In an exhibit entitled ‘Freedom & Enslavement’ currently running at the Brookline Arts Center, multi-media artist Myrna Balk and photographer Andrea Rosenthal examine some of the biggest challenges facing women around the world today. Running until November 15th, ‘Freedom & Enslavement’, “offers a window into pressures and choices most of us face to a greater or lesser degree, blurring the line between autonomy and slavery,” the artists commented. The Brookline Arts Center exhibition is presented concurrently with an exhibition of artwork by Balk and Rosenthal at the Newbury College Art Gallery.
When asked to describe the exhibit, the artists had different perspectives; “it’s about issues of empowerment and depravation,” stated Myrna Balk. For Andrea Rosenthal it is “about eating disorders and pressure to be thin and look a certain way.” While the answers are different, they speak to the struggles and life experiences of each of the women.
While always active as an artist, Myrna Balk was trained in social work, something that has influenced her life and inspired her art. Heavily influenced by her commitment to human rights, Myrna used her art to express the horrors she encountered in her work and travels. In working with human trafficking victims in a trip to Nepal, for example, “art was the only way to portray horrors seen,” Balk explained during our interview.
Myrna Balk’s work portrays what she calls an “early awareness of social problems.” She recalls writing a letter to Missouri’s governor about the discrimination of African Americans in prison at the tender age of nine. After a 1993 trip to concentration camps, Ms. Balk expressed what she had encountered in Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Terezin through her art. Her work about the camps is what she refers to as her first social statement.
This focus continues in 'Freedom & Enslavement' where, for example, three doors used in the exhibit serve as a metaphor. All are made of different materials and give different degrees of access to the outside. The first door, while made out of beautifully refined wood, is blocked by barbed wire. The second Balk describes as a door “made out of bamboo with the opening blocked by a ladder, it is an ambiguous passage to freedom.” The third is made of bolt-joined surplus from the other two pieces, and is actually not blocked, “showing that the way to freedom is a composite of many factors.”
Andrea Rosenthal’s art was always the best avenue to express her emotions. Trained as an educator and a corporate librarian, art was something to which Andrea was always drawn. “I was always interested in photography,” she stated; her best work was always expressionistic, and dealt with her emotions. Using herself as the model, Rosenthal published her book “Stations of the Scale: A Photographic Memoir About Food & Suffering,” in 2009. It explores her life-long problems with weight. In a statement released by both artists, Rosenthal explains that her “photos grew out of a wish to express her struggle for mastery over issues related to food.
Rosenthal characterizes her work as an “honest but ironic and wryly humorous approach to my lifelong eating disorder that makes visual what I feel and experience and goes public with my personal narrative in a way that is both specific and universal.”
“There is also a sense of fun that makes the work accessible, there is also a sadness and pain, which enhances the human dimension and shows how these images can give insight into many viewers’ own lives,” she explains.
Supported in part by a grant from the Brookline Commission for the Arts, the collaboration was inspired by Myrna’s desire to express her work in a different way. She approached Andrea to discuss using her Photoshop skills to work on images that were based on etchings Balk made about sex trafficking. Not knowing where their work was headed, they found that the process not only enhanced the original work, but it also highlighted the skills of both artists. Through their collaboration, the women discovered they shared an empathic and political outlook that helped join their diverse materials and skills.
The intended take-away message from the exhibit? “It’s that people should be aware that they have choices in life and be aware of those choices,” Andrea Rosenthal states is the message in her part of the collaboration. Myrna Balk comments the exhibition's message is “trying to empower women.”
There will be a free reception with the artists on Saturday, October 15, 2011 from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m held at the Brookline Arts Center.