Julia Vogl shares her project, Pathways to Freedom, which started with an Asylum Arts small grant and was commissioned by the Jewish Arts Collaborative in Boston. The installation was displayed at the Civil War monument in Boston Common through May 13.
My Great Aunt was a refugee in her own country after WWII. Despite being a Jew, a non- communist member in a communist country, and a woman, she went on to become a world-respected harpsichord player. She started a new life. Pathways to Freedom is a public artwork that engaged with thousands of individuals across the Greater Boston area on the subject of freedom and immigration or universal themes of the Passover Exodus story. This project was about paying tribute to those who persisted to allow our freedom today, and championing those who are starting again now – like the refugees I worked with in Greece and many in the USA today now- struggling bravely on their pathway to freedom.
For 18 days, just before and after Passover, I went to 27 sites across the city of Boston to ‘encounter’ people and ask them to answer 4 multiple-choice questions, which I then made into colorful buttons. The buttons were captured digitally and printed in large format to make up the artwork, which encompasses 6,000 sq. ft. around the base of the Civil War monument in Boston Common. The project is littered with Jewish symbolism. The circles are based on Seder plates. I asked 1,800 people the same 4 questions and I asked 103 people to share their immigration story and reflect, just like we ask of ourselves on Seder night. You can hear their stories online on the JArts website.
Passover has come and gone, so it’s not really about celebrating Passover anymore. But the work is a Celebration: It is a celebration of strangers sharing their stories and making a Jewish narrative more global. It is a celebration of making a Jewish project in public without it being vandalized or threatened. It celebrates making art with many, and furthering a dialogue through visual impact. And finally, despite the complexity and nuance of it, it’s about celebrating immigration and freedom today, here and now!
I started this project with an Asylum Arts grant, which allowed me to travel to Lesbos where I worked with refugees crossing the Agean sea to arrive in Greece, in hopes of starting a new life. Like the exodus story, these individuals were risking it all to leave an unsustainable life at home, to start again somewhere new. This is also the story of how most American’s came to the United States.
As a first generation American, immigration has always been a point of pride for me. When the current US government started to paint the term with negative implications, I felt frustrated and upset.
Pathways to Freedom was commissioned by the Jewish Arts Collaborative in Boston, who believe in sharing Jewish culture with everyone. Empowered by them to go large, I set forth a project that would be inclusive and accessible. I also intended it to serve as a catalyst for conversation on immigration, diversity, and what freedom means today.