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Craft With Conscience: Yiyi Mendoza

Craft With Conscience

'Craft With Conscience' began in early 2016 as a weekly Instagram series dedicated to sharing the work of other creatives and as a platform to openly discuss certain aspects of ethical art-making and consuming in the age of the internet and social media.  

This series arose out of my own frustrations related to seeing my work constantly copied stitch-for-stitch, sold without permission, and credited to other people.  Rather than wallowing in unproductive negative emotions, I wanted to find a way to bring this common issue to light in a positive way.  My solution was to share the work of artists, crafters, designers, and makers who I greatly admire for their originality and dedication. Initially, I shared work similar in materials or subject matter to my own, having heard the argument, "There are only so many ways to stitch plants, I'm not copying you..." one too many times.  The truth is, no matter what the medium or subject, every artist from hobby crafter to professional painter has their own perspective and voice. It takes effort to develop one's visual vocabulary and it can be disheartening when your's is taken and misused by other individuals and sometimes larger companies.

All that being said, now is an incredible time for working artists because of the vast resources of the internet including sources of inspiration, the ability to reach a large and global audience, and as a community building tool. As you may know, I love sharing my work on Instagram and following other makers. It's a wonderful way to connect with other artists, be inspired, and feel supported, but we all need to be aware of how we use these resources and what effect it may have on others.

Since the start of 2016, 'Craft With Conscience' has grown and evolved just like any other creative pursuit and has recently expanded to include short interviews with featured artists. I've asked participating artists a series of questions about their studio process, sources of inspiration, and how image-sharing sites like Instagram and Pinterest influence and affect them. I hope you read on to see what they have to say!

Craft With Conscience: Yiyi Mendoza

Sarah Benning

Yiyi Mendoza // Ceramic Artist // Upstate NY


Yiyi Mendoza is a ceramic artist raised in California and currently working in Upstate New York. Interested in the connections that objects can provide for us, Yiyi makes functional and decorative ceramic objects that elevate spaces and rituals. Her work is a reminder that objects hold life, beauty and purpose. Inspired by ancient cultures, architecture and the cosmos, her forms are intended to endure as relics of this time.

Check out more of her amazing work at yiyimendoza.com and Instagram

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1. I began my #CraftWithConscience series as a way to simultaneously promote the work of other makers and to discuss the complicated issues surrounding creative inspiration and developing one’s own visual vocabulary. The internet is an ever growing fixture in many artists’ lives and businesses, could you talk about the role the internet plays in your artistic and professional life?

The internet is a wild and wonderful place. Professionally, the internet allows me to do what I do on many levels. A couple of years ago, just when I was beginning to do what I do now and sell my work, I made a big move across the country- from west coast to east coast. I kinda had to start from scratch with a new local creative community. Through social media and the internet I was able to connect with new and local creative people around me while at the same time stay connected with my creative friends and like minded people from my old grounds. Now I feel I have connections with people across a vast space via the internet. This allows me to sell online and in person to my current surrounding community but it also allows me to feel supported and raised up. As a woman of color working in ceramics it’s easy to feel underrepresented. However, through the connections of the internet and social media I have encountered other poc artists that are like mirrors looking back at me, helping me feel represented and empowered.

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2. Where do you find inspiration for your work?  In what ways has the internet and/or social media impacted your design process?

My work is a result of a combination of ingredients : my cultural background and other ancient cultures, the cosmos, anthropology, architecture and the feelings that arise from existing as a woman/poc in today. My practice is also a therapy for me and my mental health which is always inspiring me to continue to make.

The internet and social media have allowed me to discover fellow artists with a similar story as my own who share similar sensibilities that translate through an aesthetic. The biggest ways in which the internet and social media have impacted my design is by finding inspiration in the boldness of other people’s practice. Whenever I feel inhibited to express myself fully or feel that what I have to say/show doesn’t matter, I find examples of brave individuals who are taking a strong stand and have an unwavering sense of who they are as artists. That kind of strength is breathtaking to me; it is so inspiring and definitely makes its way to my design process. I feel it the most when I’m in the process of creating work with concepts and substance that breaks through the boundaries of what is expected from a artist like myself.

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3. How have you, as an artist, found your creative voice?

It’s been a process. I’ve been working with ceramics for more than twelve years but I have always had multiple disciplines that have, at times, taken the spotlight in my life or have influenced my art practice. Natural medicine, traditional healing practices, yoga and spirituality are some of these disciplines. I think my creative voice feels clear and like myself when I allow all of these parts of me to come forward in my work. I live a life full of rituals with moments of healing and looking for beauty in the life around me. I make objects because I want to extend this to people- a form of offering. I am sincerely reaching out and wanting to connect and that’s what my voice is saying.

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4. Sites like Pinterest and Instagram are popular places for artists to share their own work. They also act as public visual archives, often leading to creative work by others that walks the line between ‘inspiration’ and ‘infringement.’ Have you encountered copies of your work online and how does it affect you? What are your strategies for dealing with it?

My stance on art appropriation or cultural appropriation in art is very clear: stealing someone else's work is unacceptable and essentially limits your own creative energy and inspiration from flowing from a truthful and unique place. It really is a disservice to the person who is copying or using work in an inappropriate way. With that said, whenever I encounter work that seems to be oddly similar to mine I try not to assume that it is an appropriation of my designs even when certain factors might indicate so. I understand that the internet is a crossing point for many people sharing and absorbing inspiration. In some cases people at a beginning stage of their art practice do use other art as a direct inspiration or learning guide for their work. In other cases, it may have been synchronicity : different people in different places arriving at similar aesthetics on their own. This does happen.

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5. Do you have any advice for aspiring artists or creative business people?

There is so much to say for this one, but I’ll say: Keep learning, organizing, collaborating and keep showing up to things in real life. Keep your eyes open for free or affordable learning experiences, especially ones that place you in front of experienced artists or community leaders from which you can learn a lot. This could include, but are not limited to, community classes, workshops, internships, discussion panels, art shows, online videos and books. Although most of the work of making happens in solitude and is an intimate practice, you need a community of like minded people to reflect off of. Likewise, if you don’t find opportunities that you see fitting to display your work, you can create them yourself in collaboration with other artists. Make connections online and find interesting events or pages to follow but also show up to social events or one-on-one meetings in person and when you do, be real. Additionally, use your platform to empower and support others, because we’re all in this together and sometimes this is harder for some more than others.

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6. Do you have any favorite blogs, artists, or Instagram accounts that you’d like to share?

I am excited to feel that I am part of a movement of creatives existing in this time, reacting to universal factors and cultural factors of this contemporary life. There is a visceral feeling that I experience when I encounter work made by an artists who are as passionate as I am about the intersection of life and art. The following are some of these artists : @future.ancestors, @likemindedobjects, @enkyu_, @hello.zephyr, @objectsntheround, @georginatrevino, @tactilematter, @harvey.b.hrvi . I am lucky to call some of them my friends and others I am hoping to meet one day.

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All images provided by the artist