Barro Negro: Mexican craftsmanship in a new guise

Graphic designer Omar Fabian uses the old Mexican craft Barro Negro, or black pottery, to create new artworks.

Barro Negro is a style of pottery originating in Oaxaca, Mexico, distinguished by its dark grey or black colour. The colour due to properties of the clay, rather than colouring. The clay is cleaned to remove impurities. After that, it is moulded and set to dry, which can take up to three weeks. Finally, the pieces are fired in underground pits or above ground kilns. The pottery style has existed for centuries and traditionally produces grey matte pieces.

In the 1950s, a potter called Doña Rosa Real discovered that she could change the colour and shine of the barro negro pieces. When the pieces are almost dry, they are polished using a curved quartz stone. This compacts the surface of the clay and results in a metallic sheen and black colour during firing, which takes around 14 hours. This type of pottery becomes more fragile than its functional grey counterpart and is unable to retain liquids without discolouration and filtration. However, it can be used to create beautiful art objects, as Omar Fabian’s pieces show.

Each of Fabian’s ceramic pieces are handmade using a pre-Columbian potter’s wheel, consisting of a bowl placed upside down with another bowl placed on top. The wheel rotates on its axel. It can take 5 to 25 days to build depending on the size and complexity of the design. Using a traditional technique, Fabian creates modern objects and even architectural pieces.

Photos: Omar Fabian