May 3, 2007 — Vol. 42, No. 38
Send this page to a friend!


Click below:

Tissue paper ‘Artivist’ Maya Freelon delivers her message

Jin-ah Kim

Maya Freelon is unafraid.

As a graduate student at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts School, the 24-year-old Freelon views her role as an artist in the much broader context of social activism.

She argues that society is obsessed with preserving material possessions in a fragile world and time, overshadowed by wars, genocide, famines, global warming and other disasters.

“We should stop being so scared,” she said, “and be able to stand up for what you believe and not feel repressed, not feel that you don’t have a voice.”

Freelon raises her voice through her art, explaining that she believes art should not simply be created for art’s sake, but should have a purpose and a meaning.

“For me, it is exposing some wrongdoings going on in this world people do not recognize,” said Freelon. “I am an ‘Artivist’ — artist and activist.”

This artivist’s tools are tissue paper and water.

Tissue paper is “fragile and delicate, but also resilient and strong,” she explains. “When paper pieces get together, it grows [to become] something bigger than me and you.”

Her recent works, the interactive installations “Free All Political Prisoners” and “Untied States of Consciousness,” will be presented from May 5 until July 8 at her upcoming solo exhibition “Enter-ACTION” at the historic Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists in Roxbury.

Freelon says there will not be explanations of the works — only their titles and a brief introduction — because she wants people to see the installations from their own perspectives and share their responses with others throughout talks.

The opening reception, taking place this Saturday at 6 p.m., will include a collaboration between Freelon, her mother, Nnenna Freelon, a six-time Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist and her grandmother, educator and activist Queen Mother Frances Pierce, who has been part of Maya’s tissue paper art from the start.

While studying at Lafayette College in 2005, Freelon discovered a folded stack of tissue paper in her grandmother’s paper-packed basement. Water had leaked onto the pile and left an elaborate stain. She said the discovery was a real turning point in her artistic career — before then, she focused had on digital arts.

“It’s funny,” Freelon said, smiling, “that everyone responds to the tissue paper works the same way – ‘This is so fragile! How do you deal with it? How do you preserve it? Let’s put it in the box.’”

She worked with tissue paper for about six months and showed the finished works to the school’s review board. The teacher’s comment was: “It’s too beautiful. It looks like hotel art. Basically, I don’t really get it.”

Discouraged but not dissuaded, Freelon worked day and night with tissue paper and water for nine weeks during summer vacation. When she presented her works with more confidence, people responded differently.

“I realized that it’s not only about what you make, but how you present,” she said.

Freelon’s personal presentation has evolved as well, as evidenced in her eloquent description of her tissue paper experimentation: “The paper comes to life through fluctuating air current, its fragility is exposed and remains unprotected, the vibrant colors are also subjected to elements which cause fading to occur. This work crosses the border and bridges both worlds.”

Freelon was awarded a residency in Maine at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in the summer of 2006 and received acclaim from the Boston News Network television station. Her work has been exhibited at the Combes Gallery in Paris, France and the Rhonda Schaller Studio in New York City. Her solo exhibition at the Lyda Moore Merrick Gallery, where she introduced her latest tissue paper and “Hybrigital” (a combination of painting, drawing, and collage with digital art) work was featured on the NPR program “The State of Things,” with host Frank Stasio.

In a passionate tone, Freelon relates her goal: to create an overwhelming environment where people are invited to touch and feel the work because the physical interaction between the viewer and the tissue paper is an essential part of the work itself.

“It is not behind the frame and glass; it is more an experience,” she said.

Freelon expressed gratitude to her family who supports her and provides many opportunities. Her grandmother, with whom Freelon lives, inspired her to continue the tissue art and form her philosophy. Thanks to her mother, Freelon could travel around the world and expose herself to different settings, which helped her to develop a global perspective. She learned the importance of African American art through her father, who helped build museums supporting African American artists. And Freelon’s two brothers are musicians.

“I love talking about where my art comes from,” Freelon said. “As a visual artist, I want my work to be clear and want to express myself. But then again, what you see is different from me — that’s also beauty as well.”

A video still image from Maya Freelon’s “Free All Political Prisoners,” 2007. (Photo courtesy of Maya Freelon)

Maya Freelon’s work will be presented from May 5 to July 8 at the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists in Roxbury. (Photo courtesy of Maya Freelon)

(Bottom)“Untied States of Consciousness,” a 10’ x 10’ tissue paper quilt, is one of Maya Freelon’s works of art. (Photo courtesy of Maya Freelon)

Click here to send a letter to the editor

Back to Top