2020 Emerging Artist: Juan DeJesus Barroso

Juan DeJesus Barroso, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Ceramics Monthly: What excites you about the field of ceramics?

Juan DeJesus Barroso: In the last six years since I started working with clay, I have found that the clay community is made up of individuals who are selfless, friendly, tolerant, helpful, and open to collaboration. Seeing the artists around me make beautiful and unique expressions of their souls out of a mundane and humble material like clay continues to inspire me.

1 Juan DeJesus Barroso’s Honoring Our Janitors, 23 in. (58 cm) in height, low-fire clay, stippled underglaze illustration, fired to cone 5 in oxidation, 2020.

When I started my first ceramics class, I was afraid to express my Mexican-American identity and the fears that come with being the son of undocumented immigrants. My mentor and friend Stuart Asprey provided a safe space. He helped me see that the hybridity of two-dimensional imagery on three-dimensional form was a good reflection of a bicultural and bilingual identity. He pointed to the centuries-old traditions of the ceramic narrative. I realized clay is fragile, like a Mexican-American identity due to the process of acculturation. Clay is also permanent, preserving and protecting what is recorded on its surface. Clay proved to be the perfect canvas for honoring the immigrant experience.

Ceramics offers a platform from which our voices can be heard. After my parents became legal residents, I began to focus on Mexican labor, what the immigrant does to survive, and the consequences at the border in the search for labor. With the current political administration enforcing dehumanizing policies, recognizing an immigrant’s humanity is vital. As a result, my work has become more political, and I find yet again that the clay community is accepting and tolerant of different backgrounds and opinions.

CM: How do you develop the forms and narratives that are prevalent in your work?

JDB: There is a story tied to each image I paint. It is usually a personal story, or the story of a family member, but always a story that has shaped my personality, values, or simply continues to affect me. The form is then chosen based on the content and concept of the image. With the help of my mentor and friend Brooks Oliver, I learned how to make molds and strive for the marriage of image and form.

2 Juan DeJesus Barroso’s No More Deaths from Dehydration, 7 in. (18 cm) in length, low-fire clay, stippled underglaze illustration, fired to cone 04 in oxidation, 2019.

An example is Honoring Our Janitors, a coil-built mop bucket, which was made to honor the labor of janitors in schools—labor that often goes unnoticed or unappreciated. In high school, I noticed many students would ignore the janitors, walking past them as if they were invisible ghosts. My mother used to clean houses, driving around with a bright pink vinyl sign that said, “Lucy’s House Cleaning Services.” I observed a lack of respect for the janitor, and so in high school I was embarrassed of that sign. Years later, while working the closing shift at Michael’s, I was mopping the restrooms as clean as my mom would have left them. I realized yet again the dignity with which she worked to provide food and a decent education for me. I coil built this mop bucket while remembering my job, remembering my mother’s house-cleaning job, and placing the easily overlooked image of a janitor on a small corner of the bucket.

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