Heidi McKenzie

Artist Statement

My studio practice engages issues of identity and belonging. Through abstract portraiture, I explore the everyday lived experience of my mixed-race ethnicities. I began incorporating photography with clay in 2014 to viscerally depict the fragmentation of my body. I subsequently moved on to investigate image as archive. This series of work speaks to my personal histories through photographic imagery coupled with abstract representation. In the 19th century, my ancestors, settlers, migrants and immigrants, travelled from Ireland to the Americas, and India to the Caribbean in hopes of a better life. In the mid 20th century, my parents married at a time when interracial marriages were illegal in several American states and extremely uncommon in both Canada and the U.S. I grew up on the East coast of Canada, one of a handful of brown faces in a sea of white, at the corners of “Canadianness.” Holding space and making place for people of color matters. Rendering the chronicles of the marginalized through clay, matters. Telling my family’s stories, matter.

My recent work seeks to reinvigorate modernism through abstraction using form as metaphor to underscore my ancestral heritage as well as those of the forgotten or often-overlooked. It documents the inheritance of colonial trauma through archive by imprinting iron-oxide on ceramic. It renames, reclaims, reshapes and re-worlds my lived experience, decolonizing “the white cube.” I ask the viewer to consider, acknowledge, understand and transmute in contemporary times the ongoing legacies of class, caste, race, migration and colonialization.

-- Heidi McKenzie


Heidi McKenzie is a Toronto-based ceramic artist. She found her true calling at 40 when her parents found an essay she had written when she was nine years old – “What I Want To Be When I Grow Up… A Potter.” She left a 20-year career in arts management and radio to apprentice in her father’s ancestral home at the foothills of the Himalayas with India’s foremost studio potter, Mini Singh (a student of Bernard Leach). Heidi returned to Canada and completed her Diploma at Sheridan College in 2012 and subsequently her MFA at OCADU in 2014. In 2011 Heidi received the Emerging Artist Award at Toronto Artists Project, and in 2012 exhibited at the Toronto International Art Fair. In 2013, Heidi was funded by the Ontario Arts Council to create in Jingdezhen, China and in Bali, Indonesia. In 2014 Heidi completed a residency at Guldagergaard International Centre for Ceramic Research. In 2017 Heidi received OAC funding to work in Sydney Australia, to apprentice with Master Mitsuo Shoji and expand her sculptural vocabulary. Heidi has exhibited nationally and internationally, including biennales and Romania, Hungary, Australia and at NCECA (Milwaukee, Portland). She is recipient of a 2017 Craft Ontario Award, and Best in Show Ontario Artists Association Biennial Award, and 2019 Canada Council Explore and Create Visual Artist Grant, and 2019 Craft Ontario Award. Heidi maintains both sculpture and functional ware studio practices. Her work engages issues of identity and belonging. She is an active arts journalist and ceramic arts reviewer.