About ceramics and Sabiha Ayari
Sabiha Ayari must have been about 40. She was unmarried and had no children. This is something out of the ordinary in an Arab country. Even so, she was one of the few independent and happy women I met in Tunisia. We were sailing through the Mediterranean Sea for the making of our thirteen-part documentary series Jambers Odyssee [Jambers Odyssey]. Sabiha lived in Sejnene, a remote village not far from Bizerte. She made beautiful and practical pottery, but also small ceramic sculptures. She had even acquired a certain degree of fame as a craftswoman-cum-artist. She sold her pieces in a makeshift shop along the roadside. She needed nothing and no one. She earned money for her own upkeep and was liked and respected by everyone. From time to time, she was even sent abroad by her government to represent Tunisia with her work at international events.
What appealed to me most about her story was that this woman, with her limited resources and limited education, living in a country where it is not always easy for women, has been able to make her own way in the world. Her creativity, her artistic talent and her determination were her only weapons. Without a husband, she found that she could be herself, could work, could travel alone abroad. Her ceramics were her freedom.
Once I was back in Belgium, I tried to find someone who could teach me all about ceramics. I eventually came into contact with Bie Van Gucht. She has her workshop in the beautiful 15th century Lazarus Chapel in Rumst. I immediately fell in love with the clay. I found it fascinating to play with the natural elements of earth, water and fire. But there was also a lot of hard work (and swearing!). To transform a shapeless lump of clay on a potter's wheel with your own hands into a flawless form requires strength, knowledge of your materials, creativity, talent and, above all, the perseverance to continue practicing and to start again after each failure. Fortunately, whenever something goes wrong, Bie is always there to help me. I love going to her workshop, where I meet men and women of different ages and backgrounds who all share a common passion for clay. The times I spend at the potter's wheel are worthwhile and relaxing moments, which I hope will continue for many years to come.
In the meantime, I have been creating my own ceramics for a number of years and I now have my own potter's wheel at home. And I was over the moon last year when my friends clubbed together to surprise me with a kiln for my birthday. Of course, it was Paul's bright idea. If people come looking for me at home, they usually know where to find me: I will either be in my workshop or in the kitchen.
'What appealed to me most was that this woman, with her limited resources and limited education, living in a country where it is not always easy for women, has been able to make her own way in the world.'