Inma Barrero インマ・バレッロ
The Spanish-born, New York-based artist, Inma Barrero creates sculptures and three-dimensional installations using ceramics and metal. Barrero’s artistic path has taken her away from traditional expectations, to embrace imperfection and welcome accidents. The fragments in her work speak of fractures, natural as well as cultural. The works refer to the broken aspects of our lives, social, personal, spiritual. Barrero does not see breaking as the end of the process, to the contrary, she sees in it a possible way forward, a transformative process.
In 2019, Inma Barrero lived in Kyoto and learned kintsugi, a traditional Japanese technique for repairing pottery. While the kintsugi technique uses gold, in her native Spain, broken pottery is repaired using metal clamps. The metal in both traditions is used to create new connections.
For Breaking Walls, Barrero, joined by many pottery and ceramics artists and students, gathered a multitude of broken porcelain pieces from the ceramic workshops of Kyoto. These discarded fragments of diverse origins were inserted into a metal mesh frame, creating a polychromic wall. The creative process echoes the Spanish and Kintsugi repair techniques: together, metal and broken porcelain form something anew. Breaking Walls rises from the ground and opens at its center to welcome people within. Rather than a divider, Barrero sees this piece as a space to bring people together.
A video installation accompanies Breaking Walls. The film features the destruction of one of Inma Barrero’s delicate and feminine dress-like sculptures. Like the artists who had poured their dedicated self in the pieces they eventually discarded, Barrero too let go of this beloved work. The film chronicles the violence of the act, the coming down of the feminine form, the crumbling of the dress in order to create something new. The artist conceived this piece about feminine transformation, where the movie becomes the art piece. The act of breaking the delicate sculpture becomes the art. A negation of the ultimate destruction, where fragility and strength come full circle.
Made from broken pieces, Barrero’s work shines a new light on the significance of diversity and coexistence, and the importance of traditions, culture and community.
Inma Barrero インマ・バレッロ
Special Interview｜Inma Barrero
Febuary 21, 2023. Via zoom
(Interview and text by Nana Tazuke)
New creation by breaking given forms
── How did your artistic career begin?
I was born in the south of Spain. My family thought living as an artist was too risky so they tried to persuade me to do something else. I had a career in design and graphic design, but at some point I realised that I was happiest making art. My love of ceramics started 20 years ago. I felt that it was everything for me, and I knew at that moment that ceramics was my great love. I feel free to do anything in clay. But of course my career in design has influenced me and my art.
── Ceramics are famous in the south of Spain, right?
Oh yes! Everywhere in my region you find painted, tin-glazed ceramic tiles called Azulejos, and fragments of them. And you find much older ceramics going all the way back to Roman and older times. I’ve always been fascinated by these objects. I enjoy imagining the story behind the broken pieces of tiles, pots or bowls that could tell different stories of people in a certain way. Ceramics connect me with unknown people and their stories. I also associate the fragility of ceramics with human beings, because we are here and will disappear one day. But ceramics can survive for generations and tell us our stories. So, I think that broken ceramics have a magical power.
── How do you work with ceramics in your artworks?
I have been making ceramics and breaking them on purpose, putting them back together, firing them in the kiln, and breaking them again and again. I’m interested in the process and the creation from pieces once broken, because each time different meanings or forms emerge and they are freed from their original forms. And I often work with ceramics made with metal cramps. In Spain, a metal cramp is traditionally used to repair broken ceramics. When a piece of ceramic is broken, we stitch it together with metal. So, I use metal and fragile ceramics that I have made in to something new, inspired by the traditional relationship between the two materials. There are many relationships between these different elements which create something independent.
── In Japan, they have Kintsugi to repair broken ceramics. You have also learnt it.
Yes. I was in Kyoto for a year in 2019, where I collaborated with several ceramicists and learned different Japanese ceramic techniques including Kintsugi. I am fascinated by the Japanese culture, and how respectfully you treat broken ceramics and how Kintsugi transforms them.
