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From dust to vessel

As an artist I think through making so, as the dust to vessel process

began, I started making pots from terracotta clay, fashioning a kind of prototype using primitive methods sympathetic to the Marsh Arab’s baked pottery of Mesopotamia. A hib is a large terracotta vessel used for filtering polluted water and I started experimenting with different additions to the clay body to increase its porosity. As I researched further, I began to develop an uncanny affinity with the village potters (fakhkhar in Arabic), women usually of middle age, who are acknowledged to have special talent in making pottery.

Mixing the carefully separated samples together in a glaze bowl felt like I was committing some kind of crime against geological science, but I kept just a thimble full of each sample back in the name of research. Once immersed in water, the particles swell, disintegrate and ‘slake down’. The slurry poured out onto a plaster bat to dry and then wedged into a workable material. To my amazement it passed the coil test for clay content and I quickly fired off an email update with photographic evidence, a kind of message of hope, to my collaborators. Next came the pinching and coiling, a whole day compressing and smoothing the particles into alignment and another fighting the cracks as it dried out. Then on one Thursday morning, it went into the kiln for firing and we waited. Friday came and went and the kiln still hadn’t cooled down enough to be opened. It was a long, nail-biting weekend but I spent the time wisely on my exhibition back up plan – a photo book, documenting the process from dust to vessel, in case the precious cargo exploded or vaporised in the kiln. To my relief, on Monday morning a light-weight, peach-hued vessel graciously emerged from the kiln – perfectly intact.

Vessel made from clay from the Al-hammar marshes

Responding to the unrest in southern Iraq over poor government services, corruption and a shortage of potable water, I focused on the clay vessels as a basic method of water filtration and incorporated them into an assemblage of objects – Shared water, contested water.

Working with such a precious and challenging material acknowledged my confidence as a potter. The work, I hope serving as a tribute to the material, its custodians and its origin.

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