Carina Claassens is an artist who creates ceramic pieces that first and foremost
aim to express the natural beauty and properties of clay. Her approach is intuitive
and organic, allowing her hands to act as a conduit for natural expression. Carina
is a South African who has been living and working in the Netherlands since 2005.
Her work has been shown at various (international) exhibitions,
A-CHOICES: Tell me a little about yourself, and growing up in South Africa.
CARINA: I was lucky enough to grow up in a wildlife nature reserve in Mpumalanga, called Blyderriver (Burks Luck Potholes).
A-CHOICES: What lead you into working with ceramics? Are you self-taught or
have you learned it from someone else?
CARINA: I studied Fine and Applied Arts at the Tswane University of Technology. Where I received my B-com degree. They’re one of my majors was Ceramics, in which I learned how to work with different clays, learned different techniques to work with clay, and got into the chemistry of glazes for example.
But it started when I was able to walk and explore and search for pottery shards. Using traditionally made Venda pots.
A-CHOICES: Your work has caught quite a lot of attention off- and online. Could you
tell us more about your story and how you got to the place where you are now?
CARINA: Growing up where I did and surrounded by different cultures inspired me. Climbing and exploring ‘koppies’ very rocky outcroppings and searching for pottery shards and rock paintings was a ‘very normal’ occurrence that spiked my interest in history and cultures. (Like Mapungubwe National Park).
In my first class at University, the professor showed us the film: ‘The Wall’ which left a deep impression on me.
The Arts Campus was a boiling pot of creativity and people from all backgrounds and creeds. My professors played a huge part in liberating my mind. Reading and slowly emancipating myself from dogma and ‘the cultural norm’ has been a conscious uncoupling.
Traveling the world and connecting with women across the world opened my eyes to many injustices and very much highlighted my privilege.
After my studies, I moved to live and work in Maputo, Mozambique. I taught ceramics at the American International School and created my own ceramics.
Mozambique’s civil war only ended a couple of years before, so I saw the aftermath and heard the stories of what war does to people and also the infrastructure of the country. It was and is a booming city with the most kind and beautiful people. It was during a scuba trip up North at Tofo that I met my now husband. We both share a great love for the ocean. After traveling up and down we had to make a decision, and I ended up moving to Amsterdam. I remember saying: “Five years, and we need to move back to Southern Africa”. But life often takes an interesting diversion.
During my time in Amsterdam, I exhibited and also curated South African Contemporary Art exhibitions and festivals like Afrovibes. Meeting other artists and becoming friends with other diaspora artists. Becoming first the Artistic Director and then the Director of Festival voor het Afrikaans. Focusing on cultural exchange between South Africa, The Netherlands, and Vlaanderen.
2016 was my last festival and I was at breaking point. During this time we also moved to Zurich and back to The Netherlands. And I was lucky enough to be blessed with our amazing daughter after losing a child and almost dying.
Realizing that something had to change. We looked to move away from the west Netherlands away from the city. In 2018 we bought a small farm in Achterhoek. For the first I felt ok, yip, here I can stay. We have been working endlessly to create and build a large ceramic centrum called: “Clay Café Nederland” and a large sculpture garden in-between the wildflower meadow.
Planting more than 7000 plants and many trees. Creating an art sanctuary for myself on the 1hectar space. More than anything, I am proud of this. We are currently booked fully for ceramic courses and classes up to May 2023.
I have a great love for teaching and sharing my passion for ceramics. Seeing students grow and exhibiting and selling their ceramics worldwide.
The plan is for 3 and 4th-year students from my university to come and work and stay for 2 months. Creating a bridge with ceramics between the Netherlands and Southern Africa. But with Corona, this was hampered since 2020. But we are working on having our first residency by the middle of this year.
A-CHOICES: How would you define the style of your work and how did it develop?
CARINA:Content: Inspired by artists’ friends, being a part of ceramics forums, and most of all life. Current and past events. Political and social injustices.
My last series focused on #mybodymychoice. Living in the Netherlands has taught me so much.
Having a love of people and understanding that most people want to feel safe want to feel love. Seeing the injustice and evil of the colonization of Africa. Apartheid in South Africa, knowing that my family participated.
Seeing how women are treated differently here in the Netherlands than back home.
How people that identify LGBTQA+ are much safer here. Where in South Africa many people face correctional rape and murder because of their sexual orientation.
The rape and molestation of myself, my friends, and my own Mother. Femicide.
Nature also played a large part in some of my work. Growing up on Blyde and 50m from the 3rd largest canyon in the world. Learning to swim in the Blyder River. The proteas growing wild and seeing wildlife roaming freely are a deep core part of my soul.
Medium: I love to work with oxides. The red and yellow ochre that colors the soil in Red and yellow. Using traditional pottery techniques learned from my Venda colleagues and friends. Telling a story.
Using vivid colors that remind me of South Africa and Mozambique.
