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Talking Punk and Pottery with Osa Atoe

From DC to Portland to Louisiana, her journey's been riddled with punk shows, zines, and most prominently now, pottery.

Photo: Mary Johnston

From DC to Portland to Louisiana, her journey's been riddled with punk shows, zines, and most prominently now, pottery.

Osa Atoe makes beautiful and function terracotta pottery carved with geometric patterns and familiar colors. We sell her pottery in our stores and recently had the chance to speak with Osa about her path to Louisiana and pottery, which has taken her from coast to coast through punk show after punk show and several DIY communities.

Where are you from?

I'm from Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC.

What are you most grateful for from there? Were you heavily involved with the punk scene in DC?

I'm most grateful for the fact that DC and the suburbs around it is a very international and diverse region of the country. My parents are Nigerian, but many of my friends growing up had parents from Eritrea, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Iran, etc., so I never had to feel like the weird foreign kid. Also, the public education system out there is excellent. When I lived in DC, my participation in punk was just going to shows. I went to lots and lots of shows. I started a band just before I moved to Portland. We played one show.

Why did you move to Portland?

Because I hated the East Coast and wanted adventure.

Planters at Osa's home

Various ornamental mugs

How did the music scene there compare to DC?

In DC, I was only aware of one main punk/indie scene, although there may have been more. In Portland, I was aware of many different scenes. The more wholesome vegan, bike riding, DIY scene; the more hipster, art school scene; the downtown, drunk punk, crust scene; the queer scene...Of course, I got involved with the wholesome DIY scene and the queer scene. The similarity for me was that both the DC scene and the Portland scene I was a part of were political. People were concerned with social justice and everyone identified as a feminist. Aside from that, everything was super different. In Portland, there were tons of women and queers involved with punk — and not just in the audience. There were bands in which all of the members were queer women. Multiple bands. The DC scene was more male dominated although there were plenty of women involved. I'm mostly discussing the early 2000s era. In Portland, there were tons of house shows. In DC, almost everything happened in bars (it's legal to go to a bar even if you're underage, as long as you don't drink). I could go on and on...

Did you find Portland to be less international than DC? How did you feel about DC once you’d moved away?

Portland is like 98% white, so yes. I didn't care at the time because I was so excited to be immersed in this really developed queer & women-centered punk scene. I started playing music in lots of different bands. I felt part of a really large network of DIY-minded people. I was doing some political organizing and volunteer work...I was just soaking up everything Portland had to offer. I didn't have many feelings about DC after moving away. I didn't really look back.

“I didn't care at the time because I was so excited to be immersed in this really developed queer & women-centered punk scene. I started playing music in lots of different bands. I felt part of a really large network of DIY-minded people.”

Osa creating linework

How did you end up moving to New Orleans?

I lived in Portland, OR for about six years between 2001 and 2008. Toward the end of my stay there, I met lots of people from New Orleans due to the post-Katrina diaspora. Both of my bandmates were from New Orleans, one of my housemates and her girlfriend had lived there before the storm, even the little girl I was nannying was born in New Orleans. I ended up visiting the city a few times, meeting someone and falling in love with her and so I decided to move there. That was in 2009.

How did you feel about moving away from Portland?

Like it was time.

What was your first impression of New Orleans, and what about it did you come to appreciate?

My first impression of New Orleans was that it was warm, cheap and pretty. I don't know if I ever felt at home there, but I did like the warmth of the people, the architecture and Caribbean feel of the city, the tropical foliage. New Orleans is the only city I've ever written songs about. There's a reason there are so many songs about New Orleans. It's just inspiring in that way. It's a city that feels alive & animated, like a person.

“There's a reason there are so many songs about New Orleans. It's just inspiring in that way. It's a city that feels alive & animated, like a person.”

Osa in her shed/workspace

Did you find your connections growing throughout a broader community outside of the cites you were living in then? How much joy did you get from the pen-pals that are involved with that project?

Yes, I did, but I think that broadening was a result of touring. I was in a band called New Bloods and we toured a lot, including to Canada and Europe. All of the touring I did fed Shotgun Seamstress. So yes, I did gain pen-pals but I also got to meet tons of people face to face.

What do you most enjoy about the process of making ceramics? Where does it most resonate with you?

I can't explain it. I just like doing it.

Are there any major breakthroughs you've had?

No. Ceramics takes decades to master. So, I'd say my process is comprised of a series of really tiny breakthroughs. You learn by doing and it happens little by little every day.

How much formal study have you done at this point? How much tradition and history informs your work?

I took community classes for about two years and I completed a one-year post-baccalaureate ceramics program at Louisiana State University last spring. I'd say not much tradition informs my work, but it is informed by history. For a while, I was really into studying Bronze Age pottery from all over the world and noticing the similarity in form and pattern decoration. But in the world of modern ceramics, the individual's approach to the medium is encouraged. Some people specialize in emulating traditional forms but I think many more are trying to put their own unique spin on a form.

“I'd say my process is comprised of a series of really tiny breakthroughs. You learn by doing and it happens little by little every day.”

Have you had any mentors or heroes in your life along the way?

I think my mom has been my biggest mentor. She's always encouraged my confidence and independence. Also, of course punk rock was my biggest mentor. Punk encourages everyone to participate and don't let any excuse hold you back. If you don't have a guitar, borrow one. If you can't play music, try anyway or else book a show or write a zine about your favorite band. Also, feminism & punk were combined for me from the beginning because of riot grrrl, so I felt doubly encouraged by both of those ideologies.

How is it living and working in Baton Rouge?

Baton Rouge has been unexpectedly ideal for my pottery business! I felt very welcomed by the town in general and have been featured in local publications numerous times. I do really well at markets here. It's honestly a better fit for me than New Orleans because I think New Orleans' is such a tourist driven economy. Also, I have a lot more space here and for less than I was paying in New Orleans. I have a garage space at my house that I use for my studio and a huge backyard where my kiln shed is.

“Punk encourages everyone to participate and don't let any excuse hold you back. If you don't have a guitar, borrow one. If you can't play music, try anyway or else book a show or write a zine about your favorite band.”
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