This exhibition is primarily concerned with the act of taking up physical and socio-political space. Through the use of form, design, color, and installation this work places various histories and traditions of both ceramics and resistance in communication with one another. The red, black, and green of Marcus Garvey’s 1920 Pan-African/Black American flag are proudly displayed against a warm, calm, pale green backdrop to highlight the importance of mental health in all endeavors, especially in the emotionally taxing labor of social, political, and economic protest in the battle for humanity, life, civil rights, equity, access, and decision-making power.
Beauty and Value
My work explores the interaction between form and minimal surfaces/colors that elicit specific emotional responses, in order to interrogate personal and societal standards of beauty and value as they relate to notions of equity, representation, and lasting impacts on mental health. I’ve always found comfort in abstraction. Through abstraction, my work explores issues of social justice, mental health, equity, and access. Clay as a material and abstraction as a visual vocabulary both afford the ability to reconstruct reality. To mold clay is to exert one’s own will onto the physical earth around them, and through glazing and firing make real and permanent the object of one’s imagination. Using non-representational lines and shapes to make meaning invites the possibility of a single stroke to invoke an infinite number of historical, contemporary, societal or personal narratives in service of building a complex tapestry of conceptual actualizations that continues to reveal themselves to the viewer and the maker overtime. Making meticulous forms reclaims the agency stripped by being marginalized in institutions that work to entrench the unrelenting societal doctrine that my existence is less valuable than that of my “majority” counterparts.
In addition, I am grappling with new questions around materiality as content as I continue to develop myself as a maker of ceramic things. My mother’s words, “you [as a black person] have to work twice as hard to make it half as far”, and “no matter what you decide to do in life, be the best at it” ring in my ears as I delve into the significance of using porcelain and my attraction to ancient Chinese ceramics. For me, Chinese ceramics symbolize an elegant beauty and a strong sense of unquestioned value that was reserved for an imperial ruling class. Making very refined porcelain bottles has been my unconscious way of ascribing an undeniable value to my work, forcing me to work tirelessly at perfecting form to ensure that my work will do justice to the sources it references (Song, Yuan, Ming, Qing Dynasty Imperial Wares) while occupying a similar imperial/ruling class space as some of arguably the best ceramics in history.
Of Spatial Importance
Among other things, this work does a seemingly simplistic yet crucial action: takes up space. Through this body of work, I speculate on the socio-political dimensions to my current mission to ‘take up space’. Taking up space is an act of resistance, abruption, and reclamation. It interacts with ideas of self-discovery and identity development that I’ve been investigating for many years now. Taking up space in galleries and other art platforms proclaiming that there is power, validity, and importance in a functional vessel. This work explores sculptural ceramic table settings for pottery to physically inhabit more space than is usually allotted for it as well as inconvenience those who use it, catalyzing a conversation about the place of new ideas and representation in traditional rigid systems.
This exercise of taking up physical space is directly related to what it means to navigate the intersectional identities I hold, all at the same time, taking up metaphorical, political, social, and intellectual space. I give voice to the perspectives of many and my work seeks to engage people in dialogues about difference and inclusion. Not only does a functional vessel in a non-traditional, or perhaps even hostile, environment speak volumes to the necessity of handmade craft in today’s increasingly distant human interactions, but it also illuminates the narratives of people in spaces that have historically been unavailable to them. I am hopeful that my work grants me access to spaces and people and conversations that allow my truths to reach audiences who have never fully engaged with them before. The idea that a beautiful vessel might bring the story of my grandmother’s humble, tumultuous, Mississippian roots to the table of a wealthy, white socialite for an honest conversation about power, privilege and inequality re-inspires within me a need to create. In uncertain times of the coronavirus pandemic and state-sanctioned unapologetic disposal of Black lives I need to make my voice heard; I need to reclaim my own power, dispel feelings of hopelessness and insignificance, and interrupt the comfort of institutions that had no intention of ever granting me the dignity of being wholly included or being responsive to the needs of my respective communities. I need to take up space for every Black, Queer, Poor, Urban, Studio Potter, Ceramic Artist, Disenfranchised, Discarded, Ignored and Underrepresented community that I either call my own or stand in solidarity with.
A sphere is perhaps the most important form in my work. I consider a sphere the basic building block for many of my other functional and sculptural forms. I activate different ways to distort spheres to create distinctively new shapes for cups, bottles, bowls, and even plates. A sphere is perfect, symmetrical across every axis, infinite, demanding, and complete. Perfect spheres are rigid and strict in their dimensions, yet soft and inviting in their appearance. Being influenced by spheres, the contours of my pots are round, continuous, and particular. Growing up, many aspects of my life felt uncertain, insecure, insubstantial, and readily subject to change. By utilizing meticulous, round forms, I attempt to exert control over a highly variable medium, forcing a sense of closure and completeness in my work that eases the tension of not having this control in other aspects of life. I also employ bright color lines in my work, which has a positive psychological effect by inspiring a sense of joy and fulfillment that relates to larger issues of empathy that I explore in my practice. In endeavoring to make conscious the act of being empathetic, I am contributing to an overdue societal resurgence of investment in mental health and stability.
I need curves in my work. Straight, particularly vertical lines do not excite me unless they’re adding complexity to curved ones. To me, curves are familiar and comfortable; they relate to how I see myself physically, and at its best, a beautiful round pot with continuous curves is an extension of me. As a utilitarian art form that the viewer will physically interact with on a daily basis, it is important to me that my work feels soft and natural in the hand. The off white color of the porcelain clay exudes a sense of comfort and warm ease. The clay feels soft and approachable to inspire an earnest engagement with the viewer that welcomes a space of introspection and moments of pause and reflection.
In this exhibition, the soft, warm colors of my previous work meant to create moments of reflective stillness are being replaced with richer, more vibrant colors that engender different feelings that relate to the protest and radical determination of the black power movement. The pale muted colors of my undergraduate thesis and soft warm off-white of an oxidation fired raw porcelain clay body of earlier work have transitioned into saturated avocados, deep reflective blacks and rich maroon/burgundy as the psychological content has shifted. For me color and music have a piercing ability to dictate emotional response. I think deeply about them both and they help me construct worlds of possibility and reflexivity in my work and in all other pursuits. I’d like to think that resurgence of color in my work is indicative of a moment of elevated mood or moving toward a different, brighter psychological ground on which to build the next chapter of my creative practice and in the rest of my life as well.