Learning about the past is the one of the best ways to understand the present and the future. Ceramicist and sculptor Bari Ziperstein is no stranger to this concept.
As an Artist-in-Residence at the Art, Design & Architecture Museum at UCSB, her exhibition Fair Trade explores the contradictory (and controlling) expectations for women in traditional and modern societies. Inspired by imagery of Soviet Union propaganda and Japanese Samurai armour, the fruits of Ziperstein’s labor take shape as politically-charged vessels and decorative panels. The public is invited to reinterpret gender and social constructs in an alternative way.
The Los Angeles-based artist has spent the last two years researching and working with historical imagery. After getting her hands dirty (both literally and figuratively), Ziperstein combined depictions of Samurai armor with Soviet Union trade show set design to produce Fair Trade. By mixing different media in many of her Fair Trade artworks, Ziperstein strives to constantly push the boundaries of her medium, what ever it may be.
Predominantly using clay to decode and evaluate the shape-shifting role of women is particularly apropos.
“This medium is so transformative,” Ziperstein emphasizes. “It can mimic another material. It also has such a dramatic and weighted history that you can use to see content. So to me, it’s a way to draw people in through its history and through its familiarity.”
All of the names of the pots in Fair Trade trace back to Soviet Union propaganda posters from the Wende Museum (741 Buckingham Pky., Culver City). A select few are available on view to provide additional in-house context for Ziperstein’s work. “When I saw those posters, I thought ‘This could still be made today,'” she explains. “It resonated with me because it’s from my generation, and it seemed to be an interesting bridge to comment on our current state. At the same time, I know that propaganda was an important tool for our government to relay information, so my thinking was ‘I’m going to use that same strategy.'”
As viewers engage with the art, they can also take note of the interactions between the artworks themselves. The pieces are all cleverly positioned to look like they are judging each other—a nod to the prevailing narrative of constant competition between women.
When it comes to competitive creative energies, Ziperstein finds a balance between conceptual art and more commercial art. Her multidisciplinary practice includes fine art, public art, and her design line, BZIPPY & CO. Ziperstein’s versatility in style makes her a force to be reckoned with. “My artistry has changed all the time,” she states. “It depends on what content I’m interested in and based on what my needs are.”
If her current position is any indicator, there are only great things to come.
Fair Trade runs through the month of April at the Art, Design & Architecture Museum. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m., and on Thursday from noon to 8 p.m. Admission is free.
—Victoria Tai Murphy