This Artist-Led Organization Is Supporting Ceramic Artists of Color

Adam Chau
Dec 28, 2022 3:00PM

Installation view of “Fragile: Earth” at Grounds For Sculpture, 2022. Photo by Bruce M. White. Courtesy of Grounds For Sculpture.

In the 1990s, a group of artists in the U.S. banded together in response to the lack of opportunity and visibility for ceramicists of color. Initiated by Bobby Scroggins, an artist and professor at the University of Kentucky, the group of predominantly Black artists wanted to take a proactive approach to making the field of ceramics more inclusive. Rather than wait for an invitation to someone else’s table, they created their own. So began The Color Network, with a mission to promote the careers of ceramic artists of color through sharing information and opportunities across the United States.

In the early 2000s, the organization evolved to form a traveling exhibition and a website called Cultural Visions, headed by Paul Andrew Wandless. In 2018, a new organization—originating from a panel discussion led by Natalia Arbelaez and April Felipe—took shape, its mission aligned with that laid out by Scroggins and his collaborators decades prior. Calling themselves The Color Network in tribute, the group started hosting roundtable discussions to listen to the needs of the community, address new issues, and share opportunities. Much of the concerns that artists were reacting to in the 1990s persisted, including a lack of diversity in higher education ceramics programs and the need to connect with artists of similar backgrounds.

Natalia Arbelaez
Lucy Lewis, ( Lady on Turkey) , 2020
Daniel Raphael
Anina Major
Beneath the Docks, 2022
Shoshana Wayne Gallery

The organization’s work now includes an international mentorship program that connects emerging artists with those already in the field; a database on The Color Network’s website that helps artists find one another; grants for professional development; and exhibition opportunities that don’t tokenize race. The Color Network’s non-hierarchical database is designed to allow anyone that self-identifies as a person of color to join the organization, so long as they can share a link to their portfolio.

Today, rather than operate a physical space, The Color Network partners with other organizations to develop opportunities for their community. Since 2018, organizations such as Mindy Solomon Gallery, the National Council for Education in the Ceramic Arts, and Watershed Center for Ceramic Art have all partnered with The Color Network to produce exhibitions, residencies, and other accessible resources.

Most recently, Grounds for Sculpture, the sculpture park and museum located in Hamilton, New Jersey, approached The Color Network to do something different. The park gave the artists carte blanche to design an exhibition and programming that was informed by and sensitive to the unmet social needs of non-white communities.

The culminating exhibition, entitled “Fragile: Earth,” which opened this past May and runs through January 8, 2023, had an unconventional curatorial foundation: the featured artists were invited to participate through The Color Network, guest curator Angelik Vizcarrondo-Laboy, and an open call. Vizcarrondo-Laboy, an independent curator who was formerly a curator at the MAD Museum, brought together the 16 artists to focus on the theme of fragility. Ultimately, the vast array of artistic practices came together to exemplify the wide range of what fragility can mean.

Anina Major, installation view of Ostracons of the Atlantic, 2021–2022, in “Fragile: Earth” at Grounds For Sculpture, 2022. Photo by Bruce M. White. Courtesy of the artist.

Anina Major, detail of Ostracons of the Atlantic, 2021–2022, in “Fragile: Earth” at Grounds For Sculpture, 2022. Photo by Bruce M. White. Courtesy of the artist.

Bahamian artist Anina Major presented Ostracons of the Atlantic (2021), an aggregate of ceramic shards framed on a low pedestal. The work “visually conveys fragility most directly in the exhibition through a collection of fragments of shells, conchs, and slip-cast figurines of racially charged souvenirs,” Vizcarrondo-Laboy explained. “However, its meaning is a richly layered poem to the Caribbean and the Black diaspora that calls for the piecing back together of their fragmented histories with care.” Major’s work is also on view in MASS MoCA’s current exhibition “Ceramics in the Expanded Field.”

