Now Reading
Revere the creative power of the earth between your feet! Theaster Gates delivers conceptual sermons on the meaning and significance of clay in an expansive new survey 

Revere the creative power of the earth between your feet! Theaster Gates delivers conceptual sermons on the meaning and significance of clay in an expansive new survey 

The exhibition initiates the artist’s year-long, multi-location investigation into the material and spiritual significance of clay in craft, labour, community building, colonialism and global trade.

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 Chicago-born 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.

Photo Credit: Whitechapel gallery

Lydia Yee, Chief Curator, Whitechapel Gallery said: 

“The title A Clay Sermon presupposes two main things that are central to Theaster Gates’s practice; clay and religion. Training as a potter whilst being part of a Baptist Church and pursuing religious studies directed Gates to the theme of clay, its potential to be used as pottery and in the building trade, is in many ways a metaphor of the work that Theaster has done in rebuilding his local community. He has been involved in urban redevelopment with a very strong cultural dimension in the Southside of Chicago for the better part of a decade.”

Yee also touched on how Gates’ multi-venue project arose. “It happened in a spontaneous manner, Theaster had a project at Whitechapel Gallery in 2013 as part of an exhibition called The Spirit of Utopia, and I had the good fortune of sitting next to him at lunch in Venice. We had a conversation about his ideas which led to him making a pottery studio in the back of our gallery and training as a potter, working with young apprentices to learn how to make brick pieces and to throw pots. From that experience, he realised that he wanted something more, looking at a longer trajectory of how clay has been important in his work since the late 90s. We started talking about 6 years ago, and slowly over time the conversation evolved and developed.”

Photo Credit: Whitechapel gallery

As you enter the first exhibition room on the ground floor of Whitechapel Gallery, you will first notice early ceramics from China, Korea and Iran dating from 206 BC, alongside objects that speak to the significance of ceramics in global trade and colonial expansion. Those who have shaped his approach to clay, for example, include David Drake (1801-1870s), an enslaved African American who worked on a pottery plantation in South Carolina, or Michael Cardew (1901-1983) who established the Abuja Pottery School, Nigeria, in 1950. 

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.

29 September 2021 – 9 January 2022

See Also

By Phoebe Fraser

For more information: https://www.whitechapelgallery.org/exhibitions/theaster-gates-a-clay-sermon/ 

Scroll To Top