Award-winning potter and political activist Roberto Lugo began his art career on the streets, and now he’s taking his work to the streets of Rome. Lugo, a 2014 M.F.A. alumnus of the Penn State School of Visual Arts, is a 2019–20 winner of the competitive Rome Prize, which supports advanced independent work in the arts and humanities. Lugo will spend February through July 2020 in Rome working on the project “Valor in Vandalism: a Revolutionary Triptych.”
Currently assistant professor and head of the Ceramics Program at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University, Lugo creates what he calls “ghetto pottery,” which explores race, poverty, inequality, history and obesity. He grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Kensington, the son of first-generation Puerto Rican immigrant parents. His dad commuted by bike to a job in Cherry Hill, N.J., to provide for his family the best he could. In a 2017 College of Arts and Architecture article, Lugo said, “If he could make that sacrifice for my future, it is up to me to make something of it.”
Lugo has certainly fulfilled that promise to himself. In 2018, he was named Ceramic Artist of the Year by “Ceramics Monthly” and “Pottery Making Illustrated,” and in 2016 he was named the United States Artists Barr Fellow.
His vessels appropriate forms and ornament from royal porcelain manufacturers and re-contextualize their iconography by paying homage to underrepresented people of color. In “Valor in Vandalism,” Lugo will remake all 177 pieces in Napoleon’s dinner set. The project will culminate with the set being used at two dinners—one in Rome and another in his hometown of Kensington—bringing together diverse communities, like a drug rehabilitation center, a church and art collectors.
Lugo’s work can be found in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among many others. His solo exhibition at the Walters Museum of Art (on view through July 15, 2019) earned a spot in Hyperallergic’s “Top 20 exhibitions of 2018.”
For more information on Lugo and his work, see the Tyler School of Art news release.