Women have been central to the Japanese ceramics tradition over its long history—the longest known among human civilizations. Jomon or “cord-marked” pots were being made in Japan by women in 14,000 bce, some four thousand years before pottery traditions began in Mesopotamia and China. In the 6th century, when the potter’s wheel came to Japan from Korea, along with other technologies for producing thinner, more durable, less water-permeable ceramics—-men assumed the lead role in producing these wheel-thrown wares fired at high temperatures in specially designed kilns. Women and their hand-worked, unfired, earthenware ceramics were relegated to the background, but by no means to extinction.
With expanded industrialization of the ceramics in the Meiji period, (1868-1911), and an increase in foreign demand, many Japanese feared loss of basic qualities of Japanese ceramics. A movement at the turn of the 20th century refocused aesthetic interest in traditional craft and reaffirmed the value of the ceramicist’s hand. This reinvigoration of craft combined with international emergence of “the individual” as the source of artistic creativity has created a place that individual women artists occupy alongside men.
The works in the exhibition span categories such as “traditional,” “sculptural,” “craft design,” and “installation;” and like much contemporary art, they often float above such boundaries.
The works in the exhibition span categories such as “traditional,” “sculptural,” “craft design,” and “installation;” and like much contemporary art, they often float above such boundaries. Inspiration for shapes, colors, and motifs is acknowledged by these artists to come from plants, shells, mountains, rivers, rubbish, industrial design, light and shadow, absence and presence.
Despite the communality of being women and born into Japanese culture, these artists emerge in their work as creators and innovators with individual sensibilities, wit, and unique responses to a wide range of artistic traditions. This exhibition comes together as a stimulating encounter with twenty-five distinctive and highly creative artistic personalities.
Soaring Voices was developed by The Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park, Shiga Prefecture, and hus-10, Inc., Tokyo, Japan and organized for tour by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC. The exhibition was generously supported in part by the E. Rhodes & Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and the S&R Foundation.