Fragile Vessels: Contemporary Ceramics and the Body

January 24–April 5, 2024

Opening Reception | Friday, February 2, 4–7pm

Fragile Vessels: Contemporary Ceramics and the Body includes work by three contemporary ceramic sculptors, Robert Raphel, Miguel Enrique Lastra, and Maedeh Tafvizi Zavareh alongside historical pieces from Wheaton’s permanent collection and Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s “Untitled” (L.A.) on loan from Art Bridges. The artists work with figural and abstract representations of the human form while examining the intrinsic connections between ceramics and the body.

A magnificent sculpture of bird feathers. It’s unclear to me what kind of bird they might be from, but their vibrant blues and seagreens indicate that the bird is gorgeous. Other forms seemingly pop out of the feathers. I see a person swimming on the top part of the feather.

Raphael’s Hermae, a series of ceramic phalluses, draw on ancient Greek statues featuring the head of Hermes atop a limbless rectangular column decorated with an anatomically correct phallus. Raphael is fascinated by the magic imbued in these objects which were believed to have apotropaic powers of protection. He makes them for his own protection, the protection of others, and in memoriam for people who could have used protection.

Here are two sculptures of the human body. On the right is a relatively standard sculpture, without limbs; it is posed elegantly. On the left, however, is a more dilapidated figure. It has a few limbs that are long and sprawling. It sits on the ground, almost crawling towards the camera. Unlike the sculpture on the right, which is made of one solid material, this sculpture is splashed in many colors to give it its run-down appearance. Neither of the figures have a head.

Miguel Enrique Lastra is a queer, Puerto Rican ceramic sculptor and installation artist. Reflecting on the history and legacy of western depictions of bodies in visual culture, he uses ceramics, fiber, audio, and visual coding to expand the array, orientations, and augmentations of bodies depicted in space. Maedeh Tafvizi Zavareh got her BA degree from the Art University of Isfahan and is currently studying at RISD. She is interested in the life within and the activation of clay and its communication potential as a means of activist and Oriental expression. The exhibition includes Lullaby, video piece about the uprisings Iran, as well as a ceramic installation, Try to be normal. 

From the ceiling a thousand thin red threads spread over the ground. There are mirror tiles on the floor, and spread between them are tiny clay sculptures. They could possibly be people, or creatures of some kind.

Generous support for this project provided by Art Bridges and the Wheaton College Visiting Artist Program.

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