Sculptor Seala Lokollo’s creative practice begins at the water’s edge.

Seala Lokollo does a lot of heavy lifting – hours upon hours of gruelling physical labour, in fact. Not the kind of activity you’d expect from an artist and jewellery maker, but Lokollo’s creations aren’t what you would consider typical. A sculptor who works almost exclusively with clay, her large-scale ceramic pieces look like deep-sea treasures, remnants of a past life pulled from the ocean floor. “If I’m not there for nine hours while making one sculpture, it could collapse,” she explains. “It’s a real personal bond with the sculptural object in the end.”

With a background in fine arts from Melbourne’s RMIT, the personal has much to do with the way in which she creates. Lokollo’s father, originally from the Maluku Islands in Indonesia, instilled within her an intrinsic connection to nature – specifically the ocean. “[To] our ancestors, the ocean and the idea of the boat, the vessel, is something that is not only written in the creation story of our people, but plays an important role in how they understand life,” she says, and this cultural connection to water is evident in almost all of works; each piece as unique as the coral and shells they are inspired by.

Lokollo divides her time between her shared warehouse-style studio where she sculpts, and her home where she creates her fine jewellery pieces, usually by candlelight. “I’ve always been interested in jewellery, and my father was a jeweller, it was a big part of his life when he was young and when I was born.” She describes her home as her haven, albeit one that is continually in flux. “I’m constantly changing things around my house, I’ll change things around at least once a week,” she laughs.

It’s this trust in her impulses that guides Lokollo both personally and creatively. “I never plan in terms of drawing my work or anything pre the making process … it’s a very in-the-moment thing. The reason I move toward sculpture instead of object-making or functional work is because it’s like bringing something to life, life size, and that really fascinates me.”

Why do you choose to use clay in your sculptures instead of any other material?

Clay, in my perspective, is super therapeutic and calming. I think the water substance – [the] amount of water that is in the earth and the clay – [is] a beautiful way to work with a material, as opposed to working with something like resin or metal for example. Throughout my fine arts degree, [and] my research as well, I ended up being more interested in using my ceramics as a way to create a cultural bridge towards my ancestral history in the Maluku Islands. [I] discovered that clay is a big part of their culture, which reaffirmed that it was okay to just love a material and continue with it. I think it’s just as simple as that, that I just really love it.

When did you first start crafting your own jewellery?

I started when I was in my last year of uni, so 2017. I did an elective with Katherine Bowman, she’s a Melbourne artist and she’s amazing. I did a lot of small object crafts and moulding with her, which is quite well aligned with clay work as well. It was so nice to be able to work on a completely opposite scale than what I was doing with clay. Obviously wearable objects and small metal objects are so little compared to big ceramic sculptures. I just loved the micro aspect of it.

Tell us about your studio and where you practice your craft?

At the moment I’m sharing my studio space with my fellow friend and artist that really inspires me … We have a private studio within a larger, I suppose, warehouse that has been converted by an artist called David Pottinger ... this big studio that’s basically all ceramics, or people who work with clay. In terms of making my jewellery I usually work at home. Just because I really like to work at night when I’m doing that. I think it’s so small-scale it’s easy to set up and pack down or have a permanent corner.

What does a typical day in your life look like?

I wake up around 7.30am, I always head down to one of the local cafes near my house, get a coffee. I’ll probably start pottering around my house. I’m always changing the scenes. After I finish doing that, I probably try and go to the studio, but normally not before 12, just because I’m that type of person – I like to work in the afternoon ... I’ll either be working at home doing jewellery or going to the studio and doing clay work in the day. If I’m not doing that, I love op-shopping. I’m a huge supporter and love second hand and recycled clothing. Your artwork is obviously inspired by the ocean. What is it that captivates you so much? I have always been inspired by the ocean ... Obviously the ocean is such an amazing force and a beautiful vision as well.

When I was at university, I was in the library feeling really halted over trying to create a concept for my last body of work of my degree. I was feeling really down. I looked up and there was this book on Indonesian art, in particular East Indonesian, which are the islands that my ancestors come from. And once I started reading I thought, even though my dad told me stories, it was all stories and songs that I’d heard but nothing was ever written.

And our ancestors, the ocean and the idea of the boat, the vessel, is something that is not only written in the creation story of our people, but plays an important role in how they understand life … Once I started reading this, it might sound corny, but it really spoke to me and made me feel that ancestral connection to the idea of water and the sea. Then I started realising more and more that my dad had to cross a lot of water to get here. It made a train of thought or a concept to continue forward the connection I felt to water.