Meirav Ong | Artist Statement, 2018
I wish I could be naked all the time, to be seen whole, to be seen free.
My work is an exploration of the in-between; illuminating the spaces and moments between control and uncertainty. I’m motivated by the belief that identity is a fluid concept shaped by the systems we participate in both consciously and unconsciously. Through my practice, I investigate ideas of body image, religion, and societal systems to reveal shared realities about the human experience. I want to deepen my exploration into how these systems of influence simultaneously encourage and challenge our identity.
I first approach my work by listening: tuning into my breath, painting to its rhythms. I gravitate towards natural materials that connect me to the world, like water, fire, my breath, my body. I'm drawn to surfaces that are imperfect, allowing me to approach painting with a more instinctive mind. My work has primarily concentrated on a material exploration of water and fire; however, this practice has opened me to deeper pathways of exploration.
Through listening, breathing, an environment is created where vulnerability around the subject of body image can emerge. I connect with my own body by tracing myself onto the canvas, bearing witness to the stories that unfold in the messy, volatile process of mark-making. Tracing allows me to develop an intimate relationship with my body on my own terms, rather than through anyone else’s perspective. The raw mark-making and lines from tracing provide a new language to understand self-worth, questioning the standards of beauty mandated by a patriarchal society. The results of this process can manifest as obsessive, repeating images of the naked body.
Until recently, I hesitated to use my body in the work because of my upbringing as an Orthodox Jewish woman. Getting married just three months after my mother’s death, I was forced to confront the systems shaping my own identity: individuality, womanhood, and religious taboo. To challenge standards of modesty and the subordinate role women play in Orthodox culture is considered shameful. The decision to use my own body has been a balance: emphasizing that a woman’s body is not the property of men, yet not objectifying or normalizing its use. Suspending the expectations created by these systems, I’ve arrived at the work I’m exploring today.
My intention for these explorations is to strengthen my voice in order to be in effective dialogue with world around me and to develop a language to express how systems of power impact our identity. I feel now more than ever that these truths need to be revealed; so that we can see one another as whole human beings: imperfect and free.