Creative Conversations: Plum Guide meets Dina Nur Satti
We catch up with the ceramic artist to find out about her main artistic influences, the beauty of New York and her most prized item at home
We catch up with Brooklyn-based ceramic artist, Dina Nur Satti to hear about the importance of art in informing our history, how she makes a house a home and why the company you keep on holiday is so important.
How did your creative journey through ceramic art begin?
It’s hard to pin point the start of it because I feel like so much happened in order to get me to the point of considering ceramics, but I started taking classes in early 2015. The years prior to that, I was working in a non-profit in Manhattan and spending a lot of my time away from work immersed in the arts of New York and meeting a lot of full-time artists. So, those interactions before I found ceramics really inspired me to find a vocation of my own that really centred around expression of art. Mostly because I saw so many of my friends who had such an incredibly intimate relationship with their art and were so deeply inspired. So I think it really started with that curiosity and that questioning of ‘how can I also experience this sense of purpose?’ that I think is one of those life long questions – how do you find something that inspires you and that propels you on a daily basis?
What are the main influences behind your pieces?
I would say the main influences are objects from pre-colonial Africa. But also, beyond that, one of the things that I really tap into is the global story of loss that exists, particularly in this generation being just a couple of generations after a lot of these countries around the world gained independence. So there is this traumatic history that, no matter what side your ancestry is on, is something that we’re trying to come to terms with right now. And I think, particularly in 2020, this is such a time of realising that just because it’s past doesn’t meant that it’s not still affecting us. So a lot of what I’ve learned is, in order to be able to reconcile with where I come from I really need to understand where that is. A lot of my inspiration is about learning and being on this trajectory of learning about what was before, and it’s just as much a sense of learning for me as it is inviting my audience to follow me on that journey and maybe spark some of their own curiosities.
Which other artists or designers are you most inspired by?
I think this is a really interesting question, because, whether it’s conscious or unconscious, I actually don’t spend a lot of time looking at other designers or artists. Mostly because my source of inspiration is very much through research and knowledge, especially because a lot of the objects I get inspiration from don’t actually have artists that are recorded. People have asked me this question many times and, actually, I didn’t go to art school – I’m not really someone who looks much into the cannon of art as it is at the moment. A lot of my interest is much more in anthropology and history, and so I don’t actually have a particular designer or artist in mind.
What do you love most about living in New York?
I’ve lived in capital or major cities around the world my whole life Paris, Nairobi... What I love about New York is the feeling of possibility that’s here, and also it feels like things happen ten times faster in this city. I remember someone once saying it's an epicentre that catalyses so much. And so I feel like...I lived in California for a couple of years where I actually started my first studio and for some reason coming to New York was really the space where things started to flow for me. I think also there’s a cultural immersion that’s really beautiful. I feel that, very unique to New York is the feeling that everyone can belong here and I feel very at home.
Once we’re able to travel again, where are you planning to visit first?
I actually would like to go back to East Africa. It’s been a couple of years. I was supposed to go back over the pandemic. But I have a few projects, I’m very connected to a community of Ethiopian ceramic artists outside of Addis, outside of the capital, so I’d like to go and visit them and learn some more techniques from them, and possibly go to Sudan. I have some ideas for an incense collaboration that I want to work on.
Tell us the story behind a favourite item in your home
This ties into the journey about learning where I’m from. I actually went to the market in Sudan, probably about ten years ago at this point, and it’s very hard to find a lot of antique, traditional pieces. In a lot of places where tourism is a huge industry, people are inspired to provide markets with a lot of inventory but because Sudan has had US sanctions on it for 23 years and travel is actually really hard for foreigners in Sudan, which is getting better now, I was looking for some sort of rug to decorate my home with. I ended up going to so many different markets day in and day out and then finally, I found this one beautiful rug that was handmade of camel hair. It’s red and white and black and has the very quintessential – I find desert cultures around the world have a lot of the same geometric patterns and colourings – you would think it could also be Native American or from the South West. It was just so interesting to me and it was from a Nomadic tribe called the Rashaida who originally came from Saudi Arabia and can be found on the border between Eritrea and Sudan, and I still have it to this day and it’s probably one of my most prized pieces.
What makes a house a home, to you?
I think for me it’s when your inner world is reflected in your outer world. It’s a little hard if your inner world is a little chaotic, and we all go through that wave of our bedrooms reflecting our inner world and all of a sudden we clean up and we feel completely connected. But for me, it’s my centre - if my home is still and beautiful, well-kept and serene, it’s a relationship with my inner world. Sometimes if I’m chaotic and I work on my home and I make it beautiful – I clean up and light some incense and drink some tea in it – then all of a sudden it calms me down. So it’s like this beautiful, connected relationship.
Where is your home away from home?
It’s interesting because I feel like New York is now my home and on some level Kenya is my home away from home, although it was my home for a while. So it’s definitely where I feel most at home – being on the Indian Ocean for me and being in Kenya. I have a lot of family friends that were like family growing up and also my sister lives in Kenya and my parents have their house in Kenya, so it feels like that’s definitely my home away from home.
Who or what do you consider to be an arbiter of style?
Instead of one person it would be women around the world who embody their identity. It’s always been really fascinating for me. I was recently in Guatemala and went to a ceramics workshop to visit their production and on the way there was the weekly market, with all of these women who were selling fish or weaving. It was so amazing to see a market full of women, completely embodied in their culture. So I think that’s definitely what I always lean towards, and what inspires me is seeing different women in their environments.
For the Plum Guide ‘Perfect Stay’ home test, we collaborate with experts from different fields — from psychologists and hospitality experts to architects and interior designers — to identify the ingredients a holiday home needs in order to deliver a perfect stay. If you were designing a test or set of criteria for the perfect holiday home, what ingredient(s) would you specify as essential for the perfect stay?
I think good company, definitely. I feel like when I have good company and when I’m hosting guests it inspires the whole space – from the food to the table setting to whether it’s puzzles or board games or a cosy experience over some wine. Definitely having the right house guests creates the whole environment naturally.