by Tinne Delfs

KUNSTUFF, September 2009 and NEW CERAMICS, January 2011


It was the encounter with the Danish language that caused the Japanese academic Mariko Wada to discover her great talent for clay and become a ceramist. The clay enabled her to communicate with her surroundings in a language that everyone could understand. 

When Mariko Wada came to Denmark in 1998 with her Danish husband she had recently taken a bachelor's degree in aesthetics and art theory from Doshisha University in Kyoto. In Denmark, she met the language barrier that applies to anyone who settles in a new country and a new culture.

‘As an academic, I was used to expressing myself through language. Without language, I was no one among the Danes, but like any other human being I had a fundamental need to express myself as someone. So, concurrent with intensive language training, I began to take evening classes in ceramics, because I had a need to create and express something,’ she says, revealing an unmistakable regional accent from the Danish city of Århus. 

The ceramics classes proved an excellent idea. First of all, she discovered her joy in working with her hands, and secondly the teacher soon realised that Mariko Wada’s talent with clays went far beyond the local evening class level.

Three years later, when she had passed the official Danish language test, she chose to study ceramics rather than continuing her academic training at a Danish university and enrolled in the five-year programme at Designskolen Kolding. 

Since her graduation in 2006 her career has taken off – especially outside Denmark. Already in 2007, her vessel series Software was selected for Crafts Collection, and visitors to exhibitions and trade shows around the world had their first encounter with Mariko Wada’s grey and pink stoneware – with its characteristically soft and sensitive shapes and smooth surfaces, which are enhanced by a being polished after the firing.


Idea and material

Mariko Wada thinks before she answers. Similarly, she always mulls an idea over for a long time before putting it into action.  

‘I do research, study the technical details, draft the form and generally make very thorough preparations before I address the actual material. But when I model, I don’t rely on the mental super-structure, I just follow along with my hands. I never know exactly where I’ll end up, because the artistic process is always in motion,’ she says.

Mariko Wada always models. It is a slower and more painstaking process than using, for example, the wheel or a mould. But she needs the physical stretch of time to achieve the particular soft expression that she strives for. Hence, she works closely and extensively with the clay, and her hands and eyes record all the tiny – often crucial – shifts that have the potential for something bigger.  ‘It takes so little. The art lies in seeing what it takes,’ she says, almost apologetically.

Mariko Wada takes a sculptural approach to what is, to her, the fundamental form of ceramics – the vessel and its most characteristic issue: the meeting between inner and outer space, thicknesses and surfaces. The inherent conflict is that when something is pushed in, something else is pushed out. Something must give way to something else.

Taking an abstract approach, such as rendering the classic vertical vessel horizontal, does something to the expression. It is soft but also disturbing , because the rough interior surface and the smooth exterior surfaces with their terra-sigillata coating become visible simultaneously, as in her series ‘Pulse’. The surfaces’ apparent softness contradicts the material that the pastel tubes are made in, and which shows through the inside of the object. 

‘To me, the key goal is to create designs that appeal both on a visual and a tactile level. If I had to assess my own objects, I would say their quality lies in their ability to affect someone’s sensuousness in a very direct way. That’s inherently valuable in a contemporary context where we don’t use our senses nearly enough. People clearly perceive the objects as organic, soft, almost as living creatures that move, breathe,’ she says. 


Art and identity

In the Terra-Morphologia series Mariko Wada has taken one more step away from the vessel and towards abstraction, as the objects not only seem organic but also visually resemble what might be the inner organs of a very large creature. They are at once frighteningly realistic and completely surrealist. With their alien character in mind, I ask Mariko Wada whether her ceramics displays a discernible Japanese influence.   

‘No,’ she says firmly, ‘but of course I’m always interested in the approaches of Japanese artists living in and outside Japan. Art as a concept simply didn’t exist in Japanese culture until the early 1900s, when many Japanese people began to travel to Europe to study, especially in Germany. After the war, Japanese art and craft has been influenced by the USA, among others, but art education in Japan is still influenced by the initial encounter with Europe; the relationship with, for example, the simplicity of Scandinavian design is also quite evident in Japanese craft.’

Mariko Wada had a minor crisis when she graduated. Many insisted that she was a Japanese ceramist, but she rejected that notion.

‘I felt it was a bit unfair to the Danes, who love Japanese ceramics – for example raku – that I was always presented as a Japanese ceramist in the catalogues. I am Japanese, sure, but I’m a Danish ceramist.’

She laughs. She has long since overcome this minor identity crisis, and a working stay in Japan is at the top of her wish list.

‘Today, I don’t care whether what I do is art or craft, Japanese or European.  My expression is universally modern and speaks all languages – only in my particular dialect. 

To me, the creative method is the same, whichever box you put me in. It begins with an idea, inspiration on the level of form or technique, but eventually, it’s the material that governs the creative process. 

I am based in strong European ceramics traditions, which I perceive as crates full of the past, but in a progressive sense I’m free, limited only by my own ability to develop content, techniques and form,’ she concludes.



Mariko Wada was born 1972 in Osaka and has lived in Denmark since 1998. Has a BA in Aesthetics and Art Theory from Doshisha University in Kyoto, 1995. In 2006, she graduated with a degree in crafts from Designskolen i Kolding, ceramics studies.

In 2009, among other honours, she received the bronze Hetsch Medal and ‘The Acquisition Prize by Confindustria Ceramica’ at the 56th Premio Faenza, Italy.




Danish Crafts is an independent promotion institution under the Danish Ministry of Culture.

Crafts Collection is a collection of the finest contemporary Danish craft and design. The products are selected by varying curators, appointed by Danish Crafts. The collection is marketed as part of Danish business promotion in international trade shows exhibitions.




Translation: Dorte H. Silver


© Mariko Wada 2019