Art & Culture - 10/02/18

Looking Beyond the Glaze

Written by Jenora V

Curators Takako and Rachel Kosciuszko are bringing hand-selected Japanese ceramic pieces to the global market. Read on to hear how Waka Artisans grew from a hobby into a business for this mother-daughter duo.

From their small but perfectly formed boutique in Hong Kong’s PMQ arts centre, Waka Artisans are on a quiet mission to broaden the world’s horizons on Japanese ceramics. Run by mother and daughter Takako and Rachel, the shop is known for its unique collection of artisanal ceramics sourced from all over Japan. Along with forays to trade fairs all over the world and classes designed to educate their customers, Waka Artisans offers a little window into the wonderful world of Japanese craft and culture.

It was actually in the rustic hills of the Yorkshire Dales in the north of England that Waka Artisans first took root. “It was absolutely mad to do it, but Mum just completely fell in love with this one little shop,” Rachel laughs of their time living there. “She’d always said her dream was to one day open her own pottery shop and the rent was crazy cheap because it was in the middle of the countryside.” In 2015, the whimsical pottery store relocated with the family to Hong Kong, where it has flourished for the last three years.

Waka Artisans’ product offering is a deeply personal one. “If we feel we would never use something ourselves, we don’t buy it,” says Takako. “It’s very much a selfish selection process. But that’s the only way we can create the colour of the shop.” The duo value originality, featuring new wave artists from the Mashiko and Kasama pottery regions of Japan found around 100 km from Tokyo who are pushing the boundaries of tradition.

Keen to present their ceramics as more than just an art form, they hold courses that educate their customers on the intricacies of Japanese culture. There are sake tasting workshops that demonstrate how different ceramic vessels are used for different purposes. “It’s about showing how you can really appreciate each type of sake in differently shaped cups, different kinds of materials,” explains Takako. And then there are classes in kintsugi, a traditional repair technique which uses lacquer and real gold or silver to mend cracks and breaks. “The point of kintsugi is repairing something unique that you’ve really fallen in love with. If you add a hint of gold, it’s not just about covering up the repair, it’s making the repaired section more beautiful,” Rachel explains. “Kintsugi is about appreciating the history of the ceramic, and a homage to the artist. If you respect the piece enough to spend the time repairing it, it makes it something special.”

Familiar with both the British and Hong Kong markets, the pair travel internationally to display their collections at various art fairs such as Made in Marylebone, London and DesignInspire, hosted by Hong Kong’s Trade Development Council. Their collection has attracted attention from the curator of the British museum – one of their artists, Koji Usaka, was featured in a Summer 2017 Katsushika Hokusai exhibition. As they see it, “there’s a big difference between the cultures of using ceramics in the UK and Hong Kong,” Rachel states. “In the UK, there’s a lot more history with actually using handmade ceramics in your everyday life. In contrast, someone from Hong Kong might be more focused on the art, using a piece as a display.”

Waka’s journey is still evolving. “It’s been more than three years, and we’ve started to have confidence in what we can sell. Before, we really only brought back cups and plates, but now we’ve begun to aim a little higher,” Takako relates. Rachel, too, is optimistic about sustainable growth. “We’re at a bit of a crossroads. What might be quite interesting would be to have a gallery in Wan Chai that specialises in only the very high-end Japanese ceramics, and then make this PMQ shop a little more casual. At the moment, we have such a huge range of customers, we could think about potentially splitting the two.” From humble beginnings in the middle of the British countryside, it’s a good position to be in.

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