This research will use porcelain as a ceramic material and investigative tool to reveal and challenge the hegemony of whiteness in relation to the values and legacy of British colonialism. Porcelain production has historically been shrouded in intrigue and associated with a fraught symbolism. Its global trade history and impact on European cultural mores continue to be critiqued (Marchand, 2020). Highly sought-after for its durability and delicacy, porcelain was a status symbol for 17-18th century European elites, who coveted its whiteness. This ‘white gold’ ignited a colonial-era trade notorious for piracy and fuelled the commercial disputes between China and the East India Company that led to the colonisation of Hong Kong in 1842. Germany’s Nazi regime prized pure white porcelain, claiming its qualities reflected their ideas about Aryan culture (Zahavi, 2018).
Porcelain, cherished as it is for its ‘purity’, becomes an apt material and concept to embody, expose and contest social, cultural and historically constructed ideologies of whiteness. My practice-based research will explore how the properties of porcelain – its fractiousness and vulnerability when raw, its strength, whiteness and translucency when fired – can challenge terms such as fragility and innocence explored through ideologies of whiteness identified by DiAngelo (2018) and Wekker (2016). Fundamental to this will be an exploration of porcelain’s potency as a vibrant and affective material (Bennett, 2010).
My art practice, rooted in craft processes and the conceptual use of materials, will provide a testbed and exposé for this analysis. I will maintain an inventory of my subject position as a white British artist through a reflective research journal. It is vital that the artistic outcomes of this research are widely accessible, so I will investigate suitable public, plural spaces for its display, where I can interact with audiences to discuss and assess the work's impact.