Dwora Fried

Woman Showering with Showerhead and Toilets
Dwora Fried, Shower (from the Flashback series), Mixed-Media Assemblage, 2022


Flashbacks and Fables by Dwora Fried


February 6, 2023 – March 10, 2023
Artist Talk: Monday, February 6, 2023 @ 6 pm
Reception: Monday, February 6, 2023 @ 7-9 pm

The Cerritos College Art Gallery is pleased to present Grim Tales: Flashbacks and Fables, a solo-exhibition of recent assemblages by the Los Angeles-based mixed-media artist Dwora Fried.

Fried’s distinctive assemblages, typically presented in small enclosed wooden boxes, are populated by the kind of vintage items one might find at local swap meets and flea markets, including miniature furniture, dolls and action figures, assorted old toys, various domestic doodads, and fabrics from the 1950s, all accentuated by photographic imagery, plastic, wood, metal and paint. Fried composes these three-dimensional dioramas just as a painter might a canvas, strategically drawing her viewer’s attention to select elements within the scene, while also maintaining a structural and formal balance overall. Preserving this duality of focus is no small accomplishment, as the pleasant, often charming, nature of the compositions and, in some cases, the literally child-like playfulness of the objects, can, at first glance, obscure a much more complex personal narrative, itself embedded within communal histories replete with generational pain and trauma.

For Fried, these small room-like spaces are meant to evoke what it was like for her growing up as an outsider in post-war Vienna; a lesbian child of Jewish Holocaust survivors, she learned to perceive the world through a prism of loss, danger and secrecy, manifested in her work, per her own insightful description, as “a sense of isolation, displacement, and an appreciation for the surreal.” Which makes a lot of sense, considering that the dreamlike absurdity of Surrealism has long been invoked by artists to explore those deep-seated psychological mechanisms deployed by the human brain to inscribe and access memories, especially traumatic ones. Repression and denial work hard to conceal the root causes of suffering, personal and collective, but therapeutic analysis of the past is designed to, at the very least, offer some solace, if not also a small measure of cathartic understanding. Fried’s surrealist boxes, in the tradition of similar enclosures and miniature scenes by the likes of Max Ernst, Andre Breton, Joseph Cornell, and Laurie Simmons, are purposefully presented at a diminutive scale, such that one seems to have a modicum of control over the painful memories to which they allude. From this seemingly safe vantage point, the viewer is free to inspect the horrors of the past, to decode the tropes of terror, and to analyze the imagery of hate.

For this latest exhibition of her work, Fried has staged a selection of recent assemblages, divided into two thematic sections. The first is dedicated to significant events from her own personal biography, including important stories passed on from her parent’s experiences before and during the Holocaust (these include pieces from the Inherited Memories series, the Autobiographical series, and the Flashback series). The second focuses on deconstructing the popular epic struggles of good and evil playing out in familiar fairy tales, those modern mythical accounts of human nature, which these days ubiquitously permeate popular commercial culture, including and, perhaps, most notably, in Disney animated movies, the inevitable live-action remakes, and the straight-to-streaming spin-off series, as well as the branded amusement park rides, gift shop trinkets, and Halloween costumes.

As fantastical stories, these fables may seem to be at odds with the harsh realities presented in the more personal tableaus in the exhibit, however, they are, in fact, fundamentally relevant. As Bruno Bettelheim points out in The Uses of Enchantment, “the child intuitively comprehends that although these stories are unreal, they are not untrue.” Certainly, this extends to their warnings about the precarity of life and the very real dangers that surround us, as well as the consequences of the all-to-commonly human impulses of envy, dishonesty, and greed. However, as numerous feminist, queer, and anti-racist critics have pointed out in recent years, these kinds of one-dimensional narratives have also historically been used to normalize particular modes of existence, while marginalizing others, and the categorical nature of their ethics leaves little room for ambiguity and nuance. No wonder, then, that the double scourges of Fascism and anti-Semitism have been on the rise lately, both of which require the anti-critical lens of fantastical conspiratorial thinking in order to spread their abhorrent ideologies.

Perhaps for this reason, at the center of the exhibition space, Fried is presenting a life-sized addition to one of her miniature boxed series, Inherited Memories. Devoid of the confining enclosure and made from real objects at their customary scale, this installation exists as a part of the world inhabited directly by the viewer, made all the more troubling by the nature of the subject matter; a large metal bunk-bed topped by two naked mannequins in a single-file line. As with the imagery in the boxes, it is impossible here to ignore the obvious associations with the familiar iconography of the Holocaust, of black and white photos and old film reels showing endless rows of squalid bunk beds and emaciated prisoners lined up for execution. In a ritualistic form of psychological cleansing, the artist invites visitors to bring small buttons to the gallery and to add them to those already collected on the bottom bunk, a reference to her own mother’s forced labor in a textile mill sewing buttons onto Nazi military uniforms and to the Jewish funerary practice of placing small rocks onto gravestones as a memorial to deceased loved ones.

Mixed-media assemblage artist Dwora Fried was born and raised in Vienna, educated in Tel Aviv, and, for the last forty-five years, has lived and worked in Los Angeles. She holds a BA from Tel Aviv University and studied at the Avni School of Fine Arts in Israel. Fried has had solo and two-person exhibitions at Glendale College Art Gallery, Gallery 825/LAAA, SPARC, Museum Startgalerie Artothek (Vienna), Galerie Benedict (Vienna), Museo Ebraico de Venezia (Venice, Italy), Woolson and Tay Gallery (London), and ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archive. Her work has been included in group shows at Woman Made Gallery (Chicago), Quotidian Gallery, SITE:BROOKLYN, bG Gallery, Castelli Art Space, SoLA Contemporary, Golden West College Art Gallery, Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, Substrate Gallery, Irvine Fine Arts Center, Keystone Art Space, MASH Gallery, Elmhurst Art Museum (Chicago), and Fullerton College Art Gallery.