her and her husband, who’d just been named the ambassador to Israel from the EU. I knew this was the time to confront my resistance.

Though we were in Israel for 10 days, it was the three days spent inside the Old City of Jerusalem that inspired this piece. I’d heard Jerusalem repeatedly described as holy, spiritual and sacred, yet for me, raw unresolved conflict was evident on every surface and in every face. As I walked the back alleys, the tunnels and stairways, the seemingly endless stonewalls each held centuries of conflict and religious fervor. When I touched the Wailing Wall for the first time, unexpectedly, wave upon wave of emotion flooded me. The grief, the ghosts, the memories and the deep scars held within the walls of the Old City were truly palpable.

“Irreconcilable” permeated these alleyways and I felt the need to question why so many were rushing to the mosques, churches and synagogues to pray. Are their prayers being answered? What are they praying for - new cell phones, bigger houses, revenge, religious dominance? Exactly what have monotheism’s three major religions accomplished in the way of finding real peace in this area? Why, when empathy could heal so much, do insularity, survival, blame and defensiveness abound?

Months of reflection, research and the editing of endless original and archival photographs led to the concept of creating a wall embedded with the present day cohabitants of the Old City - orthodox Jews, Christians, Muslims, Bedouin women, secular Jews, Arab Israelis, and unidentifiable children (who could be from any of these tribes), all crossing paths with one another, while co-mingling with the ghosts that continue to haunt and separate them. In organizing the first 13 stones I spent months, choosing and digitally collaging forty selected photographs I’d taken inside the Old City and five archival public domain images depicting the Holocaust and the 1948 Palestinian exile, and then hand-carving (from wood) and painting these narrative “stones.” On one stone, for example, there is a Hasidic woman standing by the candles at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre below a photo of two victims of the Holocaust. In another a young Arab carries planks through the marketplace in the Christian Quarter as a harried Hasidic man rushes by. In yet another stone Arab Israeli women are gathered as one woman walks by with her purse atop her head in exactly the same stance as the exiled women carried their loads out of Jerusalem sixty-three years earlier. The wall emerged in May, but wasn’t completed until 4 months later when I added the final nine stones which utilized 17 original photos and 20 archival images.

In the Jewish Quarter at the Wailing Wall (named because tears actually stream down the surface of the wall via aquifers at the far north-west corner), visitors routinely leave a prayer in the crevices between stones. Usually these are intended to remember their departed or to express personal aspirations for the future. I’m asking the viewers of this wall to offer ideas, reactions, prayers, if you’d like, for traversing this seemingly hopeless situation, ways to open dialogue and help leaders and citizens contemplate and perhaps approach this impasse from outside the box. There is a large and active peace movement in Israel, who question and express opposition to their government’s policies with less apprehension than American Jewry, who fear being labeled anti-Semitic if they are critical of Israeli policy.

Desmond Tutu created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, similar trials have occurred in Rwanda, and Ireland lives in peace today. If it takes a village to raise a child, what will it take to move this situation forward and how can we each participate?