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Guest Host of Pots In Action for 1/14-1/28
The theme is Clay in Cultural Context. #PIACulturalContext
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Sunday 1/14 Introduction: Cultural Context
Over the next two weeks, Lauren Sandler @LaurenSandlerStudio will explore the idea of how culture impacts the way we experience ceramic objects and in turn, how culture is impacted by all the clay-based objects that are intrinsic to our lives. Lauren writes, “Clay in cultural context permeates our lives. Clay remembers, tells stories, and moves through histories and geographies. Its ubiquity evokes the social and political, domestic space and public place, the private and shared. Clay in cultural context illuminates intent and content, power and mythologies, aesthetics and functions. It communicates and educates, celebrates the mundane and the sacred, highlights communities and transcends borders. This breadth and depth is most apparent when we see the hands that have worked it, hear the voices, and understand the abundance of narratives. Clay constructs shelter and connects roads, builds hearths and nourishes bodies, forms vessels to contain treasures and preserve the dead. Clay in cultural context manifests multiple systems of knowledge, articulates hidden objects, and amplifies the expansiveness of ceramics, thriving ecologies of arts, ideas, and actions. Please share your experiences of clay in cultural context and tag your posts with #PIAculturalcontext.”

Lauren Sandler investigates cultural narratives of power and perspective through the language of the vessel. Her fragmented forms, allegoric containers, and mundane assemblages deconstruct mythologies and inscribe substance in detritus. Her work finds an affinity in the place where visceral and structural meet, an intersection of body, culture, and history, with the mundane as monumental. She holds an MFA in Ceramics from Penn State University, a BFA from SUNY New Paltz, and a BA in Anthropology from Ithaca College. She currently teaches at Skidmore College.
Visit click here to read a recent article in @studiopotter
or listen to her talk @NCECA 2017 Portland about clay and equity: click here
#PIAguesthostLaurenSandlerStudio #culture #cultralcontext #ceramics #laurensandler #vessel

Monday 1/15: Ana Maria Maiolino
Multi-media artist Anna Maria Maiolino begins #PIAculturalcontext with the installation, “Here and There” which occupies the area inside and outside a house in Kassel, Germany. She powerfully evokes the absent body through repeated forms of clay placed throughout the domestic space. The clay, kept in a raw, unfired state, shrinks, dries, and cracks during the installation, incorporating time as material. The work poetically addresses women’s labor, food production, and industry. She explores issues of repression, resistance, and impermanence.
From Maiolino, “Our hands carry the memory of the history of humanity’s work since the first gesture of our ancestors, when the hands became the first working tools…I take refuge in the memory of that first working of the hand, reviving the memory of knowledge, not of the alienating work of industrialization, or of the virtual, but of those first working actions of the hand that are common to us all since the beginning of humanity.”
Born in Italy during World War II to an Italian father and an Ecuadorean mother, she emigrated to Venezuela and then Brazil. Her experience in environments of political oppression informs her practice. Maiolino believes, “Identity mutates. You have a lot of identities and they change over time.”

Tuesday 1/16: Oren Arbel and Naom Tabenkin Arbel
Oren Arbel and Naom Tabenkin Arbel created the installation “First Reduction” for the exhibition “Post-colonialism?” based on a poem by Syrian author, Zakaria Tamer. A tall man is arrested for breathing more than his air quota, and medically altered to inhale an allotted amount.
The show explains, “Their machine compresses unfired vessels made of different layers of local clay bodies. This survey of crushed iconic archaeological forms speaks of ancient and recent histories of conquest, and the systemic violence associated with assimilation and normalization.”
The work explores, “perverse and insidious mechanisms of state control over inhabitants...artistic inquiry into local and global legacies of historical imperialism and specific modern and contemporary colonial practices.”
#orenarbel #noamtabenkinarbel #colonialism

Thursday 1/18: Bill Strickland and Fred Rogers
This endearing video with Fred Rogers and the renowned Bill Strickland showcases the intersections of ceramics, education, community, and social change. Inspired by a high school art teacher and the potter’s wheel, Strickland founded the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild @mcgyouthandarts as an after-school program to teach young people pottery. His vision and practice embody the enormous possibilities when communities possess agency in creating a space of learning, sharing of resources, and activism.
We learn and teach clay in many places, from families in our homes, peers in community centers, and mentors in schools. A ceramics discourse flourishes with dynamic ecosystems of voices, helps to dismantle systemic inequities, and empowers communities and individuals often marginalized, erased and rewritten in the cannon, classroom, gallery and museum. Students carry significant resources as knowledge producers and agents for change. As teachers and students, mentors and makers, we come from disparate locations to a nexus of art and education. We can cultivate thriving environments that generate interdependence, access, accountability, and equity.

