Barbados’ clay sector is on the verge of collapse, visual artist and ceramicist Julianna Inniss has warned.
However, she said the establishment of a clay reserve and a processing plant would allow the sector to survive.
Addressing attendees at this year’s Central Bank of Barbados Visual Arts Exhibition at the Queen’s Park Gallery on Wednesday, Inniss said although she was thankful for the support artists generally received last year when several projects were conducted around the island, clay crafting had become stagnant after years of no support.
Inniss was part of the team of artists who worked on several art and cultural installations at Golden Square Freedom Park in 2021.
“I don’t exist in a vacuum; there is a clay sector, a small collection of some two dozen persons, mostly micro-entrepreneurs, mostly women who use clay, and today, as I speak to you, the clay sector faces a serious challenge. We currently have no prepared clay on the island. Ours is a problem of access – there is plenty of clay in the ground but the primary location from where our clay was once harvested is now taken up by housing,” she said.
“We need a clay reserve – a dedicated tract of land that our raw material can be harvested from without obstruction.”
Inniss said that request had been made by Denis Bell of Red Clay Pottery more than 30 years ago.
“Mr Bell, now 90 years old, has also closed his Red Clay Pottery operation, the sole plant that produced prepared clay for all of our island’s schools and most of our studio potters,” she lamented.
Inniss said in addition to having a clay reserve and processing plant further investment should be made into the untapped ceramic market.
“If I said to you that we are literally sitting on an untapped, underutilised, affordable resource to which tremendous value can be added; that its applications are diverse – it can be decorative, functional, architectural, industrial and artistic, offers a platform or gateway to entrepreneurship; already has a baked-in heritage, geographical uniqueness, a universal appeal; and can earn foreign exchange, it is a natural, green and organic material at your disposal, sounds like we are checking a lot of boxes.
“Well, that material, my friends, is clay! Then what are we doing? Why are we not making full use of this resource? Is it because this material and work are considered menial, dirty, too labour intensive? Not trendy enough, and you work with your hands? But I will argue that I have never seen anyone who worked with their hands who did not engage their brain,” Inniss argued.
She also added her voice to the call made by other creatives over the years for a national gallery to be established, citing the need to preserve the rich artistic work Barbadians have produced over the decades.
“A national gallery is more than just a pretty building to hang works of art. It is a repository of your culture, heritage, and intellectual property. It will serve as a centre of our visual art, education, and culture. It is our mirror image, a reflection of ourselves, how we see ourselves as a people, and gives others an insight into who we are, what we think about, desire and value.
“It is an environment/space where we can reflect on questions of our identity, beliefs, and the relationship between the historical and contemporary. What better gift then, to a nation, than a national gallery as we transition from a constitutional monarchy to a republic?” Inniss contended. (SB)