Inventing the Rest: New Adventures in Clay, Anina Major, Andres Monzon-Aguirre & Adenbunmi Gbadebo
- Friday dispatch
- Read Time: 5 minutes
Maximillian William, Mortimer St, London
29 June – 14 September 2023
Maximillian William’s third show in a series focusing on artists working with clay has been extended, so there is still time to catch it, if you can bear the heat of the Indian summer in London.
The walls of the gallery have been painted a soft pinky brown, and the London-based furniture maker Theodore Vass has been commissioned to create elegant, dark wood and white metal plinths that flatter the eight pieces on display. The effect is to emphasise the surface textures and substance of work that is deeply involved with the origins of its materials.
Previous iterations of this series have been curated exhibitions including some of the great names of contemporary ceramics: Embodying Anew in 2021 showcased the work of Simone Leigh, Magdalene Odundo and Thaddeus Mosley. In 2022, A Passion for Form brought together pieces by Magdalene Odundo, Jennifer Lee, Hans Coper, and Peter Collingwood - all on loan from a single private collection. Inventing the Rest is the first selling show and brings together three US-based artists, none of whom had previously shown in the UK. The through-line here is perhaps Simone Leigh, who represented the US at last year’s Venice Biennale and won the Golden Lion. Andres Monzon-Aguirre was her studio manager for a time, Anina Major studied under Leigh at the Rhode Island School, Adenbunmi Ghadebo was part of the exhibition Hear Me Now at the Met, New York earlier this summer, and made work that was consciously in dialogue with Leigh’s.
Andres Monzon-Aguirre, who is based between Medellin and New York, has two earthenware sculptures in this show featuring creatures from his native Columbia. The jaguar is presented in three-headed, hieratic form, its concisely-expressed body plumed, in reference to the mythical plumed serpent. The second creature is the nocturnal nightjar – three of them emerging plumply from the top of another feathered vessel. Both creatures are familiar in the ancient sculpture and architecture of Columbia, though often only found as fragments. The exhibition’s title, Inventing the Rest, references the archeologist’s act of re-imagining the whole from these fragments, and is an apt metaphor for all three artists’ engagement with their own histories. Monzon-Aguirre’s third piece, glazed like the other two in deeply glossy dark brown, is a neatly piled pyramid of coca pods. It is a piece that very succinctly brings together the past and the present realities of Columbia: the Spanish title, Bodegón (Coca), 2023, translates as still life and references the 17th century painting tradition of the Spanish conquistadores. The piled-up, market-stall composition speaks to the drugs trade that is so much a part of the political and economic situation in the country.
Anina Major was born and raised in the Bahamas. In her work she is concerned with the debasement of important cultural practices within the ever more dominant tourism industry there, and the threatened loss of traditional craft skills. Growing up, Major learned basket-weaving techniques from her grandmother, Saphora Alvina Timothy Newbold. Her grandmother sold the baskets in the marketplace and made a highly successful business. By translating the weaving technique into glazed stoneware, Major draws attention to the material ephemerality of basketwork and to the fragility of craft traditions in the face of the commercial juggernaut of mass tourism. Her works here are complex, composite objects that use a variety of beautiful, contrasting glazes. They seem to speak of the interconnectedness of different cultural forces; the organic interaction of people with place, the coming together of skills with a geology and climate that produce particular raw materials. The base of one of her pieces is encrusted with Bahamian sand.
Adenmunbi Ghadebo traces her ancestry back to the True Blue plantation in Fort Motte, South Carolina. The plantation produced rice and indigo for fabric dyeing – hence its name – and it was here that Ghadebo’s direct ancestors were enslaved. The graves of those whose labour was stolen in this way are still there, as are their descendants. Travelling back to the plantation, the artist discovered that it is one of her cousins, Jackie Whitmore, who now takes care of these burial grounds. In past work, Ghadebo has incorporated her own hair in her work, as an indelible manifestation of her authorship. With these new pieces presented in London, she used earth dug from the True Blue plantation, the site of so much suffering. Both pieces memorialise individuals whose headstones the artist looked at as she researched her family’s history at the plantation: with In Memory of June Miller, 1871-1928, Gone but Not Forgotten, HFS, 2023, the red earth of Fort Motte creeps up the side of the black vessel, formed using traditional, West African coil techniques, as if describing the way the artist’s heritage saturates her identity. Around the rim slender bones are embedded so that the object takes on a reliquary quality. In the second piece, In Memory of Carrie Dash, 1903–1930, Here I lay my Burden Down, B.A.S, 2023, the soot-black interior of the vessel bristles with embedded grains of the Carolina gold rice that was one of the key crops of the plantation. A century or more later, this inheritance of pain and injustice is internalised but not obscured. Interestingly, while the first pot is listed as gas fired, e.g., in a kiln, the second was ‘pit fired,’ using the much older method that produces the distinctive variation in colour caused by less even heat during firing.
All three artists here use the medium of clay to produce powerfully compelling, objects that eloquently express their relationship to place. In each case they represent an investigation of their specific histories’ inheritance that may be troubling or painful but, importantly, they authoritatively stake a place in the world for these narratives. I very much hope we get to see more of their work here in the UK in future.
47 Mortimer Street, London, W1W 8HJ
Opening Times: Monday to Friday 10.00 – 17.00
Exhibition open until 14 September 2023