── Do you also make bowls or dishes that have their own functions?
I am more interested in the opportunities of creating sculptures and installations, than in functional objects. When I see a mountain of broken ceramics, they inspire me to make my works. I see a way to bring the pieces together, which is a metaphor of creating a community and celebrating it.
What does it mean to lose artisans and history of their communities?
── Please tell us about your artwork at KYOTOGRAPHIE.
The artwork I am showing is called Breaking Walls. I have been living in New York for 30 years and when we talk about borders, which is the main theme of this year’s KYOTOGRAPHIE, we often think in America of the border with Mexico. Building a wall on the border between two countries separates people. But I hope that with Breaking Walls I can bring a community together. We can build a community inside walls, can’t we? So, it is not about keeping people separated, instead it is about welcoming people and celebrating together in a physical space.
The wall is made within a metal frame, which is filled with broken pieces of ceramics, making a whole solid wall from pieces. I plan to create this wall with students and supporters who want to participate in the project. Visitors will walk along the wall and enjoy the light trickling through its mass of broken pieces. You will find different pieces from many ceramic artisans in Kyoto, and I hope that visitors will think about them and their history, celebrating their craftsmanship. When I stayed in Kyoto in 2019, I used to bicycle to my studio in the Imakumano area. I loved peeking into all the different studios that were still there. It was absolutely magical to know who was working in these studios and to be able to buy ceramics directly from the studios. This experience has mostly been lost elsewhere in the world.
── The artisans in Kyoto are also struggling to keep their studio open.
Yes, I know. It is so important to keep these traditions, to help these artisans and celebrate their work. They work with their own hands. I hope that my work in Kyoto can draw attention to their importance and their history, to help keep these communities alive.
── How is the situation in Spain?
Unfortunately, many traditional studios have closed in Spain also. It is more practical to buy something made industrially, which are all the same and less expensive, and don’t break as easily. The tendency in Spain and elsewhere is quite sad indeed, but that’s the world we live in. I think it is important, that we can at least create awareness and preserve some of our craftsmanship and traditions.
── You have lived in New York for 30 years. What is the reception of arts and crafts in the US?
There is an interesting development after COVID-19. Many ceramic studios are opening in New York City right now. I believe people need to come together and make physical things with their hands after being isolated and virtual for these years. There are so many interested in creating something with their hands. This could be an opportunity to build a new community to reinvigorate these traditions. That is a very good thing.
── How can they learn to make ceramics? Are there many teachers?
There are not many teachers, and making ceramics is actually very technical. There are many things you need to master in order to make something of quality. Of course anyone can make a bowl, but if you want to make a beautiful bowl, there are so many things in the language of bowls. Glazes and the interaction between clay and glaze has endless possibilities. How will the bowl take shape in your hands? What temperatures do you need to fire it? What is the purpose of the bowl? It is a long path to master even the simple bowl. So, people make their first bowl, and then three, four or ten, and perhaps give up because it’s a lot of knowledge and much work to make something with some quality.
Of course, there are people who continue to make ceramics. In some cases because it can be therapeutic, even if you don’t pursue a career as an artist, just putting your hands in the clay, it connects you with the ground. It makes you feel more connected to Mother Earth.
One of the things I do is to have children in my studio. I teach them because I think it is important for them to see that clay is a medium of expression. For me, clay is an extension of who I am. I am happiest when I’m in my studio. The happiest moments are when I have nothing but a piece of clay in my hands.
── Do you think there is a border between artisans and artists?
I think there is a difference between artisans and artists. Let’s take ceramics as an example: artisans have a clear goal, which is to create similar bowls or dishes within a tradition, including techniques und materials. Artists, on the other hand, try to create new languages with clay in ceramics. But within these differences, I don’t want to categorise who belongs where. Because there is overlap. For me it is not about art and design but about possessing enough knowledge about the techniques to create a new expression. I want to push the boundaries of what has been done in ceramics. I want to make people think in a different way about something they have some familiarity with.
