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  • Susan Harbage Page

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Susan Harbage Page, No. 4 from the Precarity Series, 2015 (found ceramics).

I find the figurines forlornly sitting on the shelves of local thrift stores and antique malls. Many of them reference English society of the 1800s, but imprints and markings declare “Made in China” or “Made in Korea.”

They evoke the dolls my grandmother made me as a child, with cloth bodies and ceramic heads, hands, and feet, or the Topsy-Turvy dolls with a white woman on one side and a black mammy on the other, separated by a skirt, and the shelves of my childhood bedroom filled with collections of ceramic horses, bunnies, and kittens produced to be “looked at.”

They also call to mind the downstairs closets of my childhood, which held the bulky two-part plaster molds that my mother and grandmother used to make porcelain figurines, reproducing identical female forms, each one poured, dried, and fired in a small kiln, and then meticulously hand painted with dresses in pastel blues, pinks, and greens.

I break, glue, and recombine the found ceramics to conceptualize new meanings for them. The title for this series comes from Judith Butler’s theory of “precarity,” which posits that even as all bodies are vulnerable to suffering or injury, some bodies are more protected politically and socially. This series examines the modes in which culture reproduces itself to support patriarchal power systems, imagined histories, and strict gender binaries. When broken and rearranged, these images of the privileged classes reproduced for cultural consumption lose their cultural power and position and, in their own precarity, illuminate the challenges of equity, parity, and vulnerability. [End Page 141]



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