When I came across a drawer filled with seals from my grandmother’s archaeological collection, I thought to myself that I would love to print these in clay. People wonder what these seals were used for, some think they were used to stamp images on the body like a temporary tattoo or to print ink on fabric. First, I wanted to print them in clay in order to see the images better and secondly I thought it would be fun and interesting to use the printed clay slabs to create new pieces of my own design. It would be a collaboration stretching across time between me and their original makers who lived in these equatorial lands several thousand years ago. And so the idea for this exhibit was born.
My grandmother, Costanza Di Capua, along with her husband Alberto Di Capua, emigrated from Italy in 1940. They were enthusiastic students of the arts in Ecuador, appreciating contemporary artwork as well as Colonial. It was not until the 1950s when someone gave them a couple of archaeological pieces from the Ecuadorian coastal region that their interests in the Pre-Colombian was piqued and they started a collection of their own. My grandmother then spent the second half of her long 95 years studying and writing about these. Seven years after her death, as I was packing up these same pieces, I entered into a conversation with them, their makers and my grandmother. Each piece that passed through my fingers connected me with her touch and her keen eye for detail and patterns. I also imagined the touch of the the artisans through whose hands these pieces had passed As a ceramic artist, I especially felt moved and inspired by the craftsmanship and artistry that I had the privilege to behold from such a close vantage.
As I embarked on this project, I became more intimate with the seals and the patterns and images they reveal when printed. What are these patterns saying? Are they an attempt to convey invisible natural phenomena like air currents or currents of water flowing in a river or do they refer to something else? My grandmother thought they might be a representation of shamanistic visions. She was sure that a lot of patterns painted or incised on Pre Colombian ceramics were the same patterns the shamans would see through their use of hallucinogenic plant medicines.
Something I learned from my grandmother about the archaeology found in Ecuador is that most of the pieces (at least those displayed in museums and in her collection) were for ritual use. In this work I wanted to evoke that same sense of ritual that gives meaning and inspiration to people’s lives. To do this I created a body of work that elevates an everyday object like a bowl or a vase to the realm of the sacred.
An important inspiration of this work has been the rainforest and the people who live there,. The pieces that layer many images and patterns speak directly to the special environment in which the seals themselves were created, namely the tropical mega diverse forests of these equatorial lands. For me, the images I create when I layer impressions from the stamps onto the clay are about the jungle and its infinite layers of beings overlapping and coexisting with other beings—It’s a complex symbiosis and a perfect chaos all at once.
I think, the makers of these seals understood this complexity and are conveying it through the artifacts they left behind. With this "remix" of precolombian designs integrated and reappropriated into contemporary ceramics I hope to bring the ancestral viewpoint of life and nature to the present day.