• Chantel Matthews

Women and ceramics

Updated: Jun 15

" Clay has always allowed me to reflect on, what again, I keep coming back to that notion and concept of what it is to be human." - Magdalene Odundo

Installation view of Magdalene Odundo: The Journey of Things, at the Hepworth Wakefield (courtesy the artist; photograph Lewis Ronald). http://contemporary.burlington.org.uk/reviews/reviews/magdalene-odundo



Women and ceramics, gendered vessels, Moira Vincentelli


Mythological associations between women, earth and clay are to be found in many contemporary societies. In the Pueblo Indian tradition the notion of Mother Earth as female deity who has to be respected by potters is very strong and the metaphor of pots as children is common. The firing is the moment of birth and the pots are born from the earth to which they will eventually return (see also Levi-Strauss 1988: 32; Vincentelli 1991). At Zuni Pueblo they believe that:

One of mother earth's substances, clay, is also thoughet of as the fresh of a woman and is personified as a being known as a Clay old woman, Clay Lady, or Grandmother Clay. Clay is female because that which nourishes life is 'symbolised by the Zunis as mother' At Zuni, because clay is the flesh of a female supernatural, 'clay processes, brick making or laying on plastering, and pottery are a women's work.'pg 19-20