Walking into the Institute for the Humanities on last Wednesday was the equivalent of entering a Chelsea gallery on a Friday night. Decked out with hummus and tzadiki platters, the opening of “20 Years, 12 Poets: Ceramics by Rachid Koraichi” was a sophisticated, well-attended event. Koraichi, curator Elisabeth Paymal and director Daniel Herwitz introduced the imaginative, dynamic exhibit to an attentive crowd.

Angela Cesere
Angela Cesere

As part of its 20th anniversary, the Institute invited Koraichi, a renowned and versatile French-Algerian artist, to create ceramic plates inspired by the work of 12 past and present Institute poetry fellows. Koraichi, in Michigan for the first time, produces 25 original and intricate pieces that play on the individual character of poets whose work he had never seen before the project. The plates were made with the help of Studio Coordinator John Leyland at the School of Art & Design. The fellows’ 12 disparate poems are unified by Koraichi’s infusion of his personal background.

The plates, on display until Dec. 14, give a second and fresh life to the poems. Lloyd Hall Scholar students in Carol Tell’s writing class will attempt to give a third life to the poems by writing their own interpretive poetry based on the plates.

Koraichi, who grew up in the Sufi Muslim tradition, is a native Algerian who speaks Algerian, French and Arabic – but not English. Luckily, a friend of the artist, Fatma Nedjari, who is also program coordinator in the School of Public Health, happened to attend the opening and helped translate my questions. Through her, Koraichi spoke about his relationship with the various poems.

Each plate has a uniform shape and size with all images in the same shade of blue – “the color of infinity” – and each includes the Arabic word for love. Koraichi explained he could work spontaneously after focusing intently on his first interaction with each poem. Whether or not it was a readily apparent theme, Koraichi found love in each poem, which he believes to be present in even the most painful and sorrow-filled places.

Each plate is comprised of an excerpt of the poem in English, Arabic translations of some of the words and interpretive images drawn out by Koraichi. Teacher and former poetry-fellow Terry Blackwater submitted a poem, “At the Raku Firing,” about a ceramic production method. A circular design representing the inside of the kiln is illustrated on one plate while the other plate boasts abstract images of volcanic eruptions and rebirth to depict the spontaneous nature of raku.

The Muslim tradition of Sufism places importance on knowledge and education through mysticism. By employing Arabic words and symbols, Koraichi brings his own tradition and culture to the verse presented to him. Koraichi believes art is like music: neither come with instructions. He follows his emotions and feelings to create artwork, which can then act as a starting point for dialogue between people of different backgrounds.

“20 Years, 12 Poets” drives at the heart of interdisciplinary education and the importance of art at the University. While munching on baklava, the opening’s attendees discussed the artwork in several languages and gesticulated wildly while circling the room, enthusiastic about the exhibit’s combination of culture, imagery and poetry. It seemed the exhibit’s admirable vision spilled freely onto the exhibit floor.

20 Years, 12 Poets: Ceramics by Rachid Koraichi

Through Dec. 14

At the Institute for the Humanities


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