Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ghana, NCECA Residency 2010. An Extreme Case of Creation

from the left, Abisboba, Sharon (nicknamed Ayampok-beire- 'little Ayampoka'), Ayampoka and Faustina pounding clay at SWOPA.

Sharon Virtue in Ghana with SWOPA(Sirigu Womens Organization for Pottery and Art.)

The main entrance to SWOPA.
I spent three weeks in a remote village called Sirigu, in the North of Ghana, working with local potters. They taught me their traditional hand-building techniques, decorative motifs and firing process. The local tribe of Nankani live in earthen houses that resemble large pots. These women have lived and worked this way for thousands of years, generation after generation.Unfortunately, the knowledge of their craft is now being lost.
The first week was spent in the workshop with my three teachers, Faustina, Ayampoka and Abisboba. During my stay at SWOPA they became my mentors and main support as well as good friends. Faustina, the youngest, would translate between English and Fra Fra, the local Nankani language.

We pounded clay from the nearby river. It took a day to process a 50lb batch. I was humbled as I watched Ayampoka, the eldest, and Abisboba coil pots at top speed, sliding them, as if on a wheel, across the floor on a bed of red grog. They compress the clay at the same time as joining the coils with their thumb and forefinger. Using their basic tools and some water they even out and shape the top of the pots, which look thrown when completed. After a week of practicing this technique, I gave up trying to create coil pots. It would have taken much more time than I had, and I had another agenda.
A typical day in the studio, sitting on the floor to do everything. I realize how strong your stomach and back have to be. This also did not last long. Eventually I was standing at the table.

Painting the local red earth pigment onto pots before burnishing.

Pots after burnishing. Now they can add other pigments, black and white.

The day of the firing. I didn't think it was possible, but the pots were bisque fired in less than 2 hours.

Typical house of the region. This section of the compound is called the Denyanga. this contains the rooms for the eldest woman living in the compound.

Ayampoka and me, 'Ayampok-beire' (as they nicknamed me little Ayampoka). Waiting for the fire to cool down outside her house.

Another local compound. So wonderfully cool inside.

In Africa, especially this region of the Sahel, all resources are limited. This becomes the determining factor in how people live their lives. There is a time and a place for everything, especially during the dry season, five months with no rain. During this time, all energy goes toward harvesting and storing food and preparing for scarcity. The laborious production method meant that clay was also scarce. I decided to work on small hand-sized maquette sculptures to explore my ideas. The constant question from those around me was, “What are you doing?” “What are those things for?” For these people everything has a function, a reason. Those questions made me examine the purpose of what I was doing here.

The road to the market.

The beautiful local kiddies that would watch and help out when i needed it. They were like little birds.

Pots outside a house.

I went to art school in the West and, therefore, in the privileged position of making art for art’s sake. I explained this to my Nankani friends … that my ceramic work had no particular function, just as decorating their houses did not serve a function. It was an aesthetic choice. The work I was making was the result of inspiration from things I was seeing around me. I was absorbing and processing my experiences of this place and the people who lived here and the everyday things of life.
Street art. These orange trees were everywhere. I love them.
A pot sealed with mud to keep the bugs out.

Durcas and Erica on a fig picking expedition.

This is Apolala Akaba. One of the local elders. She was afflicted with Elephantitis.

As gruesome as it seems, I was even inspired by Apolala's affliction. The texture and colour of the skin on her leg made me think of fetish figures covered with dry cracked dirt. This medical condition inspired the title of my report, “An extreme case of creation.”
A beautiful hand made toy carrying a load of medication used for Elephantitis.

A trippy local fermented drink made from Shea butter, which they use in cooking. The trees are all over the place. (It was stinky beer, I didn't try it).

Local chief outside my friends compound in Burkina Faso.

The environment and the rhythm of Nankani life had a visceral impact on my work. In the dry season, the heat is oppressive and constant, it is all prevailing, it infiltrates all your thoughts, and reduces you to a heap of sweaty exhaustion. In the bright daylight, people gather seeds and harvest their fields. All night a bat would call outside my window, the drumming from a nearby ritual space carried on until the moon set, and just before dawn the sound of someone gently sweeping the fallen dry leaves.

For more images of the work created on this residency go to:
This residency provided me a sense of freedom. I felt excited, playful and unattached to the outcome. It helped me to achieve a method of exploration that I had not had the courage to try in the studio setting. I know this will be a benefit to my growth as an artist in the future. I’m honored to have been a part of it, even for a short time. I have learned so much, not just about the Nankani tribe and culture, but also about myself, my work and my process of creation.

Truely Africanized Ayambok-beire, complete with live chicken and cup of local tea.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dwellings for the Divine.

Barbara Vanderbeck and Sharon Virtue join forces for another star spangled show of Alters and Shrines for the divine. October 20th - November 1st
Come and celebrate Samhain, Hallow'een and Day of the Dead with us, at this time the veils between the spirit world and our world are thin...

