Delivering a Punch
Ashley Freeby ’15 combines art with social commentary
by Matt Hughes
Ashley Freeby ’15 doesn’t want you to know she’s getting ready to punch you in the gut, even when she’s been planning to all along.

An artist who works in an array of media that includes digital photography, sculpture and fabrics, Freeby entices viewers with objects that are beautiful and evocative in their abstraction. It’s only through subtle hints — a work’s title, a poem left on the gallery floor at the exhibition’s end — that the trauma buried beneath begins to emerge.

“It’s those gut punches that keep driving me to make this work in the way that I do,” Freeby says. “It’s watching people’s reactions when they see what the work is about, really, and then how they look at it in a different way.”

Ashley Freeby with her art
Photo: Chris Ferenzi
Ashley Freeby ’15 is an artist who works in an array of media.
For her Segments Series (2019), Freeby created blocks of soil, rock and grass seed in situ on gallery floors, then left them to sprout, grow, wither and decay. Each was accompanied by a dedication to a life lost: Amadou Diallo, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd. Her largest concept, canceled due to the pandemic, would have installed 1,156 segments in a Washington, D.C., gallery, one for each police-involved shooting in the U.S. from 2015 to 2019.

She has explored themes of trauma against Black bodies since majoring in art at Bucknell. Her 2017 series Many Thousands Gone depicted spaces where people of color were murdered by police or where memorials to the victims arose, the images manipulated to convey gravity without directly showing the act.

“I try to create beautiful objects or minimal objects that show the body in a different form,” says Freeby, who is the communications manager and head designer for Ox-Bow School of Art & Artists’ Residency in Saugatuck, Mich. “What’s most important to me is giving recognition to the victims and creating objects and bodies of work that give the victim a new life.”