#VOZWOMAN | Yessica Huentleman

VOZ spoke with Mapuche ceramist Yessica Huenteman Medina. Working with clay has deepened her connection to the earth as well as to native heritage, which had been systematically suppressed by the Chilean government. She lets us in on her creative process—and how the politics of history have indelibly impressed her work.


How has creativity shaped your life?

I am a descendent, a granddaughter, of families that are tied to the earth. I have always been surrounded by great uncles and great aunts, grandparents and parents, who could make anything with their own hands. When I was a child, all of their creations were like magical artifacts to me! It’s so important for children to see that kind of magic—and to have the curiosity, enthusiasm, and imagination to make magic of their own. Growing up in a rural place, where life follows a rhythm of its own, made it easier for me to unearth those capacities and realize that genius.

 


Tell us about your Mapuche identity.

I was not always tied to Mapuche culture.

My own history was formed by austere processes of assimilation because, beginning in the 1800s, the Chilean state forced the original Mapuche pueblos to assimilate. Many generations of Mapuche people were obliged to abandon their culture in order to take advantage of opportunities in society. Some assimilated in order to protect their children from discrimination. Some went into hiding to preserve their cultural wisdom.

I am the fruit of three generations of self-negation as a means of survival. When I was a girl, I didn’t know that I was native. Neither my parents nor my grandparents ever told me. For a long time, ‘Mapuche’ was a faraway word.

My awakening took place while I was in university, when I was a scholar-in-residence at the center for sociocultural Mapuche development in Temuco, which is now called ‘Pelontuwe.’ There, I learned to protect who we were and are—our history and identity.

I reconstructed my Mapuche family history through clay. I discovered that my ancestor Tuwun ‘Wente-Man,’ which in Mapudungun means ‘bird of height,’ came from the Wentechc-Pewench de Santa Barbara lands, or the actual Bío Bío Region of Chile. Historically, the clays of Quilako, from the river beds of the Bío Bío Region, have been the most highly regarded clays of Wallmapu, which is indigenous territory. Knowing this deepened my love for ceramics, since I haven’t had any ceramicists in my family for at least three generations. But maybe if I go back far enough, I’ll find my roots in ceramics and unravel a genealogy. I’m still searching…

 


How would you define ceramics?

Ceramics is a channel of expression, a way for me to transmit cultural knowledge: what I feel, and how I think, as an artist, as a woman, and as a Mapuche. It allows me to pass wisdom from the present to the future, in spite of the traumas brought upon the Mapuche people by the Chilean government over the last two centuries.

 


What do you need to always have in your house or workshop?

Coffee and music from other cultures. A history, art, or design book. And clay.

 

 

Walk us through a normal day in Taller Arterra Kutral.

The truth is, I don’t follow a routine. My creative energy exists within and without the workshop.

But a productive day will always begin with turning on the fire in the oven. Usually when I arrive at the workshop, I won’t have a fully formed idea in my head. So I’ll have my coffee, gaze out the window at the countryside, turn on some music, and eventually put my hands in the clay! While I move the clay, ideas will come to mind. Sometimes I’ll take a break to crystalize them, and other times I simply let them run their course.

 

 

What is the most difficult part of your work?

The part where you leave being an artist and a creator in order to become a producer and reproducer of a series of ceramic objects. I have learned to deal with this shift by organizing my thoughts. I dedicate certain days to being a ‘worker’ and certain days to being an ‘artist.’ This way, the ideas and images can come to me and there will be space for me to give them life, and at the same time they won’t take over my life.

 


What do you dream about?

I dream about the rejuvenation of Mapuche ceramic art through new aesthetics drawing from our heritage and from our living culture.

I dream about how the new generation will use clay to build a base for Mapuche empowerment.

I dream about the majestic proliferation of Mapuche arts and culture beyond geopolitical borders.

I dream about the creation of mechanisms to preserve cultural and intellectual heritage.

I dream about a new way of knowing ourselves, and of a new interculturality, through our art.

I dream that my own work will contribute to the realization of these visions.

 

March 27, 2017 by VOZ Apparel

#VOZWOMAN | Abigail Doan

How would you describe the type of work you do? What is your "artist statement”?


