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Author Profile
Chenoa Baker

Chenoa Baker (she/her) is an independent curator, wordsmith, and descendant of self-emancipators. She teaches curatorial practice at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Previously, she led the exhibition program at ShowUp as the Associate Curator and consulted on Gio Swaby: Fresh Up at the Peabody Essex Museum and Touching Roots: Black Ancestral Legacies in the Americas at MFA/Boston. She’s an editor at Sixty Inches From Center; her writing has been awarded the Association Internationale des Critiques d’Art (AICA) Young Art Critics Prize in 2023; and appears in Hyperallergic, Public Parking, Ceramics MonthlyMaterial Intelligence, and Studio Potter.


Simone Leigh, "Jug," 2014. Photo courtesy Tilton Gallery, New York.
What I learned while centering the clay and obsessing over the clay-to-water ratio in class for weeks is that clay particles are like platelets; water and earth dance around and are compressed in the process of sculpting. While the goal is cohesion, it starts as a suspension. White supremacist capitalist patriarchy, not to oversimplify it, is in suspension, as it is multiple different ideologies pulling apart rather than binding together. I learned this profound lesson from Simone Leigh’s "Jug" (2014).
Simone Leigh, Trophallaxis, 2008-2017. Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami. Copyright: © Simone Leigh. Photo: Farzad Owrang.
Trophallaxis focuses on the breast as a site of labor. In that, there is the juxtaposition of comfort and discomfort, familiar and unfamiliar: the cracking nipples and boot prints showcase bodily violence and the physical impact of breastfeeding. Fecund breasts with gold-plated areoles and nipples, constructed from terracotta, porcelain, antennae, and epoxy, suspending from the ceiling.
Artist Once Known, Memorial Head, circa 17th–mid-18th century. Ghana. Akan peoples. Terracotta, slip. Collection of Cheryl Olkes Collection at Chatham University. Photo by Chenoa Baker.
The final resting place of these effigies became an ancestral grove, "till the yard smells of ghosts," until it was disrupted by colonialism. For that, I grieve for the disturbed lost souls but rejoice that a child of the diaspora reconnects with the echo of home.
Left: Griots of Sambala. Middle: Ladi Kwali rolls a carved wooden tool called a roulette over the side of the pot. Right: The finished pot shows the same animal designs that Mrs. Kwali has always put on her traditional pots.
During my experiences, I thought about a church song’s chorus: “You are the potter and I am the clay, make me and mold me, this is what I pray.” My theology has always been about wrestling with the text and interpretation. My background in wheel throwing, in particular, sheds new light on this Biblical metaphor.
"I started thinking, you know, do I want this to be my legacy? Do I want my work to be about being a victim? I started thinking about conversations that I had with Mr. Gilliard (my first pottery instructor) and conversations that I had with Professor Stull about my African heritage. With Mr. Gilliard, we would talk about all the great things that African Americans have done for this culture and how they brought their African heritage to this country and made this culture what it is. And so, I started thinking about how it would be interesting for me to tap into that lineage of artistic tradition that I'm an heir to." This month's FREE article.