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This exhibition includes several racist figurines. These are included by the artist Theaster Gates to draw attention to the pervasiveness of racist and colonialist representations in ceramics. They come from a range of sources, including the Victoria and Albert Museum and the artist’s own collection. Teachers may want to prepare students for encountering these objects by contextualising their presence in the exhibition.
29 September 2021 – 9 January 2022
★★★★★ – Evening Standard
★★★★★ – The Guardian
★★★★ – The Independent
★★★★ – Time Out
O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.
– Isaiah 64:8
In Christian scripture, the relationship between God and humanity is analogous to the potter working with clay. ‘As a potter’, according to Theaster Gates, ‘you learn how to shape the world’. Clay and religion are foundational to the artistic practice of the Chicago based artist who has received international acclaim for his community and cultural interventions in Black space, particularly on the South Side of Chicago. As a youth, Gates joined the New Cedar Grove Missionary Baptist Church choir and, subsequently, studied urban planning, theology and ceramics.
A Clay Sermon is an exposition of the significance of clay, its material and spiritual legacies. Bringing together research, ideas, process and production, this exhibition surveys works by Gates across two decades from his early hand-thrown pots to his large-scale Afro-Mingei sculptures. It explores craft, labour, performance and racial identity; the use of clay in building communities of knowledge, its role in colonialism and global trade and the ceremonial and ritual use of ceramics.
Alongside his own work, Gates has made a selection of historic ceramics from private and public collections, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, where he has been Emeritus Fellow at the V&A Research Institute. The exhibition also includes a new film by Gates, which takes the form of a sermon on clay, and his most recent body of work: large stoneware vessels installed on custom-made plinths of hand-milled wood and stone.