Saturday 1/20: Modisa (Tim) Motsomi
Today’s post on #PIAculturalcontext features Modisa (Tim) Motsomi @modisatimmotsomi a Botswana artist currently living in South Africa. He articulates that his work involves “looking, being looked at as “other,” and negotiating a sense of self in a foreign context.” Motsomi examines issues of diaspora, colonialism, and historic and contemporary representations of blackness. This piece, “Khukhutha” uses blankets as cultural tropes, objects that signify rights of passage. In South Africa, as individuals move, blankets become an object to hold and wrap things out of necessity, and mobility itself becomes a kind of passage.
Motsomi states, “I use my own body as a tool to reflect the act of ‘remembering’…This aspect of my work, reflects my interest in critiquing the modernist ideal through its own ‘anthropological lens’; a ‘lens’ that emphasizes the constant desire to assert validity through categorization. This is in some way reflected through the fact that, although present, the figures I create remain knowingly mute and seemingly unaware (closed eyes) of the fact that they are on view; whilst at the same time they seem to be policing their own secret and fantastical historiographies.”

Sunday 1/21: Dorothy Torivio
Continuing with the theme of #PIAculturalcontext, Dorothy Torivio, an Acoma Pueblo potter, covered her vessels with complex geometries of black and white, and polychromatic abstractions. She took classic Acoma patterns, with Mimbres-derived motifs, and developed unique designs and repeated them, intricately painted using a Yucca brush and local pigments on seed bowls.
The canonization of abstract art as a 20th century European creation erases and appropriates the enormous contributions of numerous global Indigenous cultures. This mythology became practice through the colonial institutionalization of encyclopedic museums, situating the field of art history within an imperial framework, and defining traditional and Indigenous cultures as fixed and monolithic.
In “Colonizing Abstraction,” G. Roger Denson elaborates,” What was invented…was a new context for abstraction, not abstraction itself. Furthermore, abstraction is not something confined by media. Abstract painting on canvas may be relatively new, but abstraction in sculpture, weaving and ceramics, architectural ornament, ritual objects, and especially cave and rock petroglyphs and pictograms, date to tens of thousands of years.”

Monday 1/22: Ah Xian
Ah Xian’s “China, China” busts reflect the cultural context of material, practice, personal and political identity, and the experience living between China and Australia. Each of the 80 busts represents a person. Xian uses histories of Chinese porcelain and the sculptural forms of the figurative portrait bust to speak to canons and constructs of what we think of as “East” and “West.” He repositions associations and finds it powerfully confronting to juxtapose cultures. He states, “I feel that we should not need to tell stories about the Chinese situation only through the foreign languages that we have just learnt.”
Ah Xian, a self-taught artist, came of age in China during the Cultural Revolution, a time without art schools. Fighting for political asylum in Australia after the Tiananmen Square protests and killings, he worked as a house painter. Years later he traveled back to China and created these pieces in kilns at Jingdezhen. His work raises questions about values of traditional practice, European commodification and fetishization of Asia through Orientalism, and the appropriations and hierarchies of global art histories and materials.

Tuesday 1/23: Greencake
In Gaza, Green Cake bricks literally use the rubble of destruction and oppression to create anew. Majd Almashharawi and Rawan Abdullatif, two engineering graduates from the Islamic University of Gaza, invented a brick mixture composed of recycled rubble and coal dust of destroyed buildings in Gaza. They produce a line of bricks to rebuild houses devastated during the wars. Green Cake bricks are environmentally conscious and half the weight and cost of bricks used in Gaza.
Clay brick, omnipresent in ceramics, builds kilns, schools, art and architecture. Bricks construct sanctuary and refuge to create communities, or walls and borders that exclude and imprison.From mud bricks in Jericho, fired bricks of the Ming Dynasty, and adobe mosques in Mali, Ancestral Puebloan homes, sacred stupa in Sri Lanka, Houston’s Yoruba patterned roads, and ancient palaces in what is now Sudan, bricks cross continents and culture.
Today in India, second only to China in brick production, an unregulated industry of 10 million bonded laborers toil to produce 2000 bricks a day.
This is the content and context of the brick, the labor chain to supply global demand for construction, consumption, factories, technology, and kilns.
Ceramics occupies a global history and contemporary presence, with bricks loaded full of sweeping and specific subjects and revolutionary endeavors.

