Ceramics & Glass (MA)
Based in London, Gayi Soori embarked on a new direction in the arts following a ten year career as a dentist. She completed her Foundation Diploma at City Lit followed by a BA in Ceramic Design at Central Saint Martins, graduating with first class honours in 2020. Gayi works mainly in ceramics but her practice also encompasses print, photography and moving image. She recently had work selected for Future Edit, a Craft Council showcase featuring up-and-coming craft and design graduates.
One single delicate, unfired porcelain rose, each outer petal bares the face of an unknown woman.
It has been stifling at times to be so fixed in one location. My living room used to be for relaxation, but now it functions as my studio, my library, my office, my workshop, my cinema, my print room, my yoga space and occasionally my nightclub. It was a challenge to adapt my practice to work within the restrictions of having neither access to a studio space or a kiln. However, sometimes limitations can offer opportunity, because they force you to reframe a problem and reconfigure your approach.
The time away from the studio afforded me the chance to dive headlong into research, digging deeper and drawing unusual connections that I may not have reached otherwise. It has been enriching to have lectures from artists within the RCA Ceramics and Glass department but also diverse practitioners and curators from around the world. My own investigations this term started with a simple mass-produced ceramic bottle that was made to store wine. Yet it led me to explore subjects as diverse as witchcraft, misogyny, rituals, a famous death mask, the history of medicine, Greek myths and women as muses.
It is important in my practice to touch upon subjects that are meaningful to me. When the earliest COVID-19 restrictions were announced in the UK, one of the first things that occurred to me was to wonder what lockdown would mean for those who were in abusive and oppressive households? The work I produced over my first term draws upon the subject of femicide, fatal male violence against women and girls.
Self portrait as militant, dry point print
Bartmann Bottle, 1660 - 1665. — © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Located in The V&A British Galleries, Room 56, Djanogly Gallery, case 13
Bearded man — Gum Arabic transfer prints that highlights the variety of bearded man masks from a selection of Bartmann bottles.
The object I selected to investigate for Questioning the Collection was a 'Bartmann' bottle, a 17th century salt-glazed stoneware vessel produced in Frechen, Germany. Bartmann bottles are named for the bearded man masks on the neck. They were functional tavern ware mainly used for storing and decanting wine.
I was fascinated that Bartmann bottles had a secondary function and were sometimes repurposed as witch bottles. These ritual objects were intended to act as a counter-spell or protection against witchcraft. I was curious to explore the social beliefs surrounding their use, including superstitions and misogyny but also how an everyday item may become a ritual object.
Size:height: 22cm x diameter: 14cm
I worked with the imagery of a single rose in part for the common association with love and romance. The tragic fact is that for women who are murdered today, the perpetrator is most often a man who was supposed to love her, a partner, former partner or family member.
The title of the work, Chloris, refers to the Greek goddess of Spring and flowers. The classical myth of the origins of the first rose tells of Chloris discovering the lifeless body of her most beloved woodland nymph. Overcome by grief Chloris calls upon the other gods to transform the dead nymph into the most beautiful of flowers, a rose.
Medium:Unfired porcelain paperclay
Size:length: 22cm width: 8cm height: 5cm
O, spirits of the garden protect me
I'll rest here awhile
I tested the technique that was used to produce the bearded man masks, typical of Bartmann bottles. They would have been made using sprig moulds, where soft clay is pressed into and released from the mould to create a 'sprig' which could then be attached to the bottle.
I made my own moulds and played with making miniature clay masks that I placed in my garden as little ceremonial objects.
Medium:Raw clay masks
Size:height: 5cm x width: 4cm x depth 1cm
L'Inconnue — Gum Arabic transfer and cyanotype prints of the unknown woman of the Seine
L'Inconnue masks — Unfired porcelain paperclay masks
If I'm not in Friday, I might be dead — Installation of unfired black clay vessel with porcelain masks originating from fissure in clay wall. Digital projection of names from UK Femicide Census onto clay surface
I examined various depictions of faces and masks from around the world ranging from Sri Lankan Sanni masks to the Benin bronzes. My research led me to L’Inconnue de la Seine, a name that refers to the putative death mask of a young woman from 19th century France. The oft-repeated story tells of a girl whose drowned body was pulled from the river Seine. She was thought to be so captivating in her beauty that the Paris morgue attendant requested a cast of her face be taken. The resulting plaster mask was widely reproduced and popularised amongst artists and writers, many of whom adopted her as a muse.
This point in my research coincided with the November 2020 publication of a Femicide Census, documenting ten years of lethal violence against women in the UK. I drew a connection between the deaths of the women in that document and the idea of an unknown woman, a Jane Doe and the myth of L'Inconnue de la Seine. She may have been a muse and inspiration to others, but she didn't get to finish writing, telling or living her own story because that life was cut tragically short.
I carved in plaster a scaled down model of the L'Inconnue de la Seine from a photograph, so that I could make a sprig mould. I experimented with both scale and repetition by making a large bottle form with multiples of the miniature L'Inconnue masks. The imagery of the masks cascading from the cracked vessel alludes to the work of activists exposing the uncomfortable reality of violence against women.