Ceramics Lecture at LBI Foundation Dishes Up Awareness

Aug 01, 2018

On Sunday, July 29, Roberto Lugo, a renowned potter and social activist, opened his lecture at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences with a surprising, unconventional treat: a spoken word poem. He was kicking off the “Plates, Platters and Nothing Else Matters” national juried competition and exhibition at the Foundation, prior to the announcement of winners and concluding reception.

“When you cut the arts, baby, you cut the heart. Strings,” Lugo began. In rhythm to some imaginary beat, he continued with a cluster of rhetorical questions, each starting, “Without art, how …?”

His voice was low and soft enough that attendees didn’t dare rustle in their seats, unless to exchange a nod or impressed eyebrow raise after one-liners like “You want to stop violence? Pick up some violins.”

The poem was an appropriate kick-off for the lecture, as it touched on the importance of art and its inherent ability to create conversations, immortalize cultures and inspire change. Following the poem, Lugo provided a disclaimer that while his art might seem to speak to particular political views, he asked that the group bear with him, as he didn’t strive to push one political agenda, but rather understand differing convictions, values, opinions.

Lugo obtained his BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and his MFA at Penn State University. In 2015, he was named an “Emerging Artist” by the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts. Among other honors and awards, Lugo is also an educator and currently serves as an assistant professor at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art.

Some of his pieces feature intricate portraits of political figures, pop culture icons and modern-day martyrs, such as Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.

“One of the ideas I want to sort of communicate to you is that putting an image of Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin on a pot may seem political, especially because for the most part we’ve been told that we’re supposed to feel this binary way. So when you look at this pot and you see Mike Brown, you think ‘Oh, this person must hate the police,’ and that can’t be further from the truth. All I’m trying to say in this work is this person was really valuable to someone. This person had a mother and he deserves an urn, just like anyone else.”

As a victim of racism and poverty, Lugo is no stranger to adversity. He sees his struggle not as a disadvantage, however, but as a way in which he can connect with and relate to others.

“Everybody in here has faced some sort of trauma. Everyone has faced a hardship, right? There’s nothing distinctive about my struggle. The point is to think about where our struggles intersect, so that maybe we can relate to each other, rather than compete with each other.”

Lugo’s lecture was an inspiring, refreshing take on the polarizing political party system and seemingly defective human condition, specifically regarding morality and empathy. The artist, poet and activist strives to see beyond disagreement and disparities and to find the commonalities that exist between humans, so that we can become not each other’s opponents, but peers.

“If I find someone who is different than me, I want to ask them questions. All I want to do is figure out how to engage and understand this world better. And if there’s something I don’t like about it, the best way to find out how to change it is to ask people who think differently than me.”

Lugo ended his presentation the same way he began: with a spoken-word poem. This piece covered his 10 rules of life, one of them being “Three. This rule has gotta be key. Being bitter is expensive, being kind is free.”

The exhibit will be on display until Sunday, Aug. 12. For more information regarding Lugo and his work, visit robertolugostudio.com.

— Sarah Hodgson

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