Artist Was First Israeli Lecturer Invited to Teach in China

Artist Was First Israeli Lecturer Invited to Teach in China

Not only was Rayah Redlich the first Israeli lecturer to receive an invitation to teach at an academic institution in China, the Senior Lecturer in Fine Arts was the first Western ceramist to teach there.

Redlich makes it clear that the Chinese are superb in ceramics. No one can touch them in their ability, she says forthrightly, while displaying pictures of pottery, which she defines as the ultimate in traditional Chinese ceramics.

Despite their proficiency in this art form, she says, and the fact that the Chinese have their own ideas about it, they do want to be well informed about what goes on in the rest of the world. They are open for dialog, the artist remarks.

Redlich had been invited by the Central Academy of Arts & Design in Beijing to teach a two-week-long course and workshop in April. The invitation was extended by the Chairman of the Academy's Ceramic Design Department, Chen Jin Hai, whom she greatly admires. The students were essentially graduate students, and the teachers in the department, as s he put it, all masters in their work. One is little surprised to hear, with all this praise of their work, that she admits to being a groupie of Chinese ceramics.

Why, though, did the Chinese seek her out? For one thing, they knew that Redlich possesses a large collection of slides of Western ceramic art, about which they knew almost nothing. It was only relatively recently, she said, that the Chinese consented to recognize Western art journals. Secondly they were interested in her work, much of which has a connection with the Holocaust.

When she was in China, she was amazed at an avant-garde fashion show she attended. In this area, the art instructor observed, they are open to advances, but in ceramics they are still traditional. Ceramics is at the heart of Chinese art. When it comes to ceramics, she continued, there is always the idea of the vessel before the ceramis t, which helps account for the slow pace at which modernity has entered this art form, whether in China or anywhere else in the world.

Basically, she explained, the Chinese are skeptical of modern, Western art, which for them expresses fragmentation, mutilation, and death. All this is repellent to their outlook, she said. Their tradition is to strive for wholeness.

Redlich's lectures at the Academy were attended not only by her students, but by other art lecturers, as well. In the course of her talks, the staff videotaped all her slides despite their having been made she emphasized from her own point of view.

Ceramic pottery is considered high art in China, Redlich said, although some of her students did intend to go into industrial design, meaning chinaware. She found her students very curious, but this doesn't mean they want to copy. They would not, she laughed, like the doctoral dissertation she is working on, which has to do with the phenomeno n of imitation in Israeli art. The Chinese, in fact, were the ones who inspired and influenced others, one example being the world-famous Delft china and its blue-white design, she pointed out. Dutch sea traders and the British silk road brought Oriental ceramic art to the West.

Back in Israel, Redlich has started to work on a ceramics exhibition that will involve six Israeli and six international artists. The Chinese, she quickly added, are very interested as were the other artists invited to participate. The project, which will also include a catalog and a conference, has found support from the Israeli Ministry of Educa tion's Art for the People program.

A native of Haifa, the 50-year-old Redlich is a graduate of Jerusalem's Bezalel School of Art and studied at the Royal College of Art in London. She also received an M.F.A. from Pratt Institute in New York. The ceramist and sculptor has taught at the University of Haifa since 1979.

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