Dual Postures: Mari Ogihara in the Studio

August 14, 2015 by

1-20150618-mari-ogihara-034A heavy clay body sits perched on a foam cushion, its head and chest tilted back in serene expression. Legs pulled into her chest, the feminine form extends one hand outwards, like an offering for the viewer.

“The figure itself has a spatial presence and tension, like it’s really struggling to keep its posture,” says Chili Bowl resident Mari Ogihara, while she smooths its handbuilt form with her hands. Another figure rests on its back a few feet away; each seems to float, their feet never quite touching the ground. Both women come from the same body of female forms, whose delicately twisted bodies range in size from 24 to 40 inches and are inspired by Mari’s studies abroad.

“When I traveled to India, I fell in love with the celestial beings that grace the exterior of temples. Their motions are very contorted, but their facial expressions are in bliss,” explains Mari. “My work is about duality in religion, gender, race, and identity—all the ways in which we balance our inner and outer selves.”

Born in Japan and raised in the States, Mari juxtaposes Eastern and Western ideas of identity and community throughout a sculptural ceramics practice informed by her multicultural heritage. Her figures seem to be suspended in balance, as Mari might negotiate between two cultural norms. Her travels to Cambodia, Japan, India, and throughout Southeast Asia influence the aesthetics and symbolism she employs. In every temple and cathedral she visited—no matter how foreign the religious tradition—Mari experienced the same contemplative response. She found solace in each space.

“I’m always drawn to religious iconography and architectural follies,” she says, describing the spiritual temple figures that would sit in doorways and throughout temples. “They capture the essence of a space, like a ship figurehead or a hood ornament. It serves no structural purpose, but it’s very meaningful to the owner and the people who built it.”

These portal figures act as companions, guiding the viewer on the path of spiritual transformation. Their bodies express a mixed array of blissful peace and twisted tension, like Mari’s floating women. During her four-week residency, she continues this collection of elevated figures, addressing Western and Eastern notions of identity through elaborate surface decoration and cultural symbolism, while also throwing fifty vessels for WSW’s 2016 Chili Bowl Fiesta.10-20150612-mari-ogihara-087

Her finishing techniques balance the highly ornate and the raw—like exterior culture and the interior self, as Mari describes—and reference precious artifacts. This elaborate process is already beginning on one figure, as a twisting laurel-like shape wraps around her shoulders, chest, and ankles.

“One of the things that’s really important to my work is that some areas remain raw, because I really like the natural color of the skin,” Mari says. “I think of the clay as skin.” She describes how Japanese Geishas paint every part of their exposed bodies, save for a small section on the back of their necks—the contrast of bare skin a sensual shock that reminds patrons of the person beneath the makeup.

The same tactile experience is at work in the intricate details of Mari’s ornamentation. In some figures, she colors their “skin” with a mahogany-colored slip that resembles precious, wooden Buddhist sculptures, which have been inherited through generations. A glazed lace pattern wraps around others, which Mari describes as honoring “centuries of women passing along traditions.” This signature glaze mimics the pattern of snakeskin, created by air brushing glaze through knitted pantyhose tied tightly over the ceramic form. It catches the light and glistens, its allusion to shed skin representative of the personal growth that’s been so important to Mari’s experiences.2-20150612-mari-ogihara-030While acknowledging the tenuous balancing act of living two cultures, Mari also strives to honor the breadth and richness of their traditions. Arrested in motion, eyes closed in contemplation, her sculptures offer a gesture of serenity.

“I view [my sculptures] as celestial beings, like angels. I want them to have a feeling of weightlessness,” Mari says. “I want to create something that gives you peace.”

Mari Ogihara holds an MFA from Tyler School of Art. She teaches ceramics at Manhattanville College and exhibits her work nationally and internationally. See more of Mari’s ceramics practice at the hybrid exhibition space transFORM gallery, NYC; in the upcoming SHE: Deconstructing Female Identity at ArtsWestchester, White Plains, NY; and online at www.mariogihara.com.