29 January 2019

Why I have been hiding behind the pretty pots (my thoughts on diversity and inclusivity)

First up, my apology for such belated new year wishes to you all, my blog readers. (You know what January is like… ) Hope we can make 2019 a good one, with a kind reflection and ongoing hope that good will come if we try.

As a first post of the new year, I am going to talk about something different to my usual pottery stuff. The voice inside my head has been getting louder and louder. I have no writing skills, but I’ve tried my best to share my thoughts and what I’ve learnt from others so far. So here it is. I am grateful if you can stick with me. 

If you are active followers of Instagram, you might come across what I have recently expressed in my story, or you might have already seen a big discussion. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please go and see Instagram highlights from brave women, such as Rabya @sehflourished_ and Rida @beforeandagain_. It all started from a genuine voice to a clothing brand @sondeflor, asking for more diversity and why representation matters to women of colour. To be honest I didn’t see or follow much fashion accounts so I only became aware of this after reading the recent threads, but in fact there has been many more discussions on this topic elsewhere too, especially over slow fashion community.

If you are following me only just for pretty picture of my pottery, you may say, 
“You are a potter. You can just continue to show your pretty pots. It’s not your place to get involved.”
Admittedly this was one of my excuses that I have been hiding behind the pretty pictures. 
But it’s not really about pots and pretty pictures, is it? Never has been. 
Because I was afraid. 
Because I did not have the courage to speak and was scared of getting it wrong. 

But after all, there is life behind and beyond my pottery and that is all interwoven and connected. My thoughts, feelings and experience are the big part of who I am, Maki the maker of my pottery. So. I am trying to be as bold as I can, as I write this. 

It made me feel inhuman.
Let me start with sharing some of my experience being a Japanese living in UK for the past twenty years.

People getting my name wrong. Standard.

Strangers suddenly throw some random Japanese words at me, laughing then walking passed. Even with a genuine curiosity, they spot me as a stereo typed perception, never seeing me as an individual. I often find this patronising and sometimes insulting.

I go to a club or pub, people come to me and ask “how much are you?”

I walk on the street, kids throw a tin of coke at me from the school bus window, shouting “f**king Chinese!”

For minor things (even though they were annoying) I had let things go, but as the level increased, I began to shrink. I started to feel inhuman. These experiences did not just hurt me at that moment but scarred my heart for a long time, not that I can just forget and move on. It made me afraid of going outside of my house. At the same time as juggling with fear and anger, I felt really sad for them, thinking about what and who has influenced them to be like who they were, be it their parents, community or media with a poor representation.

A day after the result of Brexit referendum was announced, I went to town for a quick errand with my baby girl in a buggy. I saw a white man on the high street, shouting at another person (looked like an European immigrant to me) in a really vulgar, aggressive manner, saying things like “You are going back to your f**king home soon!” There I was, petrified, instantly flooded with flash back of my past experience, thinking would my girl and I get targeted? So I ran. In the meantime, so many other people were just walking passed. Even some people were mumbling “What an idiot!” “How embarrassing” but no one actually stopped the guy. I have no idea how it went afterward but there was no doubt that person got a scar on his heart.

Most of the direct insults / racism happened to me during my late twenties and early thirties when I first moved up North, where I understand predominantly white British people live. Before that, I was living in Brixton (London) where I truly loved the diverse culture and did not experience any direct insult. I am not sure if it was because of my age or how I looked at that time, (obviously I must have looked so naive), I hardly get any direct racism comment where I live now thankfully. However, there is still ongoing difficulty that I face on a daily basis, which is a silence. 

silence hurts
Of course physical and verbal insults are painful, but being ignored is much harder. To me personally, it really hurts more.

School gate issue, as I have read in Atia’s experience in her recent blog post (→ you can read it here), has really triggered me to think deeper. I have very similar experience to hers, when I pick my daughter from school. I only get approached by two mums (and grandparents) whose daughters are close friends of mine. They are really lovely, and I am sure all other mums are too. But no one else really speak to me. As if I do not exist. Like Atia told herself, because other mums were already knowing each other from the nursery, unlike me and my girl. 

Admittedly, my quiet, introvert character does not help. I may not appear to be an approachable person. I take time to get closer to people. I don’t just jump in and break the ice that quickly. Nevertheless, I did make a conscious effort to speak to people, which has made it a little bit easier to face the problem. But you know what? Making constant effort only from one side is quite an exhausting exercise to be honest.