Open up conversations with art
── How do you deal with social issues in art?
There is an element of human connection and understanding in my work – I use techniques from Spain that came originally from China, and apply these in my studio in America. I transform the traditional colours and techniques in a new way. The whole body of knowledge from around the world has travelled across continents and generations. Now, it is my turn to create a new language with traditions. I use broken ceramics to create a new world, but with an understanding and respect for generations of ceramicists.
My identity as a woman also plays a role. I am happy to be a woman but am hurt by the way women are treated. As women, I feel that we are given limits on how we should behave. I hope that art has the ability and the right to make us ask questions. Art is not just a beautiful object or a pursuit of beauty, it is asking questions about who we are and how we behave.
── You will also show a video. What about it?
I made a video in my family home in Sevilla, Spain, showing a very fragile sculpture/dress made from porcelain and metal wire. I sewed the porcelain pieces with metal wire in to a dress and my friend Blanca Li, a celebrated dancer and choreographer, danced with it, breaking the ceramic pieces on purpose. In the video you can experience the intention of breaking. I lived it as a woman breaking with domesticity, notions of femininity and expectations placed on her. What does beauty mean to women? We are not afraid to break in order to create something new. The performance is about liberation and rebellion. I made this video where I break on purpose to create a work of art, which is the video itself. And to create something new, something must be broken
── You have pointed out some key concepts like gender and different cultures in a society. What do you think about today’s society?
We are experiencing much extremism today. There is less balance in our conversations and interactions. I feel that people find it harder and harder to accept others. It is only possible to have conversations when people at least listen to each other. There are things that are unacceptable, like abuse of women. But I think sometimes these conversations have become too loud and aggressive in every way. We must create a new dialogue and a new way of communicating. I hope that we can do this in a constructive way, with honesty and dignity. Sometimes you can’t be peaceful when something is unjust, and you must break it first to build it up again, and I hope that is the point where we find ourselves today. When everything is broken and shouted, we can come together again to create new better world. I hope that we can move now to a better situation. I hope that women everywhere are respected and treated equally. I am optimistic.
── Yes, we absolutely have to work together. So, finally, please give us a message to the visitors of KYOTOGRAPHIE?
You are lucky to be in Kyoto during KYOTOGRAPHIE! In Kyoto you have access to magical places with wonderful works of art. I can’t wait to be there. I’m so thrilled to be back in Kyoto during the festival. It is a magical place and magical time of year. I love it.
Born in Extremadura, Spain. For over two decades, Inma Barrero has created large-scale ceramic pieces with modeled clay, porcelain, twisted metal, glass, and wood. Growing up, Barrero often unearthed remnants of Neolithic, Roman, and Moresque pottery on country walks. Inspired by this rich history, she considers these finds mystical relics of the past and standalone objects of beauty. The fragments in Barrero’s work reference the fragility and resilience of cultures and communities, and they serve as conversation pieces for what we share, what is invisible or missing. Often infused with a surrealist spirit, her forms also explore the feminine and the natural world. Barrero has studied ceramics across Europe, the U.S, and Japan, where she lived and learned the art of repairing broken pottery using Kintsugi. She has exhibited mainly in New York and her work is held in private collections around the world. Barrero is currently preparing a spring solo show at The Instituto Cervantes in Manhattan, where she lives with her husband and children.
Former site of Itoyu Machiya
382 Funaboko-cho, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto
Subway Karasuma Line "Shijo" station, 5 min on foot from Exit 3 / Hankyu "Karasuma" station. 5 min on foot from Exit 26
ARTIST TOUR Inma Barrero “Breaking Walls”
Former site of Itoyu Machiya
Panel Discussion “Tradition and Possibilities”
PANEL DISCUSSION “Scenography on KYOTOGRAPHIE”
Kurochiku Tenshokan 2F
Performance “Collective BORDER – Break BORDER”
Former site of Itoyu Machiya