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Heidi McKenzie


Boxed-In, 2020

porcelain, iron-oxide photography decal fired onto clay

Artist Statement:

I suffer from congenital kidney disease where my body holds multiple kidney stones at any given point in time. In 2014 I had a healing crisis, I passed over thirty stones in three days. My body manifest inestimable pain in my lower left abdomen as a result of moving through this degree of pain. It took eighteen months to uncover a partially blocked femoral artery, a complication of my kidney disease. As a ceramicist, I was, and continue to be unable to work on the wheel. I turned to slip casting to express the physical constraints of my body. This work is the catharthis of feeling “boxed-in” by the limitations of my own human vessel.

Alt Text: Boxed-In is a set of 15 “cubes” where two of the corners are cut off at various angles. There are three models used in the whole sculpture. They are arranged variously, piled on top of one another. Each facet of the cube has a photograph is sepia tones of a close-up of the artist’s body – ranging from eyes, lips, nose, neck, feet and hands, to more intimate body parts such as the breast, pubic areas. The corners remain void of image, and are the off-white of the porcelain. They are meant to be “tumbled” together randomly and cover an area of approximately 18” width, 8-10” deep and 12” high.

Body Imaged

ceramic substrate, inkjet waterslide decals, fixative

Building Blocks, 2021

stoneware, ceramic iron-oxide photographic fired-on decal

Artist Statement:

A driving force in my sculpture practice is my lived experience of chronic pain and invisible disability coupled with the triumph of healing and living one day at a time. I collected thousands of body imaging from my own tests over a ten-year period for this work. Using the medium of porcelain, I ask the viewer to consider the precarity of what is it like to embody a human vessel that is invisibly fractured? Through abstraction, I share my experience and catharsis. Some days feel full of struggle and defeat; other times I am filled with gratitude, serenity and optimism.

Alt Text: Body Imaged is built with 42 porcelain “cards” which are 4.5” x 6.5” by 0.02” arranged as a type of house of cards, horizontally placed in three sets triads stacked with another set of three triads, each one slightly offset from the one below, and one final triad of “cards” on top – the arrangement is then repeated so that you see two sets of two stacks of seven triads. Each card has a laminated inket water slide decal of a body image of the artist – a CT scans of abdomen, spine, X-rays of lungs, sinuses, hands, brain scan print outs from sleep studies, multiple ultrasound images, breast imaging. The colors are largely in the monochromatic range with flashes of intense reds/blues on some of the ultrasounds, some images are diaphanous while others are dense with blacks. Each image is framed by half an inch of white porcelain. The cards are translucent so if installed with light you can almost see through the images as you might on a traditional X-ray reader prior to digital scans.

Building Blocks, 2021

stoneware, ceramic iron-oxide photographic fired-on decal

Artist Statement:

Building Blocks is an abstract representation of the artist’s personal family histories/herstories that represent pluralist and often under-represented narratives. Each of the larger-than-life slab-built stoneware children’s building block forms interweave archival photography dating back to the late 19th century from both the Indo-Trinidadian and Irish-American families that came together in the union of the artist’s parents in 1957. They faced many adversities, from violent, covert racism to innumerable racist micro-aggressions. The stories on these building blocks are the stories of social and political history: Irish settlers who fled the potato famine and low-cast Indians who sailed to the Caribbean to serve as indentured workers, replacing the recently freed African slaves on sugar plantations, in hopes of a better life. They are the stories that demonstrate who we are is the sum of the juxtapositions of all of those who have come before us.

Alt Text: Building Blocks is a set of 24 larger than life children’s building blocks made out of hand-built ceramic slabs. Each cube is approximately 6” x 6” x 6” and the longest edge of any of the pieces is 12” – there are two sizes of triangles, cylinders, cubes, rectangular columns, half-cylinders, two “bridge” pieces with the half-cylinder cut-out of the rectangular structure. Each piece has an equal number of archival images from the artist’s family background of her maternal ancestors and her paternal ancestors. The artist’s background is Irish/American and Indo-Trinidadian so there is both tension and symmetry in seeing the Victorian style portraits of Indo-Caribbeans and the Victorian portraits of the Irish-Canadians. The rule of the game is that no image on the blocks was taken after the artist’s birth in 1968. Images range in dates from the early 1900’s to the 1960s. The blocks are assembled for photography in a cluster, but could easily be spread out and rearranged like a children’s game.

About Heidi McKenzie

photo credit: Ali Kazimi (he/him)

Heidi McKenzie is a Toronto-based ceramic artist. In 2009, Heidi left a 20-year career in arts management and production to apprentice in her father’s ancestral home with India’s foremost studio potter, Mini Singh (a student of Bernard Leach). Heidi returned to Canada and completed her Diploma at Sheridan College in 2012 and subsequently her MFA in Curatorial Practice and Art Criticism at OCADU in 2014. In 2011 Heidi received the Emerging Artist Award at Toronto Artists Project, and in 2012 exhibited at the Toronto International Art Fair. In 2013, Heidi was funded by the Ontario Arts Council to create in Jingdezhen, China and in Bali, Indonesia. In 2014 Heidi completed a residency at Guldagergaard International Centre for Ceramic Research. In 2017 Heidi received OAC funding to work in Sydney Australia, to apprentice with Master Mitsuo Shoji. Heidi has exhibited nationally and internationally, including biennales and Romania, Hungary, Australia and at NCECA (Milwaukee, Portland, Cincinnati). Her work is currently touring Europe and Scandinavia as part of the “best of” exhibitions with Cluj Biennial and Guldagergaard. She is the recipient of a 2017 and 2019 Craft Ontario Awards, Best in Show Ontario Artists Association Biennial Award in 2017, Canada Council Explore and Create Visual Artist Grant, and Toronto Arts Council Grant to Mid-Career Artists. In 2020, she was an inaugural recipient of the NCECA Helene Zucker Seeman Curatorial, Research, and Critical Writing Fellowship for Women.


Heidi’s work, Postmarked, on growing up at the margins in the Maritimes, was recently acquired by Global Affairs Canada to be placed in embassies internationally. Heidi curated/exhibited/moderated ‘Decolonizing Clay’ at the Australian Ceramics Triennale in 2019, and recently presented at the World Indian Diaspora Congress in Trinidad August 2020. Heidi’s solo exhibition Body Within in Toronto in 2020 captured a Design Toronto Award. Heidi’s work seeks to reinvigorate modernism through abstraction and engages issues of race, identity, belonging, as well as body and healing. She is an advocate for BIPOC and marginalized artists, a Board Member of NCECA, and an active arts journalist and ceramic arts reviewer.

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