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Mastering Meditative Play with Ceramicist Tamara “Solem” Al-Issa

Tamara “Solem” Al-Issa is a self-taught Arab and Filipina ceramicist and potter based in Toronto. With hand-building and wheel-throwing clay as her primary medium, Al-issa explores the connection between her body, the clay, and the wheel in the belief that our bodies develop physical awareness as we express ourselves on an unconscious level. We hung out in her dreamy, light-filled home studio as she gave us the scoop on the importance of clay as meditation, creative control, and self-perception on social media versus in real life.

How did you get into ceramics?
Seven years ago, I took a drop-in pottery class at a small studio in Toronto. I immediately fell in love with the ability to rely on creating objects through feeling rather than seeing. Once I graduated university, I realized that I had a responsibility to provide accessible pottery workshops that emphasized the process instead of outcome. I opened my studio and began guiding my clients through the ceremony of moving earth to engage with all of the elements, and therefore, connection to spirit and self. I now mainly spend my time on personal work, moving through different shapes, textures, and imagery.

At Tamara's studio Slim Signet Ring, Charlotte Bold Ring, Thin Dôme Ring, Baby Box Chain Necklace and Moonstone Sphere Pendant

Tamara wears Beaded Medium Hoops and Malachite Hoop Charm

What are your other disciplines and how do they influence your ceramic work?
I studied kinesiology and physical education in university and I continually learn about the profound intersections that exist between clay-working and the literacy of physiological movement. The act of pottery requires a rapport to be built between my body, the clay, and the wheel. I am currently in the beginning stages of a new line of ceramics that serves to establish contemporary discourse surrounding the arts and medical science, where the two can coexist seamlessly.

At Tamara's studio  Slim Signet RingCharlotte Bold RingThin Dôme Ring, Anchor Chain Bracelet, Anchor Chain Necklace, Baby Box Chain Necklace, Moonstone Sphere Pendant, Scarab Coin Pendant, Beaded Medium Hoops and Malachite Hoop Charm

Tamara wears Thin Dôme Ring, Slim Signet RingCharlotte Bold Ring and Anchor Chain Bracelet

Describe what "meditative play" means within your discipline.
There’s importance in experimenting and having fun with my practice, but not without acknowledging the skill that is required to reverently engage with clay. Pottery as a practice has become so discursive over time and we have forgotten to look to our predecessors in order to learn the proper mastery it takes to respect the material. I’ve found ways to maintain a level of dogma and traditional methods when making seemingly archaic vessels, while using and recognizing the same skills it takes to have some fun and make wine glasses with smiley faces drawn all over them. I find it refreshing to create with a child-like lens, but not without being a bit strict with myself first.

Tamara wears Charlotte Bold Ring, Slim Signet Ring and Thin Dôme Ring

How has selling through social media versus real life affected your relationship with yourself and your craft?
I’ve recently had several moments where I felt myself losing touch with my own self-perception, as I was spending more time perceiving myself over social media than with my physical body, alone, uninterrupted. This bleeds into the way I move with ceramics. I seemingly flip to this mindset of objectifying my bodies of work as “products”, or as accessories to my being. Having open studio sales has made this mindset-flip very noticeable as I observe the authentic connections that clients have with me and my work when they are in a physical space. Encouraging in-person studio visits facilitates the type of IRL connection that makes me excited to create, as opposed to getting stuck making work that looks good online.

Tamara wears Anchor Chain Necklace, Baby Box Chain Necklace, Scarab Coin Pendant, Anchor Chain Bracelet, Charlotte Bold RingSlim Signet Ring and Thin Dôme Ring

Tell us about your incredible studio. Is it your living space as well? How does that affect your process?
I am extremely mindful of how I arrange my surroundings in a way that mirrors my practice. I try to create a milieu that encourages being still and slow. When my surroundings visually and energetically align with my practice, I feel that I can truly move and flow freely within my space. It’s great living behind my studio, however, I often need to remove myself from the studio and take intentional breaks to separate work from rest. I can’t complain though–it’s such a privilege to wake up to clay in the next room every morning.

Photography by Pao Dungao

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