If I look at it, this is not just the school gate. Some aspects of work environment, gatherings or courses I attended, college I studied, I always found myself the last person in the room to be approached by others. I’m the left-out.

My language barrier has always been another wall to climb before you even stand at the starting point, especially in a group setting. I often find myself already behind the conversation, as it has moved on by the time I am ready to speak. So I often shut up. Even feeling inside tells me that just because I often listen to others more than I speak, does not mean I have nothing to say. 

Then again, I usually blamed myself. I am making excuses. I am not making ‘enough’ effort as an ‘outsider’. I am not trying ‘hard’ enough. Although I made a handful of people who I can call really good friends, those who have time for me, most people won’t have such time, so I guess it’s my fault. 

But is it really? 

A question to you. If you are to speak to someone among many, would you choose a foreigner like me?
I guess not, because it’s unknown or even uncomfortable. So you’d probably ignore one like that. 
Not intentionally, but because it’s an easy choice. 

Ironical realisation
So why have I shared these experience? 
I am not trying to be against white people.
I am not trying to victimise myself or ask for sympathy. 
I am hoping to make it easier for you to see what you might not know and understand what it is really like. 

Because that was precisely how I have learnt from WOC for past few weeks. 
Also because I realised the fact that I certainly live in a safer, somewhat privileged place now, in which I am often blinding myself from what’s outside of this bubble. Despite some personal experience in the past and some discomfort at time. Ironically.

Here is my example.

Over years I have made some friends who happen to be mixed race or lesbian. I get to see or hear some of their struggles (and happiness of course). But maybe because where I live is predominantly white people, I don’t really have friends in real life who are people of colour. How do I know anything about them? Unless you consciously trying to understand, you can probably just continue to live without noticing them. I’ve only started to listen harder and read things they have been saying. And I cannot emphasise enough that it’s been mind blowing, eye opening and quite heart breaking. 

Another ironic example is about disability. I worked in social care industry for almost 17 years before I became a full time potter. Over years, I have seen and learnt so many obstacles in the society for people I worked with, especially young adults with learning difficulty and autism. So I felt quite confident in knowing what it is like. But I was wrong. Since my daughter was born with some form of disability (and this might be even a minor one comparing to some others), it really hit me. What it is like to be every-single-day. Only through the real experience it has sunk in. 

All those years of living in the UK, especially in the early days, I have been trying to break the wall of being (or feeling) an outsider. Because I am the one who chose to come and live in this country. I am the one who is in the minority. So I always believed that I am the one who needs to make an effort. So what did I do? I tried so hard to ‘fit in’. Even that was not an ideal course of action. (Sometimes it ended up with me being in the wrong crowd and feeling ashamed.) But I did it because it was survival.

And can you imagine those who have to survive whilst receiving consistent insults or difficulties on a daily basis? Trying to (or having to) justify their existence? It must be so so exhausting and draining. 

One of the things that totally widen my view from the past few weeks is to know that their brave voices were coming from a long way away. Most of women of colour who have spoken out may be a second or third generation in this country. Their parents and grandparents might have had to face so much pain and injustice in their life, but they have never given up on bringing their children to stand up, own their identity and not to be afraid of raising their voice. Not for the purpose to victimise themselves, but for a good hopeful future. I salute those first generation parents. 

Having my girl who is mixed race with some form of disability, it’s no longer just about my past experience. I am a first generation parent. It is now my responsibility that she will not go through the same pain. 

Hopeful seeds
Diversity and inclusivity matter and affect everyone who are perceived to be different from the majority of people in society, be it colour, origin, LGBT, size, age, disability, mental health, you name it. I think the majority of people prefer sitting in the usual, comfortable seat to an uncomfortable one. But sitting with uncomfortableness will open our eyes and ears, and I feel that can be the only way to cultivate hope. 

Rabya, et al, have used their voices as a tool to communicate with us, their allies have amplified as far as they can, so that we can hear them. So let’s hear them really hard. Those voices are hope to educate us and the next generation. And I am believing in the hope.

I am questioning myself. How can I educate myself and my daughter in a more realistic way to acknowledge the diversity and how to embrace individuality? I haven’t got a clear answer to that. Yet. This is my first conscious step into the unknown. We can start by talking about it at family time. Familiarise ourself each day. Question ourself why we think the way we think. My husband and I were discussing so much deeper about this for the past few weeks. I have lots to learn from the both mother's and maker's perspectives. Just because I am a maker of small pottery business, it doesn't mean that I have nothing to do. In fact I have loads to work on for that matter, as long as I am using this online space to showcase my work. If you are like me, running a small business, you can always question yourself more intentionally. I am only starting this now, but better than never. You can always find resources. Look where you didn’t usually access, look at it harder with a different mindset. Reach out to the unknown. These people are even taking their own time to share lists of books, podcasts and accounts that can help your awareness.

