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Stephen Dixon

The Restoration Series developed from research undertaken during a six-month residency in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s ceramics studio (September 2009 to March 2010). Taking the form of a related group of ceramic portrait heads, Restoration Series, adopts the convention of the commemorative portrait bust to explore issues of fundamental human rights — particularly freedom of expression.

The portraits are based on three Nobel Peace Prize winners, Carl Von Ossietzky (awarded 1935), Aung San Suu Kyi (awarded 1989), and Lui Xiaobo (awarded 2010). All are linked by the fact that as prisoners of conscience at the time of the award, none of the three were able to receive their prize from the Nobel organization.

Restoration I, Aung San Suu Kyi, was the prototype for the series. Working within the tradition of the political portrait, this piece was made in response to the release of the Burmese human rights activist and political leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in November 2010. The work looked optimistically forward to a ‘restoration’ of democracy in Myanmar, and its underlying metaphor paraphrased the museological convention of reconstructing historical artifacts from an assemblage of ceramic fragments.

The second portrait in the series, that depicting Chinese pro-democracy campaigner Liu Xiaobo, retained the essential fragmented quality of the first piece, but added a further layer of visual narrative through a richer palette of printed, collaged, and textured ceramic surfaces.

The third portrait, of German anti-fascist and publisher Carl von Ossietsky, retained the same format as the Liu Xiabo head. Another, similar to Aung San Suu Kyi portrait (now in the Crafts Council UK collection), was made for the triptych installation in the Contemporary Ceramic Galleries at the V&A, and exhibited on on a year-long loan from March 2013 to March 2014.