UnderstandingBosco Sodi and Casa Wabi
I believe that art is a tool to better understand the universe. And the better you understand the universe and your fellow human beings, the easier it is to improve things.
On the pacific coast of Oaxaca, a short walk from the water, a wall of concrete runs through sand and scrub for 312 metres, reflecting the sun as it plunges to the horizon line above the sea. The wall shelters small wooden huts, and meets large open structures with concrete walls and thatched roofs of woven palm fronds. At the centre is the largest structure, where a terrace runs perpendicularly to the coast, and geometric swimming pools split the path. Indigenous trees and flowers surround the buildings for 27 hectares, and pavilions, art installations and other structures dot the gardens.
This is Casa Wabi, an art foundation established by Mexican painter and sculptor Bosco Sodi and built by Tadao Ando in 2014. Emerging international artists are invited here for residencies, where they are encouraged to work on a project with one of the local communities. There is a gallery onsite with a separate programme of annual shows from established artists such as Daniel Buren and Izumi Kato, and a working studio used by Sodi and visiting artists. Nearby communities and schools visit each week to experience the art and architecture. “I believe that art is a tool to better understand the universe,” says Sodi. “And the better you understand the universe and your fellow human beings, the easier it is to improve things. The local communities are able to experience that which would otherwise be unavailable to them, and in turn, artists from across the world are able to alter their own perspectives by sharing a dialogue with these local people.”
The location has certainly affected Sodi’s practice. When experimenting with local clay at a nearby workshop with his children, he started imagining the material in big geometric forms, fired in traditional brick kilns. After a year of development in the studio, the resulting large, textured and patinated cubes and spheres have become a significant aspect of his practice. “I have always loved clay because it is a material that has been with humans for thousands of years. It was one of the first tools humans used to carry water and oil. It is part of our evolution. And the process of making it involves all four elements: water, air, fire and earth,” he says.
Since its founding in 2014, Casa Wabi has gradually developed in scope, particularly with additional pavilions by Kengo Kuma, Álvaro Siza and Alberto Kalach, as well as permanent art fixtures such as Sodi’s Los Atlantes (2019) – a 700-tonne grid of monumental clay cubes, built with a total of 102,400 traditionally fired and locally formed bricks. A more intimate addition to the site is a family home for Sodi, his wife and three children, a few hundred yards from the main Casa Wabi buildings, completed in 2019. Sodi designed the entire home using clay bricks, raw concrete, and thatched palm roofs; his wife, the co-founder of Mexico City design store Decada, designed the interiors, choosing entirely wooden furniture.
The programmes at Casa Wabi have been adapted to meet the challenges of the pandemic. “Schools have closed and we haven’t been able to meet face-to-face with our local communities,” says Sodi. “So instead we have invited our artists to visit the schools and create murals and sculptures in the playgrounds, so that when the children finally return, they will discover a completely new space. It will be a beautiful surprise. We have made interventions like this in 12 schools so far.”
As Sodi explains, Casa Wabi is not only about giving back to the communities of his motherland, or to those of Oaxaca specifically – his grandfather’s home state and one of the poorest in Mexico – but also to give back to the international community of artists. “I think it is an obligation,” he says. “Being an artist is a very difficult job; it is not easy to succeed. I am very lucky to be able to live well on my work. I am conscious of that and want to help my fellow artists, to give back as much as possible – that, for me, is true happiness.”
Bosco Sodi has shows at König Galerie, London from 12 October – 12 November 2021, and the Dallas Museum of Art, from September 14 2021 – July 10 2022.