Museum of Cultures | EXHIBITION ARCHIVE
CANCIÓN DE BARRO - POTTERY FROM NICARAGUA
7.11.2007 - 30.3.2008
Nicaraguan pottery is a product of a profound cultural heritage. Some scholars consider ornately decorated pottery to have been the most valuable commodity in this region during pre-Columbian times, akin to jade, obsidian, and gold in other regions of the Americas. Unfortunately, there has been relatively little research about Nicaraguan pre-Columbian history, and the exact use of these pots is not known. However, scholars assume that finely worked pottery was used in the religious ceremonies and that the pots were vessels used for sacred purposes.
The Spanish historian Gonzalo de Oviedo, wrote in 1529 that Nicaraguan pottery was so fine that it could be given as a gift to a prince. However, according to some scholars, it was the Spaniards, who destroyed the tradition of crafting fine pottery. All local religious activities which they considered "satanic" were terminated. Through the ensuing centuries pottery was elaborated by women only for utilitarian uses.
The renaissance of Nicaraguan pottery during the past decades, the results of which can be seen in this exhibit, has been initiated and supported by small inputs in the field of education as well as through an overall struggle to earn income in this poor developing country.
The 'plate town'
San Juan de Oriente is a small village located 40 kilometers south of Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. For decades it was known as San Juan de los Platos, the 'plate town' because San Juanense potters produced mostly kitchen-ware. As inexpensive household goods made of plastic conquered this market and traditional artisan villages were losing their income, the Central Bank of Nicaragua conducted a survey about the artisans' dilemmas in 1976. As a result of that study, the technical level of the potters was increased through an educational program. The potters were trained to use the kick wheel to form the pieces instead of using the coil method and to bake the pieces in kilns instead of in open fires on the streets. Together with their advisers, the potters developed unique processes of production, which are now used by hundreds of potters in this small village.
As the process of production was upgraded, men also got involved in what had previously been a female dominated pottery production. The first technical training course, which took place in 1978, took 12 months. Eleven potters graduated, including both men and women.
In the exhibition there are three graduates from this course: Gregorio Bracamonte Nicoya (b. 1949), Rogelio Gutiérrez Nicaragua (b. 1959) and Cornelio Cano Bracamonte (b. 1957). All have won both local and national competitions and they are all men. Women are still active in all aspects of pottery production, but it is the men who have recently dominated in the local, national and international competitions, gaining the highest prizes and praise in this new era of production.
Utilitarian pottery and art
During the 1980s, there was a big demand for utilitarian pottery produced in San Juan de Oriente. Nicaragua was facing an economic blockade and embargo, which meant that local producers had to supply the national market. Then after 1990, without any kind of transitional period, the country's markets were opened to globalized competition and San Juan potters for the second time lost their market. In response, the potters started to produce decorative ceramics in two different styles.
The exhibition Canción de Barro - Pottery from Nicaragua presents pottery from the village of San Juan de Oriente as well as works of the Ducuale Grande and Loma Panda co-operatives. Prior to its arrival to the Museum of Cultures the exhibition was seen at three Danish museums and it will continue its Nordic tour to Estonia and Iceland with the support of the Nordic Culture Fund.
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