Melissa Barker is an established ceramics artist, a qualified French chef and Archaeologist, based in Cape Town, South Africa. She has a Master’s of Arts degree in Archaeology focusing on ancient food and ceramics from the University of South Africa. Her research focused on the Yale Babylonian cooking recipes which were written in 1700 BC as well as the pottery that was used during this period.
Melissa’s extensive knowledge of Mesopotamian material culture, and the experience of working with ancient ceramics, has greatly influenced her vessels. They are both expressive and extremely refined forms, and indirectly pay homage to the sophistication of this ancient civilization. Melissa presented part of her experimental archaeology in this years ASOR (American Society of Oriental Studies) Online conference 2022. She was also the guest speaker at the 2022 Hermanus Fine Arts exhibition.
As Olivia Barrel so eloquently puts:
“Barker pays homage to a collective material past and draws it into dialogue with an unknowable future. In hand-marbled porcelain, recreated ancient cooking pots and nest-like vessels, we are reminded that our personal, particular time-lines are bound up and convergent in the ancient shared one. Her practice frequently draws two or more of these elements together- with specific emphasis on the archaeological as both method and metaphor for making new ceramic work (Clay Formes, 2023)”. Clay Formes, published in Aug 2023 features 30 of South Africa’s top contemporary clay artists of which Melissa is honored to be included.
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. She has developed a range of distinctive marbled porcelain vessels, as each piece is individually marbled by hand and therefore unique. In 2019. she was also awarded the Ceramics South Africa (Western Cape) - New Signatures Award.
In August to September 2020, Melissa did a six-week ceramic residency with Andile Dyalvane and Zizipo Poswa of IMISO Studios, whereby she re-created ancient ceramic cooking pots from around 1700BC and cooked some of the recipes from the Yale Babylonian collection in a project called Nuhatimmu - `to cook`. Bringing ancient cooking back to life.
In February to March 2020, Melissa participated in an international Ceramics residency ‘Rise’ in France, under the mentorship of Dr Wendy Gers, an award-winning curator and scholar and Lauren Kearns, a world-renowned ceramic artist and director of International Artist Residency Exchange. During this period, she created the body of work, entitled “I See You’. Some of these vessels formed part of the 2021 ‘Nature Morte-Still from life’, Rupert Museum in collaboration with Eclectica Contemporary.
In 2017, she was commissioned to re-create ancient ceramics for the National Geographic documentary, Origins.