Posted by: Andrew Durant
Written by Andrew Durant
Perhaps in this politically stratified climate where a fear of otherness threatens to undermine the values of a free society, inclusivity has become a drastically underrated concept. Ceramicist Jennifer Ling Datchuk thinks so, and she strives to create work that has meaning for an audience that is inherently diverse, be it racially, ideologically, socioeconomically, or by gender.
For Jennifer, it’s hard not to exist as a professional woman artist without the weight of representation on your shoulders. Instead of letting such a weight drag her down; she uses it as an opportunity to create pieces that evoke all-encompassing themes for her audience. “I’ve lived the messages in my work, and those are the messages I strive to convey to the world,” she says. According to Jennifer, who is currently a faculty member at the Southwest School of Art in San Antonio, TX, her student body and the art community as a whole are more diverse than ever, and when you’re embedded in such a group it becomes more difficult to categorize yourself with a single label. Rather, you begin to focus more on the fluidity of identity, and how the different sides of yourself interact with the world around you. Jennifer, who was born in Ohio and whose mother is Chinese asserts, “I’m not a woman artist. I’m not an Asian artist. I feel like I can float freely between those two worlds.”
Her work is often conventional enough on the surface to draw the viewer in, and it’s only after peeling back the layers of the powerful symbolism that you begin to parse the specificity of a particular piece, and understand how it connects to your own identity. She sometimes creates common household items out of porcelain, desired throughout the world for its vividly perfect whiteness, and adds evocative adornments such as human hair to connect them to our humanity. As Jennifer explains, hair, skin tone, and perfection are central to the feminine experience, but they are issues that men deal with as well.
She was recently awarded a three-month residency in Berlin, sponsored by the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum in San Antonio. Upon arriving in Germany in early 2016, Jennifer found the most challenging aspect of the endeavor was finding ways to adjust to the limited clay facilities available at her host organization. This provided the freedom to focus her energies away from the frantic schedule of creation; a rare opportunity for most working artists. Part of the result involved thoroughly researching the introduction of porcelain from China into Germany around the 16th century. Its journey into Europe is rife with tales of piracy, robbery, and violence, a savage history indeed, for such an iconically elegant material.
She also made particular note of the push and pull of inclusivity and otherness in Berlin, an urban capital that is diverse in many ways but segregated in many others. For instance, she visited a Ghanaian community within the city, largely consisting of residents who were born in Germany but identified more strongly with the customs and culture of Ghana. The history of Berlin itself somewhat mirrors many of the common themes found in Jennifer’s work, as of course it is a city that was defined throughout the 20th century by its own internal conflict of identity.
As her career evolves, Jennifer continues to maintain her primary goal of creating work that has a lasting impact on the audience, whether it is one person or an entire community. She struggles, as many working artists do, with balancing an uneasiness and ambition surrounding gallery representation. She has concerns regarding the potential for moneyed influence in the creative process that big galleries bring, while also understanding that they are often the path to a wider, more inclusive audience. Viewed through the lens of her work, its yet another representation of a complex conflict of identity, which is germane to all of our lives.
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