Emma Luna, Hearts,
Sacred and Profane
Neil Larsen, Ph.D.,
of Latin American Literature and critical theory.
Program in Comparative
Literature, Program in Critical Theory
September 10, 2006
Familiar as a religious icon and even
more so as one of the most ubiquitous symbols in popular culture, the
heart truly starts beating again in the artistic imagination when one
first sees the utterly unique ceramic sculptures here assembled in an
installation for SOFA 2006.
Widely-known ceramic artist Emma Luna, a
native of the Dominican Republic currently residing in California, has
produced these objects using a variety of materials and techniques:
porcelain and red terra cotta clay subjected to both smoke- and saggar
firing (the latter a process in which the oxidization of natural
materials such as sea weed is used in place of glaze to add color.)
the technical virtuosity evident in these sculptural objects blends
imperceptibly into metaphor, from the ironic and playful to the
Hearts nailed, sliced, shattered and ripped
apart and then repaired with wires and safety-pins or pieced together
again like puzzles are juxtaposed alongside hearts with windows, nooks
and ladders, musical hearts, hearts written-over and even a heart with a
The idea here works as an assemblage because the underlying
image of the heart is so completely familiar—becoming the perfect
vehicle for visual metaphor—
but also an ideal, because endlessly variable, sculptural form.
Not surprisingly, there is an unusual
history to this idea.
Luna first began experimenting with her hearts
while working as a resident artist and Fulbright fellow at the Altos de Chavón Design Institute in the Dominican Republic in 2003.
archeological museum at the Institute contained a collection of ancient
ceramic vessels—known as potizas--made centuries ago by the Tainos, the native, pre-Columbian inhabitants of the island. Ritual
objects—probably fertility symbols—the potizas are also
Having been fascinated with these relics of a now
vanished people ever since her childhood in Santo Domingo, Luna, upon
seeing them again, in effect found an artistic way to restore them to
life, rather than simply reproducing them in a literal fashion.
is also some hidden Dominican history—and humor—in Luna’s accompanying
bundles of beautiful ceramic peapods.
The Spanish for pod is “vaina,” a
word with many meanings in popular Caribbean parlance but which, when
exclaimed --¡qué vaina!—expresses a unique combination of exasperation
and stoic determination to survive.)
You can, indeed, almost hear the Spanish
word for heart—“corazón,” with its musical suggestion of interior space
and its endless poetic and romantic associations—
echoing inside these