In 2008, Osa Atoe was touring around the country with her punk band New Bloods. When we met her, she had changed gears, steering her focus to concentrate on the kind of art you can hold in your hands. She makes her life and living now as a terracotta potter in New Orleans, Louisiana, her color palette vast in its temperature if not its hue, both defying and defining the heat of the city.
Osa’s bowls and dishes are elegant vessels, radiating with a staccato drum beat of angle and line. The geometric patterns in her ceramics recall the drawings in Shotgun Seamstress, Osa’s self-published zine about Black punk and political activism. A passion for personal and societal transformation, DIY ethics and the vocalization of the under-represented are the driving forces in everything she does, manifesting themselves in media as disparate as terracotta, punk and art historical essay. Her work is her voice: loud, unfettered by form and resounding in revolution.
We spoke to Osa about the relationship between punk music and ceramics, what a vessel stands for and the richness of New Orleans’ craft heritage.
Portland punk band New Bloods.
What is your relationship to the the process of creating pottery, especially in relationship to punk and DIY aesthetics? You mentioned that you’ve been a punk musician since you were 19. Does that play into how you make ceramics now?
I think I always wanted to work harder on punk bands than I actually could while collaborating with people. I was always very clear about the fact that I wasn’t in bands to make money; I wanted the music I was making to be purely about expression and participating in the legacy of punk and American indie rock. Unfortunately, I think that when you’re not getting paid for your craft, it can’t take as high a priority in your life. You’re always spending such a large chunk of your time working for money to keep food in your belly and a roof over your head. I would’ve loved to work on being in a band as hard as I work on pottery, but when you’re working with other people, you have everyone’s schedule to take into account. In the end, the longevity of your project also relies on multiple people.