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Visual Communication (MA)

Ari Clark

Ari Clark (she/her) is a California-born, London-based multimedia artist deconstructing fairytales through the lens of Jewish history. She completed her undergraduate degree at Sarah Lawrence College in literature and history, with an Erasmus year at Trinity College Dublin studying dramatic and mediaeval literature. She is also a graduate of the Royal College of Art’s Graduate Diploma class of 2022 in the Fine Art specialism. As a photographer, she's exhibited and sold her work with Bostick & Sullivan and her fine art platinum-palladium photographic prints are housed in private collections across America. She is a member of the Royal Society of Arts and as an author, she is represented by Rena Rossner at the Deborah Harris Agency.

For publishing inquiries, please contact Rena Rossner at the Deborah Harris Agency.

Miniature shtetl houses in Oxford Botanic Gardens, built atop the former mediaeval Jewish Quarter of Oxford.

Interweaving a reinterpretation of the Dutch vanitas system (visual symbolic vocabulary in Dutch Golden Age painting) with philosophies about Jewish memory inspired by the works of Jonathan Safran Froer, I reference the practises of artists Peony Gent and Andy Leek and the writings of academics Dara Horn and Jack Zipes to create work meant to engage the viewer on a variety of sensorial levels from words to images. Through a blend of both historically and contemporarily informed design practises – from propaganda posters to Instagram infographics – I create her my own illustrative work to highlight the history of what has been called ‘the world’s oldest hate’, utilising both textual content and affective vivid visuals to educate, using folklore to illustrate the multitudes contained within collective cultural memory, for we are made of stardust and stories.

The Rotten Core

Once upon a time, two German children shoved an old Jewish woman into an oven.

Fairytales, or folklore, are one of the few universal experiences across cultures. Though they vary widely from culture to culture, and may not even be called ‘fairytales’, – they are stories that take place in a storied, distant past – when dragons breathed their fire and unicorns still made forests their homes. Passed down from generation to generation, they are an important, yet also powerful element of culture: used from everything to teaching values to scaring children into bedtime, they can also communicate xenophobia and other forms of bigotry. Most prominent in the European canon of fairytales, Jewish people were recast as the wicked witches, the dastardly dwarves, the greedy goblins, the repugnant Rumpelstiltskins and ghastly Gothels (it is very culturally Jewish to comment upon the darker aspects of our history with humour). ‘Shabbat’, the Jewish day of rest, was transformed into the ‘witch’s Sabbath’ – a sinister time where it was implied Jews pledged their loyalty to Saturn, or Kronos, the Greek Titan who famously cannibalised eleven of his twelve Olympian children (Zeus escaped such a fate). Originating in medieval England, it was widely believed Jews cannibalised good Christian babies and children, using their blood to bake matzah, an unleavened bread most famously associated with Passover, one of our holiest holidays where we commemorate our liberation from Egypt (and not by eating babies).

In the 1930s, Hitler’s Third Reich deployed dramatically rewritten fairytales collected by the Brothers Grimm, casting Jews as the wolf in ‘Red Riding Hood’, the witch in ‘Hansel and Gretel’ – and so forth. The timelessness of ‘once upon a time’ became an imagined past where the good ‘volk’ of Germany had always known ‘the Jew’ was the alien, the outsider, the foreigner, the enemy bent on their destruction. I am inclined to believe we were nothing like what they painted us out to be. We are simply, just people who would like to live in peace, and be left alone.

This project started from some very abstract questions about the evolution of culture. How do stories change as they’re passed down from generation to generation? What remains? What is lost? What is the spatio-temporal cultural context that is understood by contemporary audiences, but lost to future ones? How can we recall that? Can we even recall it? What constitutes ‘timelessness’? Why are ‘absence of technology’ and ‘absence of foreigners’ considered hallmarks of ‘timelessness’, especially when utilised by nationalist movements? What does distilling a story to its most basic elements reveal about its truth? Can there even be a truth revealed? Can we deconstruct problematic fairytales and restructure them to espouse empathy and compassion, or do they have to be discarded entirely? Can we use their most basic elements to construct something new whilst still honouring the original?

Through illustrative elements and satirical journalism, I both deconstruct fairytales into their most basic elements and remake them into new forms to expose the rotten core underneath the sweet, as-green-as-poison apple skin. The Generic European Kingdom Times may not be a real newspaper for a real country, but it highlights two thousand years of European folklore growing in syncretism with antisemitic conspiracy theories, and how those conspiracy theories are recycled, regurgitated, and remade to stay with the times.

The front page of the Generic European Kingdom Times - a fictional newspaper I created
The Generic European Kingdom Times
Illustrations from The Generic European Kingdom Times, a newspaper written and designed by the artist
The Rabbit Who Lived On The Moon
The Generic European Kingdom Times Noticeboard
Fairytales reinterpreted as classified ads to highlight both the sinister undertones present in many of these beloved, classic tales and showcase different perspectives than the traditionally dominant narrative to shed new light on the characters.
Illustrations from The Generic European Kingdom Times, a newspaper written and designed by the artist
Illustrations from The Generic European Kingdom Times, a newspaper written and designed by the artist
Inspired by comments made by United States of America congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, claiming that the 'Rothschilds' (a prominent, old Jewish banking family, frequently used as an antisemitic dog whistle) had a space laser which was responsible for the 2018 California wildfires. Since then, the 'Jewish space laser' has become both a joke and conspiracy theory on social media

Memories of Grafskoye

Once upon a time, Michael Bruser, my great-grandfather, the Zayde, was born in a shtetl called Grafskoye, in a country that no longer exists, the Russian Empire. Located some miles outside Mariupol, Ukraine, Grafskoye was decimated by pogroms which ultimately drove the Zayde to seek shelter in Canada, just a few years before my other great-grandfather, Shaya, was smuggled out of Kyiv under a haycart for his anti-Czarist, revolutionary beliefs. Though Grafskoye has changed, and may very well be destroyed now, it lingers like a memory of a dream from recollections passed from the Zayde to my mother, and then to me. Constructed from both old photographs of Grafskoye, and other shtetls in the Pale of Settlement (the region of the Russian Empire where Jews were allowed to live, frequently in extreme poverty) that no longer exist beyond the confines of a photograph, these scale models, which can be cupped in the palm of your hand, represent a way of life that vanished due to violence. Carved into the scorched wood are the names of relatives, ancestors, historic Jewish women and men, in the places that otherwise might be rubble, representing the stories left behind by the people who lived there.

Special thanks to Oxford Botanic Gardens, which is built atop the former mediaeval Jewish Quarter of Oxford, for use of the grounds for photographic purposes.

Shtetl photographed in Oxford Botanic Gardens at morning
Built atop the former Jewish Quarter of Oxford, the shtetl returns to Oxford Botanic Gardens
Historic Grafskoye shtetl house and synagogue model
Model shtetl house one
Historic shtetl house model
Model shtetl at midday
Historic Ukrainian shtetl synagogue model
Hansel & Gretel fairytale house
Model synagoguge at night with tealight inside
Lit up from within, the synagogue burns with light despite the absence of life
Model shtetl at sunset