The moment the butterfly leaves the cocoon is called eclosion. The moment in-between being fully formed yet not completely unfolded.
The new work of mine focuses on the in-between, the transition between what was and what will be. That moment when you come out of the cocoon, the eclosion. Fully formed and beautiful yet still in the process of becoming.
In November 2021, she won the Premier Award 2021 for her marbled porcelain artwork entitled ’Eclosion’ in the Ceramics South Africa (Western Cape) Regional competition.
Judged by Zizipho Poswa.
When I was asked to participate in African Gold Exhibition, I was intrigued. African gold. What does this even mean for me? The concept of African Gold conjures up images of historical African artifacts, masks, rock art, bright colourful textiles, traditional pottery or wild African animals.
But what does it mean for me, Melissa Barker to be African?
Where do I fit into this narrative? African Gold is my journey, as a white South African Afrikaans woman. I am a Boer by heart, and I come from a long line of boers, and grew up on a remote farm in Zeerust, North West, South Africa.
This work is dedicated to my Grandmother, who raised me. She is my role model, a brave, strong and generous Boer woman.
I remember the early mornings on the farm, as an infant, waking at dawn, always finding my grandmother outside feeding the chickens. It was my task to collect the eggs so that we could feast on dubbeldoor eggs for breakfast. I loved and hated this job as the rooster would chase me from the chicken hutch, back to the farmhouse. Once, the rooster caught me and injured me. This prompted my gran to serve him up for Sunday lunch! When you live so close with the land, you see things a bit differently.
I learned many things from my gran. We would spend hours walking around on our farm, and she would show me where the best soil is to plant the corn, or where the cows love to graze. We would wash our hair with stream water because it made my hair feel like silk. She taught me how to knit, cook bobotie and tomato bredie, bake Christmas cookies and taught me how to fish. We spend hours at the Marico dam because the old folks loved to fish and where the children were never allowed to be noisy because you would chase away the fish. It was during these times, when we would walk for miles and miles on the river edge looking for the best clay to play with, initiating a life-long love of clay. My grandfather loved boere music, and even played the trek klavier, he was not really good, but he loved it. I had a simple happy childhood on the farm. My family never bothered anyone, our farm was beautiful. This is where the fairy tale ends.
My grandmother was murdered in 2000. I continue to morn. For a long time, I have been wanting to dedicate something to her memory. She was brave, and fought hard to stay alive, it was evident all over the farmhouse. She desperately tried to get away but was unsuccessful. My grandfather did everything in his power to save her. I will never ever forget how he looked like after he discovered he was the only survivor. For me, it was the day we lost everything and my family fell apart. I feel like I never stopped crying, I just got good at hiding the pain.
Do I hate or point fingers? No. Farmers of all races are being killed.
I wanted to create something that made people stop and think and take a moment to have compassion for all farmers. I wanted to make something that did not perpetuate hatred and chose to avoid violent imagery. I wanted to make something that spoke of our common connection to this wonderful country. It belongs to us all, there is no need for this senseless violence to carry on. We are all African, and we are all connected to the gold of this land, its soil. We come from it, and we will return to it.
To all the families of in this wonderful land, whose whole life was destroyed by these senseless killings, I am sorry for what you went through, it is horrible, I mourn with you. Not only do I dedicate this work to my Gran, Marie van Vuuren, I also dedicate this to all the farmers that lost their lives, for just that, being a farmer.
The vessels are made from wild foraged farm clay, which I harvested, coiled and coloured with natural ochres and then pit fired. They are fragile and the large one is cracked. The ensemble, for me, represent the current fragility of farmers.
The driving force behind this work is rooted in my graduate studies in Mesopotamian archaeology, which focuses on the Yale Babylonian culinary tablet, formally known as YOS 11 25 and Bronze age cooking pots. My extensive knowledge of Mesopotamian material culture, as well as my experience of working with ancient ceramics, greatly influences my vessels.
My research is based on a constant search for the best way to interpret and re-create the ideas I have about ancient cooking and the pots and cooking systems ancient people used to cook in and on. In order to do this, I cannot limit myself to one medium, style or concept. Each piece I create is simultaneously an extension to the ancient past, as well at the same time, it is also a preview of where we are going in the future, a full circle in a way. In order to facilitate this connection to the Ancient past, I picked up special stone shaped tools during my last excavation at Hazor, Israel. These stone tools were used extensively in shaping the cooking pots, as I imagined this was done in the past.
I created the cooking pots and stove, during a six-week ceramic residency at IMISO studios, co-owned by Andile Dyalvanne and Zizipho Poswa. During this time, I not only made the cooking system, I also recreated and cooked one of the recipes found on the ancient cuneiform tablet, called Tuhu lamb stew.
I SEE YOU
This body of work was first conceptualized during my recent international art residency in France 2020 with Dr. Wendy Gers. It mainly focuses on ancient beehives and the Bee goddess. I have created this body of work to explore the mother goddess and the connection between women and the role of the queen bee. Some of these vessels formed part of the 2021 ‘Nature Morte-Still from life’, Rupert Museum in collaboration with Eclectica Contemporary.
The relationship between humans and bees goes back to prehistoric days with the oldest reference to gathering honey dating from 10 000 BC, where honey was the first food offered to the gods. The Bee goddess brings together mythological symbols and sacred meaning from across the world. She is a creator a giver of life, the creative source, wisdom, beauty, power and grace. I believe that women are ‘queen bees’, essential to creating children, families, and friendships. Like the hives houses the Queen bee, so too does the female body house the creator spirit. Each unique to the Queen bee, no two the same.
These metaphoric beehives reflect the diversity of female figures. Each vessel is traversed by a void, that for me references a sacred umbilical cord that connects us all. This ongoing body of work consist of multiple elements. It includes porcelain vessels that may allude to ancient hives. These are in dialogue with delicate porcelain leaves of floral imprints that were collected during springtime in France and South Africa. The vessels are a mixture between unglazed and glazed porcelain, formed by pinched layers of coils that simultaneously evoke strata and traps the human imprint that renders the gesture of labor indelible. The ceramics are a marker of civilization that is often associated with cultural prowess and progress.
In 2019. she was also awarded the Ceramics South Africa (Western Cape) - New Signatures Award. Judged by Kate Malone.
The vessel is marbled terracotta and porcelain clay.