As an artist and curator, Sethi’s work has spanned different media from ceramics to video to smell and different geographies from Boston to Bangalore. Past works include the Kuni Wada Bakery Remembrance; Richmond Voting Stories; the Gypsy Bridge project. Recent curatorial projects have included Spiked: The Unpublished Political Cartoons of Rob Rogers and the upcoming exhibition, 6.13.89 The Cancelling of the Mapplethorpe Exhibition. Additionally, Sethi recently completed a body of paintings and drawings- the Delta Series.
Past Visiting Artist
I took a roundabout path to clay, via an undergraduate degree in English literature, and attended Kansas City Art Institute when I was in my thirties. I came to the Bray as a resident in 1985, planning to spend a year there, and figure out where to set up a studio. I spent two years at the Bray, settled in Helena, and have been making pots here ever since. I was on the Bray board from 1992-2003. I may be the only former resident who has subsequently enrolled in community classes. I taught them in the 1980s, and have been taking them since 2018, full circle! Which is to say that my long, deep and varied relationship with the Bray has been central to my life as a potter.
I have always made functional pots, for a number of reasons: we experience them by touch, as well as by sight; we share our intimate domestic spaces with them; they can bring the experience of beauty or unexpected pleasure to our everyday lives; and there is always an implied conversation between the maker and the user, bringing them into a kind of community.
After a neurological disease made it impossible for me to throw pots on the wheel, and with encouragement and tutorials from friends, I began to hand build, mostly plates. So that I would not be tempted to try to mimic what I had done before, I chose to use red earthenware, with maiolica, and to focus more on the painting. It’s a very simple technique, requiring minimal equipment and few tools, which feels in keeping with my physical limitations. This has allowed me, late in my career, to be a beginner all over again.
My concerns haven’t changed much, however, in that I want my pots to express their potential to be useful and generous, to have a fluid quality, now achieved in the painting, rather than in the effects of the kiln. I want them to attract the hand as well as the eye, to be both beautiful and friendly, and to suggest that they can provide abundant nourishment to our daily lives.
I am inspired by folklore, functional pottery, modernism, natural history, and a lifelong affinity for West African and Oceanic sculpture. My works investigate the symbolic and formal properties of archetypal motifs, questioning how the meanings of icons, objects, and functions transform across cultures and over time. As a consequence of colonialism and conquest, African and Oceanic ceremonial objects made their way into Western consciousness as looted artifacts, stripped of their original frames of reference. They inspired European modernists both for their aesthetic interest and their perceived otherness. I am interested in investigating how fetish, racism, science fiction, and popular culture impede interpretations of ‘non-western’ objects. I play on Western conjecture by producing works that suggest non-Western utilitarian, ceremonial, or ritualistic purpose but are ultimately designed for ‘display’ for the Western consumer. I ultimately seek to expose the interpretative deficiencies of the colonized mind and place them on display beside my work.
Born as one of twelve children, Sharif Bey was raised in a large African American family in Pittsburgh. While many of the men in his family left school for jobs in industry, Bey had a pivotal experience at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (MCG) while attending high school. MCG played a formative role for Bey throughout his teens, giving him a foundation of skills and extensive ceramics-world connections. Shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, Bey studied sculpture at The Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, Slovakia. Later, he earned his BFA from Slippery Rock University, his MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and PhD (in art education) from Pennsylvania State University. His awards include: The United States Artist Fellowship, The Pollock-Krasner Fellowship, The New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, and The J. William Fulbright Scholarship. He is featured in numerous public collections including: The Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, The Carnegie Museum, The Columbus Museum, The Everson Museum, and The Westmoreland American Art Museum. Currently Bey is an Associate Professor of Art at Syracuse University.