“As a product of an American father and a Mexican mother, I am influenced by the conflicting expectations I have received as a woman within my two cultures,” says artist Nicole McLaughlin. From her studio in Marion, Massachusetts, McLaughlin combines historically domestic crafts—ceramics and fiber art—into striking sculptures that explore identity and heritage, particularly in relation to gendered expectations, traditions, and the changes that occur as generations pass.
In her mixed-media works, the artist contrasts the soft, pliable fibers with the fragility of the plates painted with blue-and-white motifs. Dyed in subtle gradients and earth tones, the loose threads are woven through the sloping ceramic edges and knotted in the center. McLaughlin explains how it’s important that the utility of both elements is removed once combined:
(The vessels) serve as vehicles for fiber. As the fiber flows from, weaves into, or frames the ceramic, it distorts the functionality but becomes a meaningful component as plate and cloth merge. The vessels contain an expression of femininity and an essence of personal and cultural history.
These dichotomies in the materials also reflect the artist’s experience eschewing “the feminine ideals of my Mexican identity,” she says. “I am a force, and I think I tend to push the boundaries of what might be within the female expectation in Mexican culture.”
Currently, McLaughlin is serving as a teaching fellow at Tabor Academy. She sells some smaller ceramic pieces in her shop, and you can follow her work on Instagram, where she also shares glimpses into her process.
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Deep within Leang Tedongnge, a cave tucked away on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, archaeologists discovered this mulberry-hued painting of a warty pig and two hand silhouettes potentially belonging to the artist, which is now believed to be the oldest figurative work in the world. A study published in Science Advances this week says the impeccably preserved rendering is at least 45,500 years old, which predates previously discovered depictions of mythical creatures in the region. Those prior findings date back about 43,900 years.
Questions remain about the exact age of the work and who made it. Archaeologists from Griffith University, who helmed the mission, utilized uranium-series dating to determine how old the speleothem, or mineral deposits, of the cave is rather than the actual painting. There’s also debate about whether modern humans are responsible for the renderings, a question that’s complicated by the fact that the only skeletal remains that date back at least 45,500 years in Sulawesi belong to early hominins.
Dr. Adam Brumm, who co-authored the study, told The New York Times that researchers expect to discover similar artworks in the region, although the cave paintings are deteriorating at a rapid rate and could fade before they’re ever uncovered. “It is very worrying, and given the current situation the end result is likely to be the eventual destruction of this ice age Indonesian art, perhaps even within our lifetime,” Brumm said.
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People’s Pottery Project (PPP) has a simple mission: “to empower formerly incarcerated women, trans, and nonbinary individuals and their communities through the arts.” The value of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit, though, reaches far beyond the ceramics studio where its members carefully sculpt and glaze dinnerware to sell from its warehouse.
At the heart of PPP is mutual aid, a form of community support and solidarity that rapidly expanded at the onset of the pandemic but that has a rich history in political movements. The initiative is multi-faceted—it currently employs three people full-time and two part-time, and formerly incarcerated folks can drop in to help in the production process and be paid for their contributions. Depending on COVID-19 guidance and the ability to meet in-person, PPP also hosts community classes. As restrictions lift in the coming months, the organization plans to expand these offerings as it strives to stabilize its income and connect with more artists.
The project began when co-founder Molly Larkey hosted free pottery workshops for women, trans, and non-binary folks, many of whom were experiencing homelessness. “It was immediately apparent that people who came to class needed to be paid for their time: not only to value their creative contribution toward the organization that was starting to take form but as a way to put money in their pockets,” Larkey says. Many of the gatherings simultaneously sparked conversations about job opportunities and housing options, which offered additional support beyond the group’s creative practice.
Two attendees in these early days were Ilka Perkins and her wife, Dominique, women Larkey knew through her volunteer efforts with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, an organization that works tirelessly to have people who are incarcerated be released through commutation, parole board support, and legislative reform. Larkey offered Perkins a job as an artist assistant prior to Perkins’ release from the California Institution for Women in 2020. Soon after, the two co-founded PPP.
