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Global Violence: the Ceramic Edition

(To read other articles in our Arts-Policy Nexus series click here.)

 By Sarah Lipkis    

Daphne Corregan, an American artist, crafted the ceramic sculpture, Painted Face, a piece that challenges and terrifies its audience. Touched by the atrocities of wars she witnessed while traveling through Africa and the former Yugoslavia, Corregan uses ceramics as a way of confronting violence. The sculpture is smooth and defined with brutal brush strokes that draw in viewers. The harsh contrast of the dominating black eyes and red lips on a painted white face makes the viewer uncomfortable. Corregan says that she wants the reader to feel the personal narrative of the statue. Painted Face forces the reader to see, up close, the personal narrative of violence and victimization.

Daphne Corregan, Painted Face, 2012

Corregan’s piece, Painted Face, is on the cover of the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD)’s exhibit catalog, Body & Soul: new international ceramics. The catalog, based on the New York museum’s current exhibit, showcases how artists from around the world use ceramics to express the overarching theme of violence. Within this theme of violence, artists explore subthemes such as sexual abuse, brutality, gun violence, labor, anxiety, and fear.

Mounir Fatmi, a Moroccan artist living in France, explores these themes further in his piece, Forget. Using clay, Fatmi made ten identical black skulls with white teeth and white hardhats. His work aims to represent the notion of physical work and a fear of death. A hardhat is worn to protect the worker from being hurt; however, the hat is made out of fragile material, rendering it useless. Though the laborer needs to work in order to survive, Fatmi is trying to show the viewer that body and brain are fragile. The worker is thus a victim in that he has to choose between his own safety and the need to work.

Similarly, Spanish artist Teresa Girones uses fragile materials in order to represent victims of sexual abuse. Due to the delicate nature of clay, Teresa’s sculptures are easily cracked and broken. While these cracks are caused by the tension in the clay during the drying process and heating, the artists intentionally uses cracks as a symbol. These imperfections represent the scars of sexual abuse experienced by many women around the world. Additionally, the fact that the ceramics are inanimate objects represents the victims’ inability to speak about their abuse, whether because of embarrassment or the fear of being hurt. Like in Corregan’s work, Teresa’s work also contain faces with dominating black eyes. The statue  is imposing and, like many other pieces in the show, urges the reader to confront the reality that sexual abuse is a global problem.  

Teresa Girones, Victima, 2012

At first glance, Finnish artist Kim Simonsson’s piece appears peaceful and innocent. Yet there is something quite disturbing about the piece, in which he uses children in order to explore gun culture and violence. Speaking about his work, he notes, “I play the game of innocence. Children and animals are my actors. They present disturbing acts that aren’t expected of them. Sometimes the aesthetic surface almost hides the terror.”

Kim Simonsson, Untitled, 2013

In the white ceramic statue a boy and a girl on their knees beg a second girl for mercy. When one looks more closely, however, it becomes evident that the second girl is holding a gun. The scene is confrontational and highly uncomfortable, forcing the reader to recognize the reality of gun violence around the world. Guns are not usually associated with children, and Simonsson is reminding the reader that although children usually connote innocence, they can be both victims and perpetrators of violence. 


Kim Simonsson, Untitled, 2013

Art has the ability to communicate a message, and the ceramics in the catalog all represent aspects of human nature. Beginning with Daphne Corregan’s work, the catalog establishes the theme of violence and victimization. The viewer is made to feel uncomfortable while looking at the works in the catalog, which, whether examining war, economics, sexual abuse, or guns, portray a constant sense of victimization. In short, the show employs ceramics to bring attention to the systemic global issue of violence and to help the audience understand its long-term implications.



Sarah Lipkis is an editorial assistant at World Policy Journal.

[Photos courtesy of Body & Soul exhibit catalog] 



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