Painting a connection with Africa

Tanya Fredman, 29; from St. Louis to Pardess Hanna, 2011.

Tanya Fredman, 29 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Tanya Fredman, 29
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On the front gate of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda, a motivational message is inscribed in Kinyarwanda and English: “If you see far, you will go far.”
This maxim resonates with artist Tanya Fredman, who volunteered at the village when it opened in 2009. Today she teaches art in northern Israel’s Yemin Orde Youth Village, the model upon which the African youth village was based.
Fredman and her husband, Len Pader, made aliya in 2011 to Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu and now live in Pardess Hanna. Their firstborn, Matan, arrived in February.
“I first went to Africa with an American Jewish World Service trip to Ghana in 2006,” Fredman says.
“I was interested in exploring different cultures, and first encountered Ghana through learning West African dance. My interest in connections between diverse cultures and dance is visible in my artwork, which often combines paint, fabric and other materials to tell a story of worlds colliding.”
After graduating from Brandeis University in 2008, she heard about Agahozo-Shalom, planned as a refuge for orphans and vulnerable youth of the 1994 genocide, founded by South African-American Anne Heyman with support from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The village was to be modeled after Yemin Orde on Mount Carmel, which houses 500 at-risk immigrant youth from Ethiopia, France, Brazil, Sudan and countries of the former Soviet Union.
Eager to work in Africa again, and feeling deeply connected to Israel, Fredman felt the opportunity was tailor-made for her.
“I was excited that the Rwandan village was connected to Israel and was just getting started. I assumed that with a lot of blank walls and new buildings, there would be many opportunities to do art there, and so I contacted the founders,” she says.
For three months, she volunteered at Yemin Orde and then went to Rwanda for nine months. As the resident art educator, Fredman became close with the 125 children living there – today there are 500 – and went back in January 2013 to attend their graduation ceremony.
You can see the effects of her experience in her paintings, collages and sculptures. Now pursuing postgraduate studies at Hamidrasha Art School of Beit Berl College in Kfar Saba, Fredman brings her cross-cultural experiences into her campus studio.
“I work there two days a week. I’m working on largescale paintings and 3D objects – half painting and half sculpture – exploring a meeting of people and culture through movement,” she says. “When I was in Rwanda, a troupe from Batsheva Dance Company came from Israel to perform and teach in the village, and it was a fascinating exchange between worlds. That is one of the stories behind my current work.”
Raised in St. Louis, Missouri, Fredman says living in northern Israel has influenced her work as well. She is based not far from the Ein Hod Artists Colony, and did some guiding and installation at the Ein Harod Museum of Art in the Beit She’an Valley.
“The beautiful landscape and slower pace of the North stimulates my creativity and feeds my imagination,” she says. “There is something very special and inspiring about the northern part of Israel, and it shows with all the artists that are attracted to this region.”
Her works have been exhibited in other parts of Israel, such as the PICO shared workspace and the AACI headquarters in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood.
She has had solo exhibitions in New York, Massachusetts, California, Washington state and Missouri. Her works have also appeared in group exhibitions in Tel Aviv and Karmiel as well as the US.
Fredman has felt a special connection to Israel for as long as she can remember.
“Israel was always a special place for my family, and when I was five years old we spent a year in Israel and often came for family vacations,” she explains.
“I grew up across the street from my grandparents, Aaron and Ruth Fredman. They had an Israeli art gallery in their basement, and they came very often to collect Israeli art, and in the 1970s they bought an apartment in Jerusalem. That has been a place where the family can come and stay.”
During her gap-year studies at Midreshet Harova between high school and college, she felt strongly drawn to the spirituality and history of the land. “I felt I wanted to contribute to the story that’s happening here. Throughout college it was something I thought about.”
Her decision to pursue art as a career followed closely behind.
“As a little kid, I helped in my grandmother’s gallery and I liked to draw and paint. At Brandeis, I discovered I could take it to a more professional level. I also always liked teaching and creating experiences for others to learn about themselves through art,” Fredman says.
At Yemin Orde, she manages to touch the lives of nearly all the children, in the classroom or through special projects.
“Recently I set up a station outside near a wall of the school, and kids walking by could add to a mural on the wall,” she says. “A lot of them, here and in Rwanda, don’t have previous experience with art and they are often hesitant at first. But when they get into it, you can’t stop them. It builds their self-confidence and brings out their inner spark of creativity.”
Fredman and her husband enjoy exploring Israel’s varied landscapes and learning about both ancient and modern history in the land.
Though she misses her family in America, she feels that in Israel she has a lot to contribute. “I really like being in a place where the issues that are in the newspaper are immediate and real. In a country as big as America, important issues are easy to forget about, but here it’s harder to ignore them and I hope that I can be involved in making a difference through my artwork.”
She and her husband keep chickens in their backyard and feel at home in Pardess Hanna’s culturally and religiously diverse, small-town atmosphere.
“People often have a certain impression of Israel that’s maybe somewhat one-faceted, that it’s all religious or it’s all about the conflict. But when you come here and live in different parts of the country, you see there is so much happening, from arts to business to agriculture. It’s worth taking an opportunity to explore the diversity here and the creative, exciting things that are happening.”
Though she is still exploring the phenomenon of being “an outsider and an insider at the same time” in her surroundings, Fredman speaks Hebrew well and is dedicated to further understanding Israeli society.
“Living in Israel means I’m part of an evolving story that is yet to be determined, and making art in Israel allows me play a role in the relatively new story of Israeli art,” she says. “I hope that through absorbing and interpreting this new world around my artwork, I will be able to make an impact.”