When I first saw the art of two Atlanta photographers, Sandrine Monique Arons and Madeleine Soloway, at the Shambhala Meditation Center in Decatur, I was blown away by how they push the boundaries of their medium. Whether it’s through collage, mixed media or photography, their work is less about a pretty picture and more about their responses to social justice issues such as gender equality, immigration or themes of the Holocaust. Their art reflects their view of the world through a Jewish or humanitarian lens.
Both Arons and Soloway set out to make a strong statement through their work.
Intriguing viewers with message-driven themed works are Arons’ two curated shows: Women’s Caucus for Art of Georgia’s “Bearing Witness: Art of the Protest” this weekend at Decatur’s Sycamore Place Gallery, and “MOOD: A Frame of Mind,” part of Atlanta Celebrates Photography, Sept. 21 to Oct. 27, in the TULA Art Center in Buckhead.
According to Arons, much of her photography is based on a “multicultural, blended and intertwined relationship” within her own family. She was born and raised in Georgia by a French mother and an American father with Hungarian ancestry. Her maternal grandmother, a Sephardic Jew from Algeria, was married to a French Catholic, and Arons’ husband is Muslim.
This blend of different cultures can be seen in her “Frontiers” photography series. In her work, “Moroccan Mirage,” I see a calm blue sea, yet in the middle there is a dry, arid desert, where lamp posts and broken doorways add a sense of mystery. Arons told me the images blend places in the same way she blends languages and identities in her personal life. “The blending is a type of identity that I have learned to live with.”
Arons has graduate degrees in psychology, French and photography with a master of fine arts from SCAD. After studying the Holocaust in graduate school, including reading victims’ memoirs and diaries, it led her to write a chapter on self-therapy in the 2003 book “The Psychological Impact of War Trauma on Civilians: An International Perspective.” She sees a relationship between those writings and her documentary photography, capturing what she says is the ever increasing need to document history after the Holocaust as a form of continuously bearing witness. Later in her artistic practice, she said, “I began to really understand this importance of memory and the effort to pass down stories, documents and to recollect one’s past.”
Holocaust memories and trauma also influenced Soloway’s work. Although born in the U.S., her mother was a Holocaust survivor. Hearing stories about “desperation, flight, and a fight for survival” impacted her identity, said Soloway, who graduated with a bachelor of fine arts from Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston.
During the summers of 2016 and 2017, while on break from teaching art at The Paideia School, Soloway traveled to Eastern Europe to explore the melding of history with memory as it related to survival during World War II, the Holocaust and the Soviet occupation. After those trips, she began working on a series of collages using survivors’ memories and what she calls the “meaning and effect of trauma on the past, present, and future generations.” She creates introspective collages incorporating family letters, photos and ephemera in her “Warsaw Project” series.
Her photography and mixed media work question what words might “bring people together, or instead, act as a weapon to divide,” she said.
The Museum of Contemporary Art juried show “Gathered IV,” which ran from April to June, chose to include Soloway’s provocative work “Dating-Algorithms-Identity,” a 108-by-108-inch installation of 36 individually framed digital prints. Each represents a personality trait gathered from dating websites and social media commentary.
Soloway constantly searches the internet for words, phrases and sentences used in contemporary culture for her work. It shows how language is used in communication in our world of online social media consumption. An example of art eliciting a different response depending on the viewer is Soloway’s armless wooden chair with digital words across its seat: “I am tired of being told to sit down and be quiet.”
The works of Arons and Soloway make you think. You will walk away from their exhibits discussing what you see with friends, family members or colleagues.
Both artists interpret memory, often using their multicultural and Eastern European backgrounds as inspiration for their art.
To learn more about the artists, visit www.sandrinearons.com or www.madeleinesoloway.com.
Flora Rosefsky is a visual artist who uses message-driven art in her work.