I generally feel comfortable with the term “artist”, but I in all honestly I actually see myself as being more of a materials investigator and preservationist.

Historically, I have created site-specific art projects that explore ideas related to the use of fiber or organic phenomena in the landscape, but never with the idea of leaving behind a permanent impression or sculptural fixture. I am more interested in finding ways to show connectivity between various creative disciplines – across borders and without prejudices. 

January 14, 2016 by VOZ Apparel

#VOZWOMAN | Erin Mazursky

What inspired you to become an activist? 

I think I've always been an activist. As a kid, I read everything I could about MLK and obsessively watched the video of JFK telling America, "Ask not..." on Encarta. Remember that groundbreaking "interactive" encyclopedia that had words AND videos? 

But mostly my activism comes from my history -- My great grandparents came to the US from Eastern Europe in the 1920s as religious refugees, like so many other Jews at that time. I grew up hearing stories about how my grandmother shared a bed with her sister in their tiny Bronx apartment til her sister moved out to get married. My grandfather was mayor of a small southern town during desegregation and oversaw a peaceful transition, and he always understood that blacks experienced the same kind of marginalization that his parents did. So, I grew up with an acute sense understanding that oppression wasn't just a theoretical concept and that I was lucky to have a stable environment, access to excellent education and incredible opportunity. 

November 30, 2015 by VOZ Apparel

#VOZWOMAN | Blythe Masters

 

Blythe Masters’s accomplishments range from being the youngest female managing director in J.P. Morgan’s history at age 28 to leading the charge toward technological innovation in financial services as the current CEO of Digital Asset Holdings, a Manhattan-based startup. All this, and she’s a breast-cancer awareness activist and equestrian, too. We sat down with the finance pioneer at her serene, light-filled Manhattan home to discover what inspires her and how she is driven to be at the forefront of her industry.

November 04, 2015 by VOZ Apparel

#VOZWOMAN | Eutimia Cruz Montoya

 

Eutimia wears the Poncho Hoodie - shop this item



Meet #VOZWOMAN Eutimia Cruz Montoya

October 02, 2015 by VOZ Apparel

#VOZWOMAN | Daniela Perdomo

Samurai Robe in Celestial Blue / Black Cami Dress

Meet #VOZWOMAN Daniela Perdomo, founder of goTenna

August 27, 2015 by VOZ Apparel

#VOZWOMAN | Chana Ewing

Meet #VOZWOMAN Chana Ewing, storyteller and marketing strategist who is passionate about bringing diversity to marketing and media.

July 21, 2015 by VOZ Apparel

#VOZWOMAN | Adele Jacques

It was such a pleasure chatting with filmmaker, model and writer Adele Jacques. We had a very interesting chat with Adele as we strolled towards to scenic Brooklyn Bridge Park location dubbed for her Voz Woman shoot. She let us in on some of her most pertinent inspirations for her upcoming film which encapsulates a woman’s relationship with nature. The coming of age, seventies inspired film takes on Hollywood references with a twist from a woman’s point of view.

Adele wears the cropped SS15 pima sweater in water blue 

#VOZWOMAN | Austen Leah Rosenfeld

In this VOZ Women feature, we caught up with Austen Leah Rosenfeld, a prolific poet and honorary Voz model. Her poems have graced the pages of the Antioch Review, the Salmagundi Magazine and the Indiana Review, to name a few. Her work can also be seen published on Style.com. So what is her life like beneath the pen and pad? She shares how her home inspired her along with the moment that she realized poetry was her passion.

         

The People Behind #MadebyVOZ

Artisan weavers from southern Chile

Today, on Fashion Revolution Day, we remember those killed and injured the in the Rana Plaza catastrophe. Two years ago today, 1133 people were killed and over 2500 were injured when the Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Globalization has created a toxic and unjust production chain to make fashion worldwide.

At VOZ, we exist to oppose this paradigm, and join with our ethical fashion peers to make clothes in a humane manner. It is our mission to make things slowly and by hand, paying ethical wages to our production partners, paying design royalties to artisans for their creative contributions, providing technical education programs, and using production methods that support healthy lifestyles for our makers.

April 24, 2015 by Deborah Altman