Vessel Yemaya & Eleggba 1988

Making Art for the Spirit

Vessel for Yemaya & Eleggba


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Pit-fired Clay & Mixed Media: burnished stoneware, colored slips, copper carbonate; 7 cowrie shells, red acrylic paint, feather
8 1/4″ high X 10 3/4″ diameter at top rim
© 1988-1989
Above, Interior View
Below, Detail Views of Exterior

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Vessel for Yemaya & Eleggba

Element of Art as Soul-Making


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“You must give birth to your images. They are the future waiting to be born. Fear not the strangeness you feel. The future must enter into you long before it happens. Just wait for the birth, for the hour of necessity.” (1, Rilke)
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“To the Dagara [people of Burkina Faso, West Africa] art is the form in which spirits choose to exist with us here in this world. When one of our elders carves a double-headed serpent or an amphibious mammal, he is not just creating an image out of his imagination, but cooperating with the spirits of those beings for the maintenance of the natural order. Through this carving, spirits from the underworld manifest themselves to heal us in the world above and to repair our world.“ (2, Malidoma Patrice Some’)
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“Art is not about the expression of talent or the making of pretty things. It is about the preservation and containment of soul.” (3, Thomas Moore)
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“We have already had to rethink so many of our concepts of motion, we will also gradually learn to realize that that which we call destiny goes forth from within people, not from without into them.” (4, Rilke)
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Visual expression and art making in the context of Making Art for the Spirit is a dialogue between self and spirit, soul and destiny. The spiritual journey is a creative process—its methodologies of ritual, initiation, and practice mirror the processes of art making and other forms of creative expression, in fact I think they are one and the same.
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This decorated clay vessel contains prophesy and premonition because it begins to visually narrate the journey of me learning to how to make art for the spirit even though it was created long before I realized the journey began. It was made to fulfill a “homework” assignment from Luisah Teish during a ritual she and Starhawk led at the San Francisco Women’s Building, December 1988: Make an offering to the Orishas Yemaya (Mother Goddess of the Ocean) and Eshu Eleggba (Guardian of the Crossroads, Gatekeeper, Trickster) (both invoked for the ritual) by the next Spring Equinox.
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I made the vessel by coiling snake-like lengths of clay, pinching them together, scraping, smoothing to form the clay body and surface—a slow, meditative process. Then I burnished the surface with a polished agate, painted and decorated it with stains and clay slips, and finished the piece by pit-firing.
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Pit firing is risky—pots often crack or break, but there is no other method that can produce even a similar final result. It is an exciting way to finish pots because the results are always surprising. Risky because there is no way of predicting how the pot will finally look, or whether it will survive the fire. Pit-firing presents a spiritual challenge: basically a surrendering of my pots to the deities of fire and wind. This requires continually cultivating faith in the ultimate “rightness” of this process, serenity, and a sense of humor.
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I researched the two orishas and thought about my experience in the ritual; I created a “visual narrative” on the interior and exterior surfaces of the pot. For additional offerings I placed seven cowries for Yemaya, and a red feather for Eshu Eleggba inside the vessel.
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Vessel for Yemaya & Eleggba is the first clay vessel I made that contains a spiral decoration on the inside of the pot (visually coming up and out from the center, and going down and in to the center simultaneously)—a universal symbol of the journey of initiation and return.
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Notes
1. Ranier Maria Rilke quoted by Tina Stromsted, “Reinhabiting the Female Body,” Women’s Spirituality Program Workshop, California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, January, 1994.
2. Malidoma Patrice Some’, Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman, New York: Arkana/Penguin, 1994, p. 61.
3. Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul, New York: HarperCollins, 1992, p. 303.
4. Ranier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, New York: W.W. Norton, 1962, p. 65.
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Making Art for the Spirit, The Intersections of Feminist, Sacred & Creative Practice
Part III—Elements of Making Art for the Spirit; Element of Art as Soul-Making
Gail Williams © 2001, 2016