For artist Mia Schon, her aliyah continues to inform her multifaceted art practice. The 33-year-old Newton native, who now lives in Tel Aviv, entered the Israeli art scene seven years ago when she began designing outdoor mosaic walls in her adopted hometown. Schon’s mosaic work continues to evolve as she has encompassed collage and also returned to her roots as a portrait painter.
Her artistic versatility was recently on display in a multi-week art competition called “Expedition Maker.” The contest, run by Moishe House, a California-based organization engaging over 70,000 Jewish young adults worldwide, was broadcast weekly and has some aspects of reality television to adapt Moishe House’s in-person summer camp, Camp Nai Nai Nai, to the virtual constraints of the pandemic. The challenge began with 10 contestants—many of whom were from the United States—making art in response to the weekly Torah portion.
As the weeks went on, Schon remained in the competition’s elimination format until she was one of the four finalists. While she did not take the top prize, the experience changed how she viewed her aliyah. Her participation in “Expedition Maker” cleared time and space for her to delve into personal and public narratives around Israel. Rooting around in the past has allowed Schon to consider her future as an artist, a woman and an Israeli. She recently spoke to JewishBoston about the art she created for “Expedition Maker,” her place as a fourth-generation woman artist and the immersive experience of living surrounded by history as a recently arrived Israeli.
Schon took a risk when she created a mosaic piece of a well-loved symbol of Israel and Zionism—the Jaffa orange. She intentionally chose to represent the Jaffa orange in a medium in which brokenness leads to wholeness. “I made a mosaic intending for the broken pieces that went into making the oranges to symbolize the different narratives that I realized were within my aliyah and Israel,” she said. “I have an Israeli and Palestinian community.”
Three years ago, Schon participated in an accelerator program housed at Brandeis University, which co-sponsored the program with Mass Challenge. Thirty Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs came together to create start-ups. The experience profoundly influenced Schon as an Israeli Jew and an artist. “The Palestinians I worked with became friends, and I consulted with one of them about the Jaffa orange piece,” she said. “As I worked on the piece, I showed many different perspectives. And as I dug deeper into the history of these oranges, I saw important aspects of my aliyah.” In researching the piece, Schon learned that some of the Jaffa oranges grew in groves that had belonged to Palestinians before 1948. She was intentional about weaving that fact into her work.
For the next challenge, Schon returned to collage to make a ritual object for Rosh Chodesh, or the new month. She chose to showcase Israel’s seasonal fruits and vegetables. In her description of the piece, she noted: “Each month we are graced with delicious new tastes and colors. These collages, made entirely of recycled magazines, capture the vibrancy of the fruit or vegetable of the month.”
As she acknowledged each new month, Schon also referenced measuring Jewish time. “Living in Israel, I’ve come to treasure seasonal produce,” she said. “I love the idea of knowing the exact time of the year based on the available produce. It complements the fact that when you’re in Israel, you live in Jewish time. Shabbat is a focal point. Everyone structures their week around Shabbat and takes it in.”
For the fourth and final challenge, Schon responded to Vayikra, a Torah portion featuring the priestly sacrifice rituals, ritual purity, kashrut and calendric cycles of time. Bearing in mind those points, Schon put her imprint on the assignment and created a self-portrait that incorporated images made by her great-grandmother, grandmother and aunts. “I’m a fourth-generation woman artist,” she said. “Art runs in my family, and my self-portrait acknowledges the creativity, wisdom, experience and support of the women who came before me. They have made me the artist that I am today.”
Schon also acknowledged that the spirit of Shavuot, with its generational themes and the marking of time, is also an influence. She noted that she is in artistic and symbolic conversation with these women over time and space. It was also not lost on Schon that she was the only woman among the four finalists. She said coming so far in the competition reflected the generations that have come to her aid in her quest to become an artist.
As for the experience of participating in “Expedition Maker,” Schon said the opportunity came at the right time. “It was like college; there was a new challenge every week, and I was grateful to have the structure and stimulation during the pandemic lockdowns,” she said. Schon added that during the competition, “my Boston community—some of whom are associated with Solomon Schechter Day School and Temple Emanuel in Newton—were so generous and participated in the voting component of the show. It was great to connect with old friends. I already knew how supportive the community was, but it was a wonderful reminder.”