Breaking out

‘Rhythm Fabric Soul’ feeds off Tanya Fredman’s odyssey into the mysteries and wonders of Mother Africa.

Balancing Act 1 (photo credit: TANYA FREDMAN)
Balancing Act 1
(photo credit: TANYA FREDMAN)
As the title of her new exhibition intimates, Tanya Fredman feeds off a range of creative sources and sensibilities. “Rhythm Fabric Soul,” which opened at the Jerusalem Theater on October 13 and will run until November 12, indeed embraces a wide range of concepts, intent, history, techniques and energies.
In addition to the tactile and highly colorful cloths that she incorporates in her work, 29-year-old St. Louis-born, current Pardess Hanna resident Fredman imbues her creations with a kaleidoscope of hues and textures, combing textiles and paint with seeming gay abandon.
Fredman began her multi-stratified journey to artistic exploration back in her hometown of Boston, and she picked up quite a few air miles in following her muse and getting a better handle on some non-Western cultures that had been firing her imagination for a while.
“I went to Rwanda because I’d studied art at Brandeis University [in Boston],” she explains, adding that her multicultural mind-set evolved in tandem with her multidisciplinary approach. “I had been studying different cultures, and dancing, and I did a lot of West African dance. I always danced, growing up.
Through the dance I started getting more into African culture.”
Fredman’s odyssey into the mysteries and wonders of Mother Africa actually began several thousand kilometers to the west of the country where she eventually found an artistic and educational foothold. “I spent a summer in Ghana and I saw that, through dancing, I could learn about different worlds, bring different worlds together, and bring different people together.”
Fredman returned to Boston with some valuable new cultural baggage and insight, and her diverse line of thought and practice began to spread and deepen.
“At college I painted portraits of all kinds of people, and I used that to present different stories. I saw it as an opportunity to learn about different kinds of people.”
In fact, Fredman’s creative bent was initially galvanized by a family member.
“Back in St. Louis, my grandparents lived across the street and my grandmother had an Israeli art gallery in her basement, which was kind of an unusual thing in St. Louis,” she notes with a smile. “She had works by people like [Yaakov] Agam and [Yechiel] Shemi in her basement and she would do traveling art shows.” Young Fredman soon got in on the act herself. “As a kid I would go over and I would help her put labels on paintings. You could say I got my first taste [of art] from that.”
There’s more to the familial impact on Fredman’s professional development, and a connection with the venue for the current show. “My grandmother died about nine years ago, but my grandfather is still alive, and he still has an apartment near here, which my grandparents bought in 1974, I think. That was a place I always heard about, and then I’d come to visit with my family, so we weren’t far from the Jerusalem Theater,” recalls the artist. “When we came on vacation to Israel we’d come to the theater. So, it was nice to come back here and show my work here.”
Fredman may have achieved some kind of geographic and temporal closure with “Rhythm Fabric Soul,” but the exhibition is infused with all the riches of her artistic nous and her formative experiences in Rwanda – where she spent nine months working at the Agahozo- Shalom Youth Village, with children and youth. The Hebrew part of the name is due to the fact that the center was based on, and established with the help of, the Yemin Orde Youth Village on Mount Carmel. “I wanted to do something different after I finished studying in 2008. I wanted to do something where I was working with, hopefully, different cultures using arts. I heard about the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village project that was just starting then. It was founded by a woman called Anne Heyman. She was an amazing woman.”
Following the genocide in Rwanda, in 1994, Heyman decided to try and do something to better the lot of the 1.2 million orphans left in the aftermath of the violence. To that end she went to the Mount Carmel facility to learn the ropes.
“Anne went to see Haim Peri at Yemin Orde. She thought that there was an orphan problem in Israel after the Holocaust, and youth villages were built here, and she wanted to see if the same model could be set up in Rwanda,” Fredman explains.
Fredman followed a similar route. As she had some time to kill before ASYV got up and running, in December 2008, she came here to work at the Yemin Orde village and gain some valuable hands-on experience prior to her African sojourn. “It was a new village and everything was white [the walls], so there was plenty of opportunity to create art there,” she notes. “I love giving others an opportunity to create art, especially when it’s different voices coming together, doing something like a mosaic or a mural.”
But Fredman didn’t just impart her love of art, and the ability to express oneself and one’s emotions, through creative endeavor. “I collected a lot of fabric while I was there, and did a lot of sketching and drawing,” she explains.
The fabrics added yet another stratum to Fredman’s ever-burgeoning discipline spread. “I was just blown away by the fabrics that were just part of everyday life there.”
Textiles play an integral role in the Jerusalem Theater exhibition, combined with paints, and also in more sculptured affairs, such as Different View, which features a bright piece of cloth loosely draped across an open-ended wooden stick frame, and Walking Stick, which sports a long piece of earth-color-based fabric hanging loosely over a painter’s easel.
Fredman, as has become abundantly clear by this stage, is not one for sticking to the path of the creative straight and narrow. Many of the items on display break out of the conventional confines of the square or oblong frame shape. Ijoro (Night), for example, has a woman’s figure clothed in a long, mostly brown and turquoise, dress with her arms aloft, and stretching way beyond the upper right frame corner. The bottom of the dress hangs down below the bottom extremity of the canvas. The work’s 3D structure is enhanced by rumpled fabric coated in paint.
But Fredman did not go to Rwanda to try to become an African. She went there as a young American artist with deep Jewish roots. The latter come through in several works in the show, particularly in the “Four Sons” series, which feeds off the quartet in the Haggada. Wherever you turn there are symbols and cultural, religious and social content in Fredman’s output.
It was not only children who lost their parents as a result of the 1994 tragedy in Rwanda; the genocide also robbed parents of their families. Fredman depicts one such character in Mama Anny, a large portrait of woman with a face that exudes kindness and wisdom borne of a deep understanding of life. “She was one of the house mothers who came to the village,” explains Fredman. “She and most of the house mothers at the village lost their families in the genocide. She moved into the village to be a mother to the kids there.”
As the first word of the show title implies, dance also comes very much into the exhibition fray, in works such as the Shadow Dancers triptych, which contain hundreds of dancing figures that incorporate many of the styles of the discipline which are dear to Fredman’s heart. And there are Balancing Act 1 and Balancing Act 2, in which two couples convey a sense of freedom, movement and joy, and also extend beyond their frames.
Dance, painting, sculpture, mosaics, a deep interest in multicultural fields, and breaking out of the mold are pretty much what Tanya Fredman is about.