Connecting Cultures

Linking ancient cultures and investigating global craft movements and techniques has been my priority for the past decade. I began ceramics training in the United States at an art college. I was introduced to Asian ceramics in Kalimantan, Indonesia where I apprenticed with craftsmen and first saw a dragon kiln. There I heard of the porcelain capital of Jingdezhen, a place which would become fundamental for my art and life. I spent a year in Jingdezhen apprenticing with master craftsmen and renowned artists. Thirty countries later I have settled in Cairo, Egypt. Egypt is a land with deep tradition and mystic, in many ways I find it similar to China. I will devote the rest of my career to bridge these two ancient civilizations and make cross-cultural connections in my artistic expression. 

My work focuses on cross cultural similarities in symbolism and motifs. I believe by finding connections between seemingly opposite civilizations we, as humanity, can discover that we all share a common root and origin. My ceramic work is both functional and sculptural, always incorporating ancient symbols and cuneiform into the décor. I enjoy the symbolism of the vessel itself. The body is also a vessel for our soul, a temporary residence. The vessel is what allows existence, the vessel holds our drinks, as our skin holds our viscera and fluids, the body also being made of mostly water. In Daoist religion there is a poem which states what makes the vessel useful? It is the emptiness, which is important, as in meditation, the emptiness is the objective. 

As I traveled the world, I studied different religions and philosophies. I incorporate these mantras and prayers in my work to allude a deeper meaning and communicate a statement of the divine. I lived two years in Tibet, where I studied the ancient Buddhist art of Thangka painting, these influences resurface in my work. Thangka painting is more than an art, it is a meditation and a veneration to the deitybeing painted. Similar to the Asian tradition of tea ceremony, with precise order and deliberate movement, a simple act becomes a meditation. In the Bible, the Holy Grail is an allusion to the Divine Feminine. A reference to the womb, a metaphor for birth and new life. The ancient Daoist religion of China the “Mystic Female” is also a symbol for divine creation. Uniting these two art forms, ceramics and painting, I create cups that are spiritual vessels. The cup is the conversation, the exchange, the prayer. 
​Thirst, the analogy of thirst, is another element that is pillar in my work. In English, and in most languages, “thirst” can be interchanged with desire, “A thirst for knowledge.” An allusion to longing, a reference to craving. In Chinese language also such a metaphor is also common,“渴望, 渴求“ etc. I believe this relation is made because thirst is our most basic need. We can live without eating for nearly a month but without drinking, not very long. In every traditional culture I visited, it is polite to offer visitors a drink. In some southeast Asian cultures, it is common for houses to have outside a ceramic jar of water for passersby to drink. The drink is what binds humanity. The thing we cannot live without. The occasion over which we discuss, share stories, make friendships and bond as human beings.  I incorporate these principles into my work and fuse them into my teapots,and etch them into my 杯子。 

I have spent about five years in and around China. Chinese culture is carved deep in my heart, weaved tightly in my ideology, and personal beliefs. I began studying Chinese language in Australia and improved by listening and practicing with friends when I arrived at China first in 2009. From 2014-2018 I was living primarily in China; I travel frequently and have visited every country bordering China. I undertook fieldwork regarding religion, philosophy, and art forms of these Asian cultures. In 2016 I moved to the Tibetan Capital of Lhasa to study painting and language. I took University level courses taught in Chinese language in the Department of Fine Arts, at Tibet University. I believe by studying languages we can understand different ways of thinking. Profound philosophy and the true essence of culture is hidden inside the language. I speak Chinese, Spanish, Tibetan, and some of many different languages including Turkish, Indonesian and I am currently learning Arabic. I liketo incorporate different scripts into my work to provoke a dynamic global atmosphere. 

The “word” is also another reoccurring theme in my art pieces. Words are more than mere groups of sound, words have vibration, words have energy. The words we choose tospeak, the words we choose to write, and the words we choose to think all have a vibration. I believe they have the equivalent vibration in every language. Traveling this long has given me an ability to read vibrations. Sometime times I find I can understand languages I have no knowledge of by the mere vibrations of the words. Ancient Hindu culture says that “Om” is the sound of the universe, the sacred syllable of Brahma,the creator. This sound is usually at the beginning of all Buddhist mantras as well. How can words and sounds affect our consciousness? I use these as questions as starting points in work, making every piece a homage to a variety of deities. 

Recently I have been working in Cairo on a sculptural project about psychopomps from different cultures. The word Psychopomp, is a Greek word for the deity who aids us in the transition after death into the afterlife. I have created ceramic canopic jars with the heads of different animals which are associated with death and form change. In life it is easy for us all to notice our differences, eye color, hair color, skin color, etc. However, after death and the inevitable decomposition of the flesh, the body of a Western person and the body of an Asian person is almost indistinguishable. Death is another common ground that all people share, and though different religions and philosophies have varying explanations as to what happens after life, most religions give a face to this deity, the guide of souls. 

I first visited Egypt in 2017, to have an exhibition of painting and sculpture, exploring the religious and cultural significance of the number “Nine”. I was enchanted by this mystical land upon arrival and had the pleasure of staying the sculpture and ceramics district of Old Cairo, home to manyartists’ studios and local talent. I have now made Cairo my home

The educational background and personal experience have inspired me to pioneer this bridge of Chino-Egyptian cultural exchange. I hope that by increasing communication between artists of these two cultures unexpected discoveries will surface regarding their similarities. My personal work will continue to examine these themes of culture and human origin. I work with Aswan clay which comes from Upper Egypt. In Egypt the South is referred to as Upper Egypt, because the Nile flows South to North. 

Pottery is a key bonding factor of humanity, every culture with clay has some tradition of pottery production. Pottery is the first synthetic material created by humans. Natives in North and South America, Africans, Ancient Egyptians, and the Ancient Cultures of Asia all have been producing pottery for thousands of years. It governs the dinner table; it holds our food and drinks. Clay allows us to quench our thirst. It is transient, in constant metamorphosis. During traditional funerary rites, In Mali, North Africa, very large jars were made from ceramic and the body of the deceased was placed inside, then buried. 

Are we all so different? We drink, we eat, we live, then die. Our distinguishing characteristics should be as spices on food, only enhancing the flavor of life, not walls creating divisions. Pottery is my tool to explore and demonstrate these ideals. 

Published by stellajaeart

I am a traveling artist who spent 15 years in over 30 countries. I have recently settled in the mystical land of Egypt. I am a visual artist who works with pottery, painting, photography and jewelry design.

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