The past few weeks, reaching out to some of new faces has been a fascinating process for me. Refreshing even. Enriching my understanding. Bringing hopeful seeds to my heart. 

If you have read this far, thank you so so much. I am sure there are many more people yet to discover and learn from, but here I would particularly like to say a big thank you to: 

Atia for inspiration 
Huma for her beautifully uplifting words
Africa for her positive attitude and compassion
Vicki for her determination
and of course
Rabya and Rida for their courage

Note to myself:

Never too late to learn
We can always re learn
Sit with uncomfortableness
Look into what really matters
Until you find your own little voice

links to people who inspired me to write this post (with their kind permissions to share this):

21 December 2018

seasons greetings

Studio doors are shut. 
School finished. 
Time for family begins. 

Thank you so much for all your support this year and those who come and read my rather 'neglected' blog!

Wishing you a wonderful festive season and a bright 2019!

Maki xxx

5 September 2018

Visiting artists in Japan - volume 3: Shinpei Mawatari

Beautiful hibi-kohiki bowl by Shinpai Mawatari, with our harvested beens

Our final destination was Hokkaido, the North Island of Japan. 

It was in the middle of unusual typhoon approaching that made us worry about the flight, but fortunately it had eased off and we managed to visit Shinpei Mawatari and his family, in Yoichi, Hokkaido. 

I first came across with his work via Instagram feed of a well known pottery shop Utsuwa Chidori in Tokyo. Among many potters work they present, Shinpei’s original “hibi-kohiki” (“crackled” kohiki) ware stood out far from others to my eyes. Its simplicity, the warmth of its texture and tones, variety of shapes and sizes. 

To someone who loves food (both cooking and serving), it is undoubtably a pure joy to see his work. Certainly it was to me (whether I’m good at cooking or not is another matter!) and I have been thoroughly enjoying his Instagram images, which often combined with lovely food with all their homegrown vegetables.

Sinpei at his studio

The scale of their allotment is huge. The dynamic of it was rather unreal to me. An ideal life style, one might think, yet the hardship in Northern country like Hokkaido with meters of snows piled for a long winter that he shares in his feed has actually made me feel so intrigued to seek more about his potter’s life all together. 

I enjoyed seeing his fatherhood from his little girl appearing now and again, and also in his wife’s Instagram feed too. I began to communicate with them both ever since. 

Wouldn’t it be nice to visit them? I asked my husband. It’s Hokkaido. It’s a long way just to visit a day. But we felt strongly right about this. So we have send an email to him. 

His response was so so genuine, and even more so, they offered us to stay. We were worried if that is going to be too much, being too rude. After all, it was the first time we’d meet. But we really liked Shinpei’s response saying that “I would like to follow my instinct. I believe that good will come.” How lovely is that! We of course loved his answer so went ahead to follow our gut feeling too.

Shinpei and his wife kindly came to pick us up from Otaru station. On route to their home, we saw many mountains as well as coast lines. I was rather surprised to see so many mountains as I always imagined the flat fields in Hokkaido. With such beautiful sights passing by, we headed to his house, surrounded by a huge land he owns with his allotment and his studio within.

Shipei harvesting fresh vegetables form their huge allotment 

Shinpei grew up in Hokkaido. He is slightly younger than me, but he has fifteen years of career as a professional potter. He recalls the beginning of his potter’s life, some struggles and changes he made. Having mentioned about how scary for me to have gone full time, he tells me that he would have been the same if he took a long journey till late. He was young and naive, just went for it without knowing much, he says gently. 

What he creates today is truly beautiful with his established experience, and yet doesn’t have 'snobby' 'sharp' look or any sorts, but the gentleness to welcome people who hold his tableware. 

His unique kohiki style has yellow ochre like tones and crackled surface texture, which I love. Each piece are slightly different depending on firing, which makes more exciting for us to choose own favourite. 

He also creates white version of these, as well as some hakeme (brush decorated slip) and ash glazed pieces, which he uses the resources from a local orchard. At outside his studio, there are natural spring water running that fills numbers of buckets to filter the ashes. 

spring water supply used for washing ashes
Shinpei’s ash glazed ware

The evening we stayed was so heartwarming. His wife served us a wonderful feast on his tableware, with all the vegetables freshly harvested by Shinpei that day. Even my daughter who can be a quite fussy on eating, did enjoyed freshly picked tomatoes, which were so so sweet. 

