BACK IN CLAY – Ceramist Ermelinda Duarte creates the woman

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For women on the move, for women who cast a long shadow on Gibraltar’s society, for women who do it for themselves: as spring blooms and the sun rises on International Women’s Day, the cut-out silhouette of a woman holding up with her up-stretched arms the north face of the Rock dances on the pebbles below and, while the day progresses, she reminds us of the long journey Gibraltar women weathered from Neanderthal times to the forming of the Housewives Association just over half a century ago, and farther beyond into the new century, where they keep marching alongside their peers to actively contribute to society.

The monument to Gibraltarian women, unveiled last December at Mid Harbour roundabout concurrently with celebrations for the Gibraltar Women’s Association’s fiftieth anniversary, is the much awaited realisation of a project initiated a few years ago with a call for public participation, eventually made solid by sculptor and ceramist Ermelinda Duarte, who interpreted competition winner Ruth Massias Greenberg’s design with a conceptual art twist. This focuses on the dynamic shape and role of the woman casting not a shadow but sunlight on her entire nation.

Ermelinda’s construal of the Gibraltarian woman is solidly tied to her homeland by the symbolism of the shifting play of light and shadow on the adjacent side of the composition or on the ground, ever-moving with the hours of daylight and with the seasons, like a sundial. Furthermore, it concocts an ethereal idea of a woman, appearing brighter and plumper at midday and slimmer and dimmer at sunset when the fading sunrays elongates her, a silhouette that doesn’t abide to body-conscious fads as well as fashion diktats, but truly expresses the concept of every woman in terms of a platonic idea.

Save yourself

The figure’s femininely curved outline is only hinted, and quite modestly at it, to steer clear from any sexualisation attempt or allegation, and on the other hand, acknowledging the unique role of the female human being in the Third Millennium, and yet wondering how parabolic her trajectory still is towards the proverbial ‘glass ceiling’, with women in high-responsibility public positions on the upside and women still victims of domestic abuse, violence and discrimination on the downside.

Woman

Realised in long-lasting carbon steel treated against oxidation and painted, the monument was originally devised to replace the Sundial Roundabout, but when Commonwealth Park opened, it was touted to be placed at its southern gateway, in a smaller scale. This location was then discarded for safety concerns in case children misused it as monkey bars, and Europa Point roundabout was earmarked for it, where it would enjoy unobstructed sunlight from sunrise to sunset, but wear-and-tears concerns were raised due to the microclimate of the area, and eventually a downtown hotspot was suggested that proved ideal because it lies at the crossroads of day-to-day Gibraltarian commuting, even one might object it falls outside main tourist routes.

Breastfeeding teapot
Daughter close up

A graduated ceramist with a foundation course in Art, Media and Design, a former winner of local and international art competitions with her pottery work and an active participant in the cultural project ‘The Kitchen’ with other avant-garde artists at Montagu Bastion GEMA, where her prized piece ‘Cannon Teapot’ is permanently exhibited, Ermelinda was selected to help Ruth upgrade her computer-generated pictures to the third dimension with a plasmable and palpable maquette crafted in clay. “I still have the original at home with me, but it wasn’t fired, so it is fragile and it has since cracked in places, shape-shifting slightly from the original, whose image the durable material was lasered after,” Ermelinda says, adding she would like to make a new one and have it immediately fired for public keepsake.

Beach

The lack of kilns near her home ‘studio’ (“I work in my sitting room, where I don’t have a kiln, which ideally must be in the same workshop the artist is creating in”) is the main reason why Ermelinda’s creative production is limited in size and quantity. “As soon as the artist is happy with the shape taken by a sculpture, whether thrown by wheel or fashioned by hand, it needs to be solidified in time and space with the firing process, and the larger the sculpture, the more difficult it is to find a suitable kiln in the vicinity, which is why nowadays, I am limiting myself to what is generally perceived as pottery or pottery-like work, like teapots, saucers and cups, although I’d love to create on a big scale,” she says. “It was actually possible – and a challenge I’d cherished – for me to make the actual monument all in clay, had I got the relevant workshop at my disposal.”

Cannon 2

She maintains that virtually everything can be reproduced in clay and in any magnitude, if the ceramist has the right clay and the suitable kiln at disposal. One must know one’s clay consistence and properties before starting working one’s moulding magic on it, and Ermelinda is quite adventurous in experimenting with materials and subject matters, from modelling to glazing and decorating, an aptitude with attitude that landed her widespread commendation for her woman-shaped vases entry to a recent competitive exhibition, a creation that spans archaic pottery and contemporary art with the pointillist scarification across the body of the primeval steatopygian mother goddess turned custodian vessel for the precious liquid of life.

Ermelinda busy at work

From cutting-edge, to traditional, from conceptual to figurative, Ermelinda is a chameleonic artist at ease with relatively small project with an intense personal feel like the charming bust of her daughter, as much as with high-profile endeavours for the public and future generations to appreciate and judge, and she calls for workshops and ateliers made readily available in Gibraltar so that the exquisite ancient artistry of ceramics doesn’t get diluted in the grim practicality of tableware pottery and a sea of plastic.

words | Elena Scialtiel