Wednesday 1/24: Olu Oguibe
To investigate clay in cultural context, Nigerian-American artist and scholar, Olu Oguibe considers issues of settler colonialism, power, and globalization in his work. Oguibe created his piece, “Game” in response to the Genoa G8 meeting of eight global powers, the mass protests, and killing of a protester.
Oguibe states, “Game is an elaborate installation piece composed of a large ceramic mural, and a set for a board game with a table and two chairs…The figurines represent neither Kings nor Queens, but the masses of people who presently crisscross the planet; immigrants, refugees, travelers, citizens, every one of them a pawn in an indeterminate, global game in which the real players and referees are opaque or invisible presences beyond the reach of the ordinary citizen.” He continues, “On the ceramic mural there are eight figures, all men, representing the leaders of the group of eight industrialized nations. Each figure is dressed in colonial attire inspired in part by the wall panel art of the Nkanu people of the Congo and Angola.” The work addresses issues of abuse of power, control of borders and movement, exploitation of resources and people, and the destruction of communities and cultures.
You can read more of Oguibe’s writings in his most recent book, “The Culture Game,” which discusses the prejudicial experience of artists outside the “Western” construct.

Thursday 1/25: Nancy Elizabeth Prophet
This image for #PIAculturalcontext shows Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Rhode Island School of Design’s first black graduate. Due to segregation, one of her works was accepted for an exhibition on the condition she not attend the opening, so she withdrew the piece.
She moved to Paris to escape the racism of the US arts world. Returning to the US, she became a founding faculty member of the art department at Spelman College, a historically Black college for women in Atlanta. Her sculpture "Congolaise" was one of the first works by a Black artist acquired by the Whitney Museum. Later in life, she struggled for support as an artist and found employment in a ceramics factory as well as domestic work.
When we look to clay in cultural context, we see wedged histories that reveal stories omitted, obfuscated and misrepresented through power and perspective, prejudice and privilege. Who tells the story dictates what and how stories are told in our books, schools, galleries, and museums.
Some statistics about institutions of art and education:
The National Center for Educational Statistics states that full-time professors are 84% White, 4% Black, 3% Latinx, 9% Asian/Pacific Islander, and less than 1% Indigenous American.
Today more than 70% of university faculty work as adjuncts without benefits or job security, and teach where student debt, generational responsibility, access to health care, and legal status dictate student decisions.
In high school AP Art History instruction, the image set shows 65% work from a Euro-Centric perspective termed the “Western Tradition” and 35% from the rest of the global art world.
According to the Melon Foundation, 91% of museum board members are white. With 28% of museum staffed by people of color, most work in security, maintenance, and human resources. Among museum curators and conservators, 84% are white, 6% Asian, 4% Black, and 3% Latinx.

Saturday 1/27: Cobalt
A question for the final post of #PIAculturalcontext Where do our materials come from? Can we discern the trail from earth to the cup on our table? This image shows a cobalt mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Cobalt, a distinctive colorant used in ceramics, appears in the blue and white ware throughout Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, and its journey chronicles global trade, historic and contemporary migrations, old and new imperialisms, and corporate policy and power. The components in our ceramics contain political and personal consequences, content and context.
Today, the majority of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country with enormous wealth of natural resources, and yet people live with great poverty. Cobalt is in our ceramics, in the batteries in our phones, computers, cars, in military equipment, and in drones. Multinational mining companies accumulate tremendous profits through the exploitation of individuals, communities, and resources. International corporations commit human rights violations, engender violence, food-insecurity, and produce toxic environmental consequences to extract cobalt for our products and glazes.
As artists, we utilize this material, the labor and lives, in the long coil to our hands. The same substance becomes worthless or valuable, profane or sacred, helpful or hurtful, dependent on one’s position, privilege, and place. Where does our clay come from? Who is in our clay?

Guest Host of Pots In Action for 1/14-1/28The theme is Clay in Cultural Context. #PIACulturalContext