Selections of beautiful tableware at their home

Personally I was also very fond of his wife’s style in the kitchen, from the selection of items to how she stores and displays them. She used to run a food related shop, so no wonder she has a good taste.

Sabrina enjoys freshly picked tomato

Another wonderful aspect of this visit was that Sabrina got to play with their daughter, who is happened to be the same age. She absolutely loved the company, enjoyed the every minutes of it, laughing and giggling, and at some point, they were totally hysterical! It was so lovely to see them two together and has certainly made our trip extra special.

Thank you so much Shinpei's family for your hospitality and such a wonderful memory. 

Shinpei’s Instagram can be viewed here.

31 August 2018

Visiting artists in Japan - volume 2: Tamotsu Suzuki

beautiful vessel made by Tamotsu Suzuki

Back in UK, slowly recovering from a jet lag as I write this blog post. Time does go so quickly when you are having a good time, indeed. I always feel that the holiday can become extra special when you meet “people”on the land, rather than just sightseeing or laying on a beach, as it can enrich your experience and create memory. It has certainly did for us and visiting a family of Tamotsu Suzuki was one of such lovely memories.

I have been admiring his work for nearly two years ever since I have started Instagram. His expression of clay work and the details of nature around him on his Instagram feed must have been aspired so many viewers, not to mention myself of course, and I have been wishing to visit his studio one day. That day, did come true fairly quickly in a best possible way. 

Instagram community in UK (or all English speaking basis, should I say) has been somewhat life changing experience. Connection you can make with like-minded people is not just comforting but encouraging in a real life. 

Luckily the same has happened to me by using my native Japanese language and the result was quite significant. When I asked about visiting his studio in Kobuchizawa in the middle of beautiful mountain side, he kindly offered us to stay over night with them.

To be honest, we hesitated at first. We felt it would be too much, especially with a little one too, thought we would be too imposing. Plus, he is an experienced potter, unlike myself. Wouldn’t it be rude in Japan? After all, we are strangers other than our occasional comments on Instagram.

Then again, I also felt that it would be a great opportunity to get to know each other better, see their life and culture, which would also benefit to my daughter and husband. After some discussion with my husband, we have decided to trust our gut feeling and my instinct about him from our conversation. 

It’s funny when you worry something like this, often the others feel the same. Tamotsu later said the same. But we quickly felt it was the right decision and found our comfort in his family home.

Tamotsu in his own studio

In fact, our daughter Sabrina has instantly made a bond with his daughter, who’s a little older than her. Quietly but comfortably played together, to the point that she did not even want to come to visit his studio with us as she wanted to carry on playing with her, which was very unusual to her! Actually it was so sweet to see these two girls in their own world, and with that bonus, we have managed to explore Tamotsu’s studio and get his insight for some time without any distraction! Ha!

He hand builds each piece and finishes with slip in Japanese “kohiki” style, which mostly leaves matt surface texture. Every details are taken cared of, such as rims, which I particularly adore. Glaze colours he uses are often mono tone and they give somehow rustic yet modern style on your table.

He also makes sculptural pieces inspired by plants. I could spot them here and there in his house and studio, totally naturally, as if they are gently breathing and inhabiting. 

The view from his studio was magnificent. Clean air, sound of spring water. Everything was meant to be there to inspire you and balance your life. 

a stunning view from his studio even on a cloudy day

Hospitality from his family was genuine and at the same time so natural. We had a short trip to a local onsen (public bath with a hot spring), made gyoza (Japanese dumplings) as a part of the lovely dinner that night and played hanabi (fire work - one of ‘must do’ during summer in Japan) in the evening. Many of these were first experience for Sabrina and she absolutely loved every minute of it. Tamotsu’s down-to-earth, honest and open character made us feel at ease. There were laughters and smiles. Conversation lasted till late evening.

his guest room welcoming us with calmness
his daughter’s ‘teeny’ origami creations! 

Thank you so much for having us Tamotsu and his family. It was wonderful to have spent time together. We shall definitely treasure our memory as much as his pottery we happily brought home with us. 

Tamotsu’s webiste, click here

Tamotsu’s instagram, click here

19 August 2018

Visiting artist in Japan - volume 1: chokkin kirie YUYA

delightfully beautiful work by YUYA

Hello everyone. 

