Waiting (For Life to Begin)

Artist: Kay Bazzard
19 May - 24 June 2018, Hastings City Art Gallery
By Rosheen FitzGerald

When Kay Bazzard travelled to Tucson, Arizona, in March 2017 to learn to sculpt a standing figure, she could not help but absorb something of the social and political climate. In the shadow of the Mexican border, at the dawning of the age of Trump, the global refugee crisis was thrown into relief. With the plight of these people in her heart and new skills in her hands she began to work. What she brought forth from this process was “not distressed or fearful…but softer emotions emerging from the clay…calm, somewhat pensive, thoughtful – this is just how they came…it was intuitive”.

In the Holt Gallery a long white plinth hosts the thirteen figures who are Waiting (For Life to Begin). At each head stands a woman, standing tall, meeting the eye of the viewer. Just off centre, two more stand at an angle, backs to one another, facing out. These four act as guardians, between them holding the space to the North, the South, the East and West – the places from which they have come, and to where they are going. Within, a single man clasps his hands behind his back, his eyes cast down, face in repose. A mother clutches a strangely simian child to her hip. Her small son looks to her while she looks out to the world. A cross-armed woman folds into herself around a belly that speaks of imminent or recent birth. A pair of couples miss each other’s gazes to create tableaux of shared but personal struggle – a man clutches his chin in thought, a woman massages her own neck in a gesture of self-soothing. All are frozen in limbo, souls locked in clay, a testimony to the Lennon lyric, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”.

The figures are moulded in red raku clay, speckled with a whiteish grog to produce a toothy, terracotta texture. The raw, unglazed finish gives an immediacy to the work, the sense of capturing a moment in time that is at once fleeting and eternal. This tension, held in the folds of a skirt or the swell of a belly, is given flight in the detail picked out in the faces – eyes gouged out in toothpick fine lines, the slightest indentations at the corners of a mouth. Their lumpen bare feet physically anchor them to the earth, symbolising the toil with which they move through the world. That they are uniformly brown – as are the majority of the sixty-five million displaced people that traverse the globe in search of acceptance – feels significant. But the tenderness with which they are sculpted negates any instinct to highlight their difference. Their basic humanity, the intimate familiarity of their glances, their gestures, clamours for us to identify with them, to see them then, not as other, but as us.

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