“Columna vertebral Kintsugi I, 2017 (Kintsugi I spinal column)” by Paloma Torres
“Columna vertebral Kintsugi I, 2017 (Kintsugi I spinal column)” by Paloma Torres

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In Tierras Ambulantes (Clay in Transit), Mexican artist Paloma Torres thoughtfully curates an exhibition that explores the work of seven sculptors who use clay as a means of returning to cultural roots and origins. The work of the exhibition’s participating artists—Ana Gómez, María José Lavin, Perla Krauze, María José de la Macorra, Gustavo Pérez, Saúl Kaminer, and curator Paloma Torres—brings out not only the intricacies and versatility of clay itself, but the strengths of the female ceramic artists of Mexico, who steal the show.

María José de la Macorra’s “Lluvia (Rain)” is formed by clay pearls hung from the ceiling. The five strands fall softly on the floor into snake-like movements. The delicate shapes transform the typically hardened clay aesthetic into a pliable form—no longer an object held up on a shelf. Similarly, “Entre un adentro y un afuera (Outwardly, Inwardly)” is a wall installation of 60 small pieces mounted together to form a collection of beloved, found items like necklaces, rocks, and fossils. Visually, it’s a beautiful reminder of prize finds from our youth that still give us great joy as adults.

Perla Krauze uses black clay from Oaxaca alongside cement and plaster to blend shapes with light and dark clay, the juxtaposition creating a sense of solitude, transformation, and memory. In “Gabinete Coleccion #36 (Cabinet Collection #36),” a collection of shapes resembles the contents of an emptied drawer of old tools and items found along a journey. It’s mesmerizing to stand above and look at each piece; together they create an impactful visual of one’s supposed past.

“Monumentos (Monuments)” is an assemblage of round and rectangular light and dark blocks positioned in rows, similar to chess pieces moving into the opponent’s territory. “Muro (Wall)” forms a long, black staircase in the shape of bricks, placed in the corner—not high enough to go anywhere creating an ending of sorts.

Ana Gomez takes a slightly different spin with her work, which is usually known for addressing issues related to globalization and the relationship between media and consumption habits. “Maruchan” is made up of stacks of instant ramen noodles redressed as porcelain treasures in gold lettering. The noodles have become a staple in Mexico over the years and are even stocked in small stores in mountain villages. “Vitrina (Showcase)” is a beautiful buffet filled with what appear to be porcelain dishes, but are in fact containers for fast food french fries, fountain drinks, burger cases, and McDonald’s happy meal box.

In “Sweet Home,” Gomez’s wall installation depicts two women as silhouettes on each end holding together a perfect dinner party complete with embellished China plates. The detail of each plate, however, tells a more complicated version of every woman’s life as she is hounded by men or erased from the picture completely, a story screaming to escape the trap of faithful hostess. Gomez’s work challenges the consumption of mass production that’s sold to us—whether it’s the idea that a woman’s place is in the home, or that junk food is easily accessible, fast, and cheap. Gomez takes these ideals and places them all on a silver platter, forcing us to reconcile and ask ourselves: “Is this really what we want?”

Maria Jose Lavin’s “Una cuestion de peso -Venus anorexica (anorexic Venus a weight issue)” are 27 clay barbies encased behind a clear box, placed upright and upside down in an alternating pattern. Some are missing limbs yet carry smiles on their faces. Lavin shows the struggle of anorexia—the body is tortured for a false beauty sold to us through media without a warning  label that Lavin attempts to place in the  forefront.

Curator Paloma Torres’ work is visually captivating—columns stand upright projecting strength, yet each piece is vulnerable in its skin. The columns resemble a spine which Paloma describes as the strength of society, maintaining the traditions and roots of immigrants. The columns have intrinsic meaning and visually you can see the subtle cracks that make each structure humanlike and resilient.

Tierras Ambulantes (Clay in Transit) is a powerful story told through clay. The intricate details sewn into each piece fire off our memories and behaviors—whether it is the feeling of the rain on our heads, forgotten treasures or traditions, or the ideals that, in an instant, challenge everything around us.

At the Mexican Cultural Institute of Washington, D.C. to Aug. 19. 2829 16th St. NW. Free. (202) 728-1628. instituteofmexicodc.org.