Currently on family holiday in Japan and it’s already into the second week. We have been spending a lovely time with family and friends, which were much longed for. Our daughter Sabrina is in a great shape, having so much laughters and smiles, as well as suddenly expanding her Japanese conversations, which is a bonus. 

During our stay, we have planned to visit several artists in Japan, who I admire and longed to visit for some times. I would like to share the story on my blog in the coming weeks.

Today I would like to share our first visit to YUYA, a paper cut artist and product designer / illustrator and his wife Keiko, as known as Sparrow Kei on her instagram, who runs bakery classes at their home studio, Atetlier FOLK in Tokyo. 

It’s going back nearly a decade that I first saw his work via his blog. There were no instagram in those days, but I certainly got hooked onto his design, which is somewhat modern and friendly folk that really eases your eyes and makes you smile. I also love the fact that he uses a pair of scissors to cut paper, which I think leaves more personality and handmade touch.

Both YUYA and Keiko have always been friendly and open to the conversation over blog and instagram today, that I felt like it was not the first time to actually meet, very relaxing. Well, except having five year old daughter around, which is not always easy to visit someone new, but they wholeheartedly welcomed us. We enjoyed homemade cake by Keiko with all the detailed touch on how she served us, which are just so lovely. 

Their home is filled with much loved collection of treasure from pottery and folk art, to books and music, and has been featured in many magazines and TV program. They kept saying and rather warningly, it’s a very small space, but I could not hide my excitement to see their house. And I have to say there were no warning needed. It totally blown my expectation. I LOVED it. You cannot stop smiling each step, each corner of their home. YUYA kindly allowed me to share some images here, so hope you enjoy them too. 

We have chosen one of his paper cut arts to bring back to our home. (as you can see on the top) We shall certainly treasure it and remember such a lovely time we spent together. Thank you so much YUYA san and Keiko san. 

You can view more of Aterlier FOLK, here.

11 August 2018

POTFEST in the Pens

Hi everyone. 

We have just arrived in the middle of summer heat in Japan and I am already super excited for coming weeks to catch up with my family, friends and visit a few artist who I longed to meet. I am sure I will be writing about our travel later on, but for now here is a brief catch up from the show last weekend at POTFEST in the Pens

Firstly, thank you so so much for those who visited the show, popped by my stand to say hi and purchased my work. I have received so many positive feedback and many of my work have found new homes. Your support make it possible for me to do what I love doing and for that I am truly thankful.

POTFEST was 25th anniversary this year, after all the wonderful history of this show run by Geoff and Chris Cox. My late mentor David’s favourite show it was (you can see the post here) and I have visited for many many years. 

This was my second time to attend this show as an exhibitor and my last one was before Sabrina was born, so it was a big come back after some years! (You can view it here)
It was great to be back at the show and see some familiar faces. 

We were camping with my family and also visited to see our friends in Kendal one night, which was such a treat, too. (This beautiful image is when we were coming down to the valley to Kendal) 

Just to note that a white tarpaulin behind my stand is provided by Pens, which could not be taken down. However, I had a lovely spot beaming natural light, so overall it was a lucky space to display my work. 

Hope you enjoyed some images here from my stand. Thank you for visiting my blog as always. 

maki xx

27 June 2018

Earth and Fire

Long time no blog (again!) 

It’s been super busy over here and continue to be. But before moving on to the next show prep, I would like to share some images from Earth and Fire, an international ceramic fair held at the Harley Gallery, Welbeck, last weekend. 

Original Earth and Fire used to be held at Rufford for many years, to which I always enjoyed visiting. This was their second year to be held at this new venue and this time I was at the other side of the show, an exhibitor! 

Having been a big fan of this show, you can imagine how delighted I was when I was selected among over 100 established potters in UK and beyond.

Thank you so much for those who popped by my stand and purchased work. Your support means the world to me and helps me do what I love, so really appreciate. I had a lovely couple who have purchased a whole dinner set! I was totally blown away! 

flowers from my garden and some foraged in the field
popular 'rakugaki' mugs flown to many happy homes
it was a scorcher! 
As always, I have learnt a lot by observing other’s stand and listening to their experience and advice. Always learning something, from display idea and setting price to variation of work and wrapping mechanism. Even camping tips! Event like this is a great opportunity to speak to fellow potters for that reasons. But most of all, meeting them and talking endlessly about life is the best bit of the show. Potter’s community is such a wonderful thing. I am so happy that I am now part of it.  

m x