Ashwini Bhat, installation view of Self Portrait, California Landscape, 2021, in “Fragile: Earth” at Grounds For Sculpture, 2022. Photo by Bruce M. White. Courtesy of the artist and Shoshana Wayne Gallery.

Ashwini Bhat
Fainting in Coils 1, 2021
Shoshana Wayne Gallery

Bay Area artist Ashwini Bhat’s sculpture Self Portrait, California Landscape (2021) is made up of a base sculpture of heads and a ceramic pendulum hovering above. The curator noted that Bhat’s work “marries self and place by reflecting on her connection to the California landscape, ideas of belonging, and the precarity of the environment around her home, which is prone to wildfires. Self Portrait, California Landscape celebrates the regeneration of fragile environments and underscores the importance of tending to nature and non-human species.”

Jennifer Ling Datchuk, installation view of Live to Die, 2019, in “Fragile: Earth” at Grounds For Sculpture, 2022. Photo by Bruce M. White. Courtesy of the artist.

Jennifer Ling Datchuk, detail of Live to Die, 2019, in “Fragile: Earth” at Grounds For Sculpture, 2022. Photo by Bruce M. White. Courtesy of the artist.

Jennifer Ling Datchuk’s Live to Die (2020), the curator explained, “points to the fraught nature of American ideals by questioning the belief that Chinese labor is worth less than American labor.” She added, “Ceramic figurines depicting Asian people are buried under the weight of doormats traditionally used in Chinese businesses to denote the invisibility of Asian labor.”

Jane Margarette, In a Daze All Atingle, 2022. Photo by Ian Byers-Gamber. Courtesy of the artist.

Jane Margarette, who recently concluded an exhibition at 1969 Gallery, empowers fragile creatures such as the butterfly in her work. “By increasing their scale and outfitting them with weapons,” Vizcarrondo-Laboy explained, the artist lures us in and “upends the dynamics of power.” Her work In A Daze All A Tingle (2022) is a prime example of this: “A butterfly interpreted as a lock dangles a juicy strawberry to temptingly seduce,” the curator described, “exerting power over the viewer.”

Anabel Juarez, installation view of Alcatraz, 2021, in “Fragile: Earth” at Grounds For Sculpture, 2022. Photo by Ken Ek. Courtesy of the artist.

Anabel Juarez, installation view of Flor Hybrida, 2021, in “Fragile: Earth” at Grounds For Sculpture, 2022. Photo by Ken Ek. Courtesy of the artist.

The two sculptures by Anabel Juarez in the exhibition come from her ongoing “Flora” series, which embodies the duality between vulnerability and strength. Juarez uses scale and material to depict inherently sensitive natural subjects. These monumental sculptures also highlight the resiliency of nature despite humanity’s damaging interventions.

Concurrent to “Fragile: Earth,” Grounds for Sculpture is also exhibiting Roberto Lugo’s solo show “The Village Potter.” The latter exhibition features a monumental vessel, in addition to several of the signature pots the artist is known for, mixing traditional ceramic forms and techniques with people and motifs from hip-hop and Afro-Latino history and culture. Lugo has previously collaborated with The Color Network, including contributing to the exhibition “Voices for Change,” a traveling show that was featured at Mindy Solomon Gallery and the University of Arkansas in 2019.

Malcolm Mobutu Smith
No More Words, 2021
Wexler Gallery

A section of Lugo’s exhibition is dedicated to mentors and mentees whom he has interacted with throughout his career, including Malcolm Mobutu Smith, Christina Erives, and Michael Dika.

“I believe behind every artist is a community where that artist develops their knowledge and sense of place,” Lugo explained. “In this exhibition, I wanted to share a space with those who have influenced my life and work.”

He added, “It takes a village to raise a potter.”

Adam Chau
Adam Chau was previously a co-organizer of The Color Network.

Correction: This article has been modified to more accurately describe the following: The Color Network’s original organizers and founding mission; the relationship between the organization currently using the name The Color Network and the group that formed under that name in the 1990s; and the nature of the relationship between The Color Network and Roberto Lugo.