Ruby's Clay studio
552 A Noe Street SF CA 94117.
Gallery open daily from 11- 7pm
phone 415 437 1642

Closing reception is on Hallows Eve.....October 31st from 4-8pm we are going to be in costume and hosting our reception early so that you can spend the rest of the witching hours at your leisure..... Please join us it is guaranteed to be a beautiful night.

I plunged right into this work upon my return to Haiti, put up a painting show at Esalen, and have not had time to come up for air until "Dwellings for the Divine" is in the gallery.
then i'm off on another Virtue voyage to Ghana... so not sure when i'll be posting again... but have to do this for the update on the Web page.... so here goes another fantastic something.... Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Haiti and New studio space.

I have been working for Save the Children in Haiti, and its amazing how much that work impacted the rest of my psychic space.. i feel like I'm just coming out the other end of it.... only to head back again in September.
there is so much to tell about Haiti.... so that will come later i guess but for now i posted some great photos on my flickr pages.

I just got a new studio space at Ruby's Clay studio. Its amazing how much we keep doing the same thing from habit, and are reluctant to change, though it may be good for us.
Maybe its that full moon coming to fruition or something, but I'm headed into a new era in my ceramic career.
It was fun to learn how to use power tools and take control of creating my new space.

Monday, March 29, 2010


My new ceramic show demonstrates how functional ceramics bring some bling to your dinning experience.
Challenging our assumptions about representation by playfully blurring the boundaries between western ideas about ‘high’ art and traditional categorization of ‘African Art’. Your Spring will be sprung with these brilliant funky functional ceramic wares inspired by African textiles and Rococo ornamentation.

FUNK {SHON} a playful pun on the word function, is the first show of only utilitarian ceramics I have created. I believes tha a healthy portion of art should be included in all of our daily diets. What better way to provide that than on a beautifully decorated plate or cup or bowl?

My new functional ceramic work is a combination of 17th century ceramic decorative art forms and African textiles. Inspiration came from Chris Ofili and Yinka Shonibare, British artists of African decent, whose works open up debate about the social, cultural and political issues that shape our histories and construct our identity.

The show will be held at RUBYS CLAY STUDIO in the heart of the Castro, 552 A Noe Street, San Francisco, 94114. Phone 415 437 1642.
The FUNK {SHON} exhibition will run from WEDNESDAY MARCH 31ST to WEDNESDAY APRIL 14TH with a closing reception on SATURDAY APRIL 10TH 2010 FROM 5-8PM.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

VirtueVision Voyages: Design


I’m impressed with the old colonial Victorian homes and buildings, with their beautiful attention to detail. Reminds me of New Orleans.
The modern downtown skyline is ugly, with horrible 80’s architecture, the crowning glory of which is the Sky Tower. Not unlike the one in Seattle. We ate dinner when we first arrived looking down on the sprawling city of Auckland.

Maori architecture is simple refined and elegant, with incredible carvings. This type of traditional housing is not used by Maori today. However, there are large Wharahui constructed for ceremonial purposes. This is a sacred place to be treated with great respect.

There is a European influence for sure, but here in the south pacific there is also a unique hybrid style, its more sophisticated, I like it. I'm particularly inspired by their current clothing design, and some historic design, that has a striking south pacific influence. I found a company called Native Agent, check it out, it has a funky combination of old European army uniforms and Maori design.

Examples of just everyday things that sort of demonstrate what i'm talking about.

Everything is more expensive, second hand clothes cost more than clothes I purchase new. The displays in stores are so well put together, I’m having to try really hard not to buy.

VirtueVision Voyages: Northlands

The Northlands

Did someone say Hobbit? This is the land of the hobbit. We made our epic 5-day voyage, up the west coast stopping at one of the last surviving Kauri forests. Kauri trees are native to New Zealand, the wood was prized by all, but the Europeans took it to the brink of extinction. The Waipoua Kauri forest is owned and run by Maori, and it was a great place to stop, hike and spend the night. The next day we went to visit Tane Mahuta, named for the Maori God of the forest the oldest and biggest Kauri tree alive today.

We hit Omapere on the Hokianga harbour, the coast up here is covered with huge sand dunes, that were apparently thrown out from the tops of erupting volcanoes.

We visited Dhaj, the mother of my friend Brent Sumner, living in a tiny village called Peria (near Doubtless Bay), to stay in her amazing hand built home. She let us stay at her holiday rental ‘the adobe art house’. Then we headed to the very tip of the island, Te Rerenga Wairua, to see the place where Maori spirits depart the earth, and return to their spiritual home of Hawaiki.

Back down the west coast we stopped at Bay of Islands, famously picturesque, to watch a sunset and visit the town of Waitangi.

This is the place the Treaty between the British and the Maori chiefs was signed regarding the ownership of land in New Zealand.

It’s a pretty simple one-page document, it goes something like this.
Article 1. The queen is now in charge.
Article 2. You can keep your land unless we want it.
Article 3. There is nothing you can do about it.

We headed south after spending the night in a cow field. Camping on the side of the road is no problem, and I actually like roughing it, as friends who have traveled with me will know.
A roughing it necessity, a pee bucket.