Exhibited at Design Miami/ 2023 Yabbas are widemouth terracotta vessels often overlooked because of their practical functionality and simplistic design. Still, they are among the few objects that survive as part of the African Caribbean material culture. During enslavement, women were allowed to work collectively to make and sell yabbas, which were used for cooking, storing food, and serving meals, and, for some, eventually bought their freedom.
After learning from her mother, Ma Lou, a celebrated African Jamaican potter, revived the art of making yabbas and became one of Jamaica's noted potters. Today yabbas are still being made and fired, primarily by men using the same hand-building technique Jamaicans call "African coil" and smoked fired in the same technique used in West African pottery. These pots held cultural memories and ancestors' experiences and were tools for liberation.
From gathering this history, I created a series of pots, collaborating with Jamaican potters to reimagine yabbas by carving the exterior using the maps of Port Royal before and after the historic earthquake of 1692 that killed thousands. Amongst the casualties were the first groups of Akan potters enslaved in Port Royal. These pots pay homage to the Akans who decorated the yabba shards found after the first earthquake in Port Royal. The shards were the last few pieces of decorated pots that archaeologists can connect to West African pottery traditions. After this period, yabba had minimal, if any, pattern decoration. The inside of Yabba I, Yabba II, Yabba III, and Ayawa is a rich blue glaze that pays homage to Cecil Baugh, a Jamaican master potter famous for his Egyptian blue glaze and indigo blue found in West African textiles.
New narratives are essential to bringing awareness to overlooked historical objects to connect Black diasporic experiences.
Materials: terracotta and glaze.
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