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Meet Ariel Basson Freiberg in Somerville

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ariel Basson Freiberg.

Ariel, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I first made connection to the arts though my mom, who studied art history and anthropology and her oldest sister, Tamar, who had a stream of her hand crafted objects at the center of each our family member’s homes. Silk flowers, imitation garlic, jewelry boxes with mosaics, and wildly inventive macramé wall hangings, were some of these hand crafted art works.

At age 12, I fell in love with Sandro Botticelli’s Primavera. The mythical subject matter, the life size scale and the elongated figures, all packed with over 500 plants and fauna, stirred my compulsive will to make my own images.

As a student at the High School for Performing and Visual Arts in Houston, Texas, I began to exploring ideas of feminine identity through painting, installation, and sculpture. As an undergraduate at Smith College, I narrowed my focus to two-dimensional mediums, with a self-driven focus on painting. Painting transfixed me and I jumped right in. Both the fluidity of the medium, and the alchemy of representing like life images with layers of oil paint tapped into an unknown abyss. This immeasurable space, became a place for deep intimate explorations. I earned a degree in psychology and studio art at Smith, and then immediately continued my practice while receiving an MFA at Boston University.

Figurative painting emerged as a subject through which I could fully explore the interaction between society and feminine identity. I’m interested in a body that is in a state of transition, a state of being revealed and concealed at the same time, which is the conception of my current body of work. To reconcile this state of being, we both censor ourselves and are censored by the world around us. Exposed, erased, obscured, the body rides in-between worlds. The body’s vessel carries sexuality in public space while it continues to intersect with the private space of mind and home.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
As with any self-forged path, struggles and failures are highly active ingredients. At times, it’s like running on a treadmill, which requires persistence, effort, and yet, mostly staying in the same place, until a colossal failure gets you off the damn machine and into the wilderness. In spring of 2016, I made a painting of a face colliding with brush strokes. It felt playful, genuine and alive. I related it with frustrations from my personal life, my own experiences in having to censor my sexuality and mold to a certain concept of femininity. I felt that I needed to address these issues more directly in my paintings. That’s when I began blocking out parts of the figures I painted with big, energetic brush strokes. These gestures are the most active parts of the painting; they lead the eye, creating a playful engagement with the body. The censorship empowers the subject, obscuring the vulnerable details from the viewer’s gaze.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Like a fever dream, the desire to make paintings is to recreate an immersive intimate sensory experience. For me, painting can be a contained space, imbued with longing, crafted through inflictions of marks and images. My practice as a painter also extends into printmaking, ritual sculptural objects and installation.

Recently I have been exploring the accelerators and brakes of sexuality through the body and gestures. The physicality of paint colliding with the body demands immediacy and urgency from the viewer. In some works, the figure is deep in a color field and the gesture of color appears to have been thrown or smeared onto a screen. The gestures act as an ideogram, both a composite of an idea and a will.

Some of my recent commissions extend from my Jewish Iraqi identity, such as the performance piece “Love like Salt”, for the Museum of Fine Arts Boston in June 2017. “Love like salt” began with a wall wrapped with 250 feet of layers of collagraph and woodblock prints. Prints of lace, jeans, tools, and wild mint are temporal materiality of my identity and heritage. For performative act, I dislodge the myth of one language and one face, as I rip through the layers. This subtractive process tears through the strata of images and memory to the heart of language, that reveals the alchemy of my identity and my narrative through Baghdadi Jewish Arabic phrases.

Following “Love like salt”, I was commissioned by the Museum of Fine arts and the Jewish Arts Collaborative to make, “Ziv”, a larger than life menorah. “Ziv” (which means splendor) evokes designs from ancient ceramic oil lamps, highlighting the earthly, yet supernatural miracle of one day’s quantity of oil lasting eight full days. “Ziv” was exhibited in the Shapiro Family Courtyard.

What were you like growing up?
Growing up I had a rich imaginative will. Sometimes that involved creating dwellings for ants around the oak trees at school, or making up fantasy stories for future lives my friends and I wish to lead. I took lots of dance classes growing up but never got into sports at school. I had a small handful of close friends and found it challenging to fit into Texas culture.

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Image Credit:
Todd Mazer, David Binder, and Tony Davlin

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