Artist Kimberly Ma finds hopeful regeneration in ceramics – Norman Transcript | Candle Made Easy

The University of Oklahoma School of Visual Arts’ 108th annual exhibition was held earlier this spring.

Kimberly Ma was among the elite student artists whose work was selected for the exhibition. She also graduated from OU this year with a Bachelor of Fine Art degree.

Ma’s ceramic works, both at the above exhibition and at her capstone exhibition in May, displayed exceptional technical skill and artistic sensibility.

Perhaps even more extraordinary are the things the artist has learned about herself during her years at OU.

“My time at OU was very fulfilling,” said Ma. “I went to school thinking I was going to be an engineer, but ended up becoming an artist and I love it.”

Ma had an epiphany during a math class that technology wasn’t for her.

“It just didn’t make me happy,” she said. “My boyfriend at the time and other friends knew that art makes me happy. They pushed me to take my first art class and then I just switched.”

Ma had taken some art classes in high school, but didn’t have an extensive background in ceramics. In the end she became a star at OU.

This year’s School of Visual Arts exhibit curator, Jennifer Scanlan, was specifically asked about the ceramics department in a previous Transcript article. She answered unequivocally.

“There are some really strong ceramic pieces,” Scanlan said. “This department has some great artists. You are doing a great job.”

Ma comes from an artistic family, whom she credits for contributing to her talent.

“They’re all kind of really creative,” she said. “My sister can draw, paint and play musical instruments, my other sister is a graphic designer who draws and paints and my brother is a great artist. I grew up in a creative house, but we didn’t see it as art, if that makes sense.”

Art has not been seen as a way of earning a living in many cultures. Ma’s teachers at OU were influential in helping her grow artistically, technically, and personally.

“Especially in the ceramics department, I felt part of this community,” she said. “They are part of the ceramic family. It’s very close-knit, but we’re also very accepting of everyone. I was so nervous in my first ceramics class. I wanted to study art, but at the same time I didn’t know how to become an artist. I didn’t know how to be creative.”

OU had the answer with artist-in-residence Doug Casebeer. He was associate director and artistic director of ceramics at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, Colorado for 34 years.

“Doug Casebeer pushed me to the limit,” Ma said. “He challenged me so much but I’m so glad he did. I think I was able to graduate because he pushed me and opened my eyes to a lot of things.”

Ma was introduced to work on complex projects.

“I took three advanced courses with him, and each one was challenging in different ways,” she said. “Sometimes there was so much work I never thought I could do. He wanted a concept for everything you do. In the early days of ceramics, I was struggling with deep depression and other mental illnesses and was kind of stuck in a hole.

“He helped me slowly get out of my hole and to realize that my past traumas were really wrong. He helped me to speak about these traumas in my art and not to be afraid of it.”

One project was about telling a story by making a dozen ceramic objects. She learned to think conceptually and develop narratives.

“I made 12 vases, the first of which was perfect,” said Ma. “The vases perish while being slowly destroyed and manipulated. The last vase is just a ruin.”

Ma considered the project a success in part because it opened her up to discussions about mental health.

“[It showed] how people who have been through the same thing as me should get help, and they are not alone,” she said. “This project really helped me open up.”

Ma is Chinese-American and grew up in Oklahoma City, where she attended mostly white schools. She would go home to a traditional Chinese household after being mocked by her classmates for being Asian.

She disliked Chinese traditions and was unhappy both at school and at home. It led to an identity crisis.

She has studied Chinese culture to understand it and intends part of her work to be outreach to others in multicultural settings.

Ma’s exhibit with the final capstone is titled “Rebirth”. It was a departure from some trauma-related work.

“For that, I just wanted to focus on how to be positive in life,” she said. “Especially since it was my last bachelor’s project. Again, I made 12 vases that are all similar and spent countless hours hand painting each one.”

Ma drew two Chinese characters meaning double happiness in gold paint on each one. Other colors such as white, signifying death, and red, signifying happiness, were incorporated into the installation.

“After they were completely finished, I smashed them all,” she said, “then slowly rebuilt them except for one, which was resting on rocks, symbolizing that I hit rock bottom.”

A central vase has recognizable repairs but is essentially fine and intact, reflecting the artist of today.

“The project took a long time and was frustrating,” Ma said. “Like healing, it can be a long process that requires patience.”

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