Today, the organization sells 10-inch plates and bowls in three sizes—every item is made entirely by hand so the pale blues and earthen tones vary on each dish—with plans to create new products and special packaging that details the issues communities are facing. These include DROP LWOP (Drop Life Without the Possibility of Parole) and SURVIVED & PUNISHED, two abolitionist campaigns that current PPP employee Susan Bustamante, who previously was serving a life sentence, is involved in.
Many of the fully functional ceramics are sold for $50, a price point that aligns with PPP’s goals. The idea is “to share our beauty and creativity, to employ as many formerly incarcerated people as we can in meaningful creative work and make our ceramics accessible to anyone and everyone,” Larkey says. “We are hopeful that our art will also function as advocacy so that people learn more about the issues affecting us and our loved ones who are still incarcerated.”
As for future endeavors, Larkey is optimistic about the possibilities of artists getting involved in mutual-aid efforts as a way to support their neighbors. “There is a real need for creative skills but the most important thing—and I can’t stress this enough—is to be involved with a community over a period of time,” she says. “The groundwork has been already laid by the people most impacted by systemic oppressions such as the prison industrial complex, and they will be the ones who know what is most needed.”
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A drab water tower in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, is overrun with a 70-foot-tall garden of technicolor flowers and vines thanks to artists Darren and Emmelene Mate, aka DabsMyla. The Australian wife and husband are known for their hand-painted psychedelic dreamscapes, which envelop the otherwise utilitarian tank with oversized flora. Titled “Magical Unity,” the circular mural features plants native to the region, along with a fuzzy bumblebee mid-pollination, all rendered in the duo’s playful style.
DabsMyla completed the public project in just one week, which they describe:
Color plays a big role in our work and how we create. For this piece, we wanted to produce an uplifting feeling through flowers and running a rainbow of hues from the bottom to the top. This is a really large work, and we hope that it will positively impact the community and bring happiness to everyone who passes by it.
The transformative artwork is the latest commissioned by the women-led curators of Justkids (previously) and OZ Art, which have been collaborating to revitalize areas around Arkansas in recent years. Shop pins and stickers of DabsMyla’s quirky characters in their shop, and check out more of the couple’s work on Instagram.
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Set against bold, impasto backdrops, Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe’s portraits emphasize the subjects’ spirits, their emotional states and idiosyncracies conveyed through facial expression, gesture, and garments—striped suits, wide-brimmed hats, and bright red bandanas tied around their necks. He renders figures in shades of gray, painting distinctive artworks that embrace the multitudes of Black life through striking and powerful depictions. The goal, the Ghanaian artist (previously) said in an interview with Juxtapoz, is “to capture what they want to say but cannot say in just one image. So that when you see the figure or the painting, you wonder who the person is.”
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Blanketing much of Ghana’s landscape is Lake Volta, an artificial reservoir with the largest surface area in the world. The enormous body of water spans from the southern part of the African country through the northern region and is contained by the Akosombo Dam, which generates much of the nation’s electricity.
Despite the stunning environment and rich surrounding landscape, the lake has a sinister side that photographer Jeremy Snell captures in a new book, titled Boys of Volta. “Thousands of children work in its massive fishing industry—and many of these children are trafficked into labor,” a statement about the project says. Through intimate and impactful shots, the Brooklyn-based photographer peers into the lives of young boys who wade into the tree-speckled water with swathes of fishing nets. Snell writes about the project:
The trafficking of children and child labor in this region has a lot to do with the complex economic and social history of the Ghanaians residing around the lake. Young children are targeted for fishing because of their mobility and small hands for untangling nets. This series hopes to capture some of the solitude and innocence of young children entrapped in this reality.
Individual prints and the book compiling Snell’s series are currently available from Setanta Books with ten percent of proceeds going to International Justice Mission, a global organization that strives to end slavery, police abuse, and violence against women and children. Follow Snell’s projects that document life around the world on Instagram. (via Creative Boom)
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