About the Exhibition
Pottery, when made by indigenous peoples in the Americas, Africa, and some parts of Asia, is highly gendered and frequently associated with women. Ceramic practices however, are never static. Forms, functions and methods adapt to changing tastes, new materials, and expanding markets.
World Ceramics: Transforming Women’s Traditions highlights ceramists and ceramics from points around the world where the makers are normally female, and explores innovative contemporary work based on transformations of older forms and designs. From Ecuador to Indonesia, this exhibition features work by women who maintain strong links with their indigenous identity and lifestyle but shape their ceramics in response to new markets and audiences. World Ceramics also presents artists raised and educated in the First World who effectively reinvent traditions to which they are connected by ethnicity or ancestry. Moira Vincentelli, noted scholar from Aberystwyth University and author of Women Potters: Transforming Traditions and Women and Ceramics: Gendered Vessels, is the lead curator on the project.
World Ceramics: Transforming Women’s Traditions is jointly produced by the Carleton College Art Gallery in Northfield and the Northern Clay Center, Minneapolis. The exhibition brings together objects from more than five regions around the world including Ecuador and Mexico; African nations of Algeria, Ghana, Nigeria, Tunisia, Angola, South Africa; Indonesia and the UK and the USA. These vessels, figurines, ceremonial objects, and sculptural forms are drawn from numerous sources, including private and museum collections.
World Ceramics showcases figures and vessels by makers still deeply embedded in indigenous pottery traditions, including potters from Lombok, Indonesia and Berber potters in Tunisia and Algeria, North Africa. These makers, though widely separated by geography and culture, all respond to new markets and to economic development schemes by inventing new forms and adapting old ones. The Kichwa Indians, from remote reaches of the Ecuadorian Amazon, have long supplied pottery to villages in their region. Over recent decades, Esthela Dagua and her daughter have gained international reputations for finely crafted, vividly designed vessels, and for embodiments of mythological and folkloric characters. The exhibition’s reach extends to the Caribbean island of St Lucia, where women potters produce elegantly functional cooking pots for local use and more experimental objects for the emerging art market.
Ceramic production in Africa, more than any other continent, is dominated by women. Despite great skill and unique decorative practices, these female makers have been long ignored by art historians and western collectors. African pots are nearly always displayed in European and American museums with minimal attribution. Buoyed up by a thriving art market, and supported by rising feminist consciousness, women from South Africa to Tunisia are beginning to get their due as creative individuals. World Ceramics takes an extended look at Zulu pottery, notably the work of Nesta Nala and her daughters, and the spheres of influence circling around the family. Now that Zulu beer pots and other burnished black vessels have been absorbed into the international art market, some male artists have begun to enter this formerly all-female arena. In addition, the exhibition will present fantastic chickens and functional ware from Fesi pottery in Ghana.
Magdalene Odundo, Helga Gamboa and Winnie Owens-Hart, artists who live and work in the UK and the USA, are connected to Africa through birth, family and ancestral ties. Each sees indigenous traditions through the distancing and abstracting lenses of residence abroad and art school. Born in Angola, UK resident Helga Gamboa connected to her country’s ceramics through research and travel back to the homeland. With shapes evocative of traditional hand-built utilitarian vessels, her works are deeply political. The artist selectively applies photographic scenes of civil war, of women and children dispossessed by conflict through European-style glazes. Magdalene Odundo’s elegant vessels embody her rich life history and diverse sources of artistic inspiration: childhood in Kenya and India, art education in England, contact with the studio pottery movement and with indigenous ceramists including Maria Martinez of the American Southwest. Winnie Owens-Hart, an African-American artist from near Washington DC, has drawn closer to her African roots through ceramics. Her work honors woman’s work in clay, and grapples with injustice by invoking shapes and techniques absorbed during travels abroad to traditional pottery communities.
The American Southwest is home to a rich and ancient pottery tradition. Young women, with names made famous by mothers, grandmothers, aunts and cousins, craft beautiful objects for sale at the Santa Fe Indian market and through galleries across the United States. World Ceramics pays homage to Maria Martinez (1887-1980) of San Ildefonso Pueblo, NM, who, along with her husband Julian, revived the ancient black-on-black pottery, through experimentation and in consultation with archaeologists working in the region. Her spirit enlivens the rich array of Southwestern Native American objects in the exhibition, each with decorative patterns and vessel forms distinctive to specific pueblos. The latest generation of makers, some men as well as women, often embrace non-traditional materials and techniques. Local conventions become transformed as artists address ever broadening audiences, and expand a functional tradition to also serve modern creative visions. Diego Romero invokes both ancient Mimbres patterns and contemporary cartoons on his decorated plates and pots. Figurative forms at Cochiti Pueblo date back to the nineteenth century but were popularized through the story-teller figures of Helen Cordero in the 1960s. More recently, Roxanne Swentzell translates the form into powerfully expressive, half life-sized sculptures that question pueblo identity.
World Ceramics: Transforming Women’s Traditions pools the knowledge and collections of many dedicated artists, scholars, and collectors. In addition to Moira Vincentelli, who has written two books on women’s powerful contributions to world ceramics, this exhibition benefits from the very specific knowledge accumulated by the following individuals: Joseph Molinari of Eastern Kentucky University on Kichwa ceramics, Patricia Fay of Florida Gulf Coast University on Caribbean ceramics, Elizabeth Perrill, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, whose recently completed Ph.d on Zulu Ceramics is from Indiana University. The organizers are also grateful to Ernest Bublitz for his gifts of Native Southwestern ceramics to Winona State University, to Donald Redlich, a WSU alumnus and to Ann Kohner and Jim Schmidt of WSU; to Sheldon and Lili Chester, Lynn Alpert, and to Ruth and David Waterbury of Minneapolis; to Charles S. King of King Galleries, Scottsdale, Arizona and to Anthony Slayter-Ralph of Santa Barbara; to Winnie Owens-Hart who not only makes art but collects women’s ceramics world-wide. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art have enriched the exhibition with loans. Helga Gamboa contributed not only her art but also herself, serving as artist-in-residence at the Northern Clay Center from late August into October, 2008. Finally, Roxanne Swentzell deserves particular thanks for creating a fabulous figure specially for this exhibition.