A-CHOICES: What are some of your accomplishments as an artist?
CARINA: I was lucky enough to be invited to exhibit at many international exhibitions. My work has travelled to Florence, Berlin, Istanbul, Barcelona, USA, and many locations/galleries in The Netherlands. I was featured in Vogue magazine and was showcased in a Dutch TV program called Plezier en Passie. I am also very proud that I can make a living from my art and passion.
Working AR specialist Nini Ikhena from Nigeria. To create an interactive experience by using AR technology.
Opening up the Clay Café Nederland – Ceramic Atelier and Cultural Centrum and Sculpture Garden.
A-CHOICES: What aspect of creating something fascinates you more –
conceptualisation, actual creation, or the end result?
CARINA: The actual creation. It is a release of my own anxiety, anger, fears, and hopes. It is therapy for myself, a letting go. It becomes a place to capture and hold strong emotions. I create because I must.
A-CHOICES: You create works rooted in bold memories of a Southern African
CARINA: The sounds, smell, and vibe. The people that I grew up with. The community who lived and worked at the Nature reserve. The absolute love they gave freely. Nature is wild and untamed.
A-CHOICES: Who or what inspires you?
CARINA: Mothers. People that were part of ‘uMkhonto we Size’ had balls of steal. People that stand up against tyranny and protest even if means they will be incarcerated or killed. Mother nature.
A-CHOICES: As a South African now based in the Netherlands. How does
multiculturalism influence your thought process?
CARINA: Amsterdam was a melting pot. A multicultural community. People from around the globe and various backgrounds. I would say the Dutch are very much welcoming. But I have observed that rather than coalescing into a single homogeneous culture, many people retain their own distinct flavour. You have a large Turkish, Moroccan, and Indonesian Culture. But it also results in prejudice and discrimination.
One can travel the world so easily from the Netherlands. Travelling, meeting, and experiencing different cultures can only enrich one’s own life.
A-CHOICES: What do you reckon is your next work going to be about?
CARINA: I think that is a very difficult question to answer. Sometimes I start working with a preconceived idea of what I think it should be. Sometimes I just start working and let the flow take me where it needs to go. In many cases, I start with one idea, but due to external influences, it may turn into something very different instead. A good example is my recent work ‘Fragile Peace’. It started out as me just working on a bust/figurehead, but as I was listening to BBC World Radio while I was working, I was a direct witness of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the meaning and form of the work changed dramatically because of it.
One of the projects I have recently embarked on, however, is to create a work of memories in collaboration with an old age home, but I cannot divulge too many details yet obviously.
A-CHOICES: Studio Description
CARINA: My studio is located on a 100-year-old small farm. We have renovated the big barn into an open and light creative atelier space, with the coziness of a nice fireplace to add to the atmosphere. Overlooking our sculpture garden and the wonderful Achterhoekse nature, the space creates a sense of relaxation for the mind and soul. We hold exhibitions and open weekends for the public to attend.
As mentioned above, we teach ceramics courses and classes.
A-CHOICES: What type of clay do you use?
CARINA: Porcelain, Stoneware, and Earthenware
A-CHOICES: What temperature do you fire to?
CARINA: It depends on the clay. For sculptures that will be outside, I always fire to 1260’C so that the clay I use will be vitrified.
A-CHOICES: What is your primary forming method?
CARINA: It depends on what creative mood I am in. Currently, my focus has been on wheel throwing, but I usually add hand-building techniques on top of that. I really do love both techniques, as it allows me to create such diverse artworks.
I love working with printing techniques on clay.
A-CHOICES: What one word would you use to describe your work?
A-CHOICES: If you could change one property of clay, what would it be?
CARINA: That porcelain will be forgiving.
A-CHOICES: Do you miss SA?
CARINA: Yes, I do. Since we moved to the farm, we live on now it is has become easier.
A-CHOICES: Challenges of flexing your creative muscles on the world stage?
A-CHOICES: What do you think it takes to be a successful ceramic artist?
CARINA: Patience. Clay is a fickle medium, and the techniques you learn take time to be developed. You will also need to accept that things will not always turn out the way you envisioned them, as things may break, and glazes may turn out differently, but you learn from that and cherish that knowledge.
Share your experiences with the ceramics community, their tips and tricks will help you thrive.
Create a strong portfolio (and internet presence)
Build your professional network, talk to galleries and contact exhibitions.
Time. I think one of the key things to becoming a successful ceramic artist, is to put in a lot of time and effort and not be afraid to bare your soul in your art.
A-CHOICES: What advice do you have for aspiring ceramic artists?
CARINA: Learn the techniques. The foundation of your art will be in mastering the techniques. Surround yourself with inspiring people.
A-CHOICES: How would you describe yourself
CARINA: I am definitely an intro extrovert. I care deeply and I am loyal. I hate injustice. I love to belly laugh. Passionate.
Author: Gbenga Teejay Okunlola