Adam Posnak

Artist Statement

My fascination with pottery is rooted in a non-Cartesian belief in the power and agency of objects. Objects have the ability to transcend the intent of both maker and user, and handmade pottery exemplifies this potential.The border between objects and symbols is porous, if not non-existent, and I am particularly interested in living systems which investigate and illuminate the object-symbol interface. I utilize participant-observation in research and favor experience over objectification, as advocated by the term “primalism,” coined by art historian Robert Farris Thompson: “…primalism lets us measure just how far we've traveled -- how far we've been pulled forward -- from the devouring primitivism of the past.” Robert Farris Thompson, Art in America, July 1997.

I have investigated belief systems as varied as Freemasonry, Western Esotericism and Aghori Hinduism, and have been particularly inspired by West and Central-African traditions and African-Diaspora, creole religious-cultural practices of North, Central and South America. I participate in multiple traditions and all of my work reflects this experience.

I have a continuing research project studying the making and religious use of Vodu ritual pottery in the Volta Region of Ghana. Clay pots and other vessels are used extensively in West African Vodu religion, for offerings, for containing ritual substances, and many other uses. Pots hold the sacred minerals and organics that, if combined correctly and spiritually activated act as a spiritual umbilical cord between a devotee and their god/s. For those who are able to read the signs, there are multiple signifiers that indicate a pot has been transformed from a passive item into an activated shrine. These signs may include feathers, beads, residue from liquid offerings, and very often strips of colored cloth.

A new body of work utilizes the visual vocabulary of West African spirituality, neither being made for actual use or to anthropologically illustrate practice. Cloth strips, beads, and raffia radiate from the vessels, indicating the emanation of a spiritual force. Some pieces bristle with flags, further adding an element of militaristic caution, which is in keeping with the character of certain shrines. Wall pieces ooze layers of cloth and beads, indicating that a formidable spiritual force cannot be contained. Some pots are completely obscured, recalling Egungun and Zangbeto processions of West Africa. Pieces are unglazed, and beads, cloth, and flags stand out starkly against matte terra cotta.

In addition to pottery informed by tradition, I also make pots specifically for ritual use produced in collaboration with religious practitioners and have explored a separate body of work that establishes an authentic setting in which to present ritual pottery and contextualizes its use.

-- Adam Posnak


Adam Posnak (b. 1973) grew up in Macon, Georgia. His great- grandfathers were blacksmiths, his grandfather a woodworker, and his mother a studio potter. Posnak holds an MFA from Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, and a BA from Macalester College, St. Paul, MN. Posnak is an Instructor of Ceramics and Foundations at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and his home and pottery studio is in West Fork, Arkansas.