MARCH 29, 2018 – BOSTON – If freedom were a food, what would Bostonians chose as their culinary symbol?
It’s one of four questions artist Julia Vogl is asking people from all walks of life as part of “Pathways to Freedom,” a public art initiative sponsored by the Newton-based Jewish Arts Collaborative (JArts).
The bold and ambitious project is inspired by the universal themes of the Passover Exodus story and will culminate with the creation of Vogl’s large public art installation on April 25 at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, a Civil War tribute on the Boston Common. It will be on view through May 2.
Over the next few weeks, in settings that include the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem on Sunday, April 8, Vogl, a British-American Jewish artist, and JArts will host more than a dozen community conversations and programs on the meaning of freedom.
The project is designed “To show everyone in the community, Jewish or not, how the Passover story is relevant to us all,” said Laura Mandel, executive director of JArts. “We are not so different. We are all part of the Boston community.”
Participants will have the chance to take part in creating Vogl’s art installation through conversations, interviews, and by answering a series of questions on an electronic tablet. The responses are transformed into colorful images and printed on small pie-shaped stickers that are placed on a personal lapel-sized pin. JArts leaders and Vogl hope to engage with at least 1,500 participants throughout the project.
Vogl will transform the individual responses into a 5,000-square-foot set of vinyl tiles that will encircle the ground around the Sailors and Soldiers Monument. Pre-recorded interviews also will be part of the ground sculpture.
The Jewish Community Center of the North Shore and the Epstein Hillel School in Marblehead, Congregation Shirat Hayam Hebrew School in Swampscott, and the Salem-based Lappin Foundation are taking part in “Unbound: Exploring Freedom Through Art & Story,” the program at the Peabody Essex Museum.
This is a first time partnership between Jewish Arts Collaborative and PEM. The museum is eager to have visitors explore freedom and immigration through Vogl’s art, according to Gavin Andrews, the PEM’s chief learning officer. “I knew that this was an important project that the museum would want to play a role in supporting,” she told the Journal.
During early discussions between JArts and Vogl, the artist recalled she was involved in a project with refugees in London. Later, she spent two weeks volunteering among Syrian and other refugees at a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece.
“I was thinking about Passover and the Exodus, where the ancient Israelites crossed a body of water, with no sense of hope,” Vogl recalled. In the United States today, the issues of immigration and refugees have become divisive, she observed. “Everything we value as a country, as historically a place for immigrants, is called into question,” said Vogl, whose father is British and whose mother came to the US from Germany in the 1970s.
For the project in Boston, Vogl drew on the drama of the Seder. “Passover is the ultimate art performance experience,” she said. “It’s filled with singing, symbolism, eating, storytelling, even opening the door for a ghost.”
On a recent day, JArts set up a “Pathways to Freedom” booth inside the main entrance to Boston City Hall, where dozens of people engaged with Vogl on the meaning of freedom and walked away with their own colorful lapel-pin.
Julie Burrows, the City of Boston’s chief of arts and culture, is excited to have the Jewish Arts Collaborative and Vogl create a work of public art for the Boston Common. The concept of ‘Pathways to Freedom’ will resonate throughout the city that has such a large and diverse population of immigrants, Burrows said. As a Jew, the theme struck a personal chord as well, she added, noting that her mother’s family immigrated to the US from Panama.
The project’s title, “Pathways to Freedom,” are words associated with the Underground Railroad, said Burrows, noting that Boston was a center of support for the emancipation of slaves.
“There’s just layers of meaning to this project,” she said. “It’s fun. You can answer a few questions about your journey, make a piece of art that you can keep. But it will manifest in this big way. You are part of a dialogue about freedom and immigration to Boston.”