By Laila Mostafa
Let’s travel back in time to the summer of 2017. A young Egyptian architecture student decided to go on a summer trip with her family. Everything was going well, at first. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the rest of the day, for the trip was cut short 15 minutes before her and her family’s arrival at their intended destination. The car crash left the family, both literally and figuratively, broken. The young architecture student, in particular, left the scene with three broken vertebrae in her spinal cord, which led to a major surgery being performed in her back. However, as tragic as the accident was, it was, in every way, life-changing. For one, fast forward to four years later, our young architecture student is not only fully recovered, but she is also a graduate and the proud owner of Clay Therapy Studio, a growing online business that is centered on helping people discover and understand the physical and mental therapy provided by pottery on a daily basis.
Marina Nassif, a 25-year-old Egyptian architecture graduate, was born and raised in Kuwait. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the American University of Sharjah (AUS). Her interests include a number of art forms and mediums such as drawing, painting, screen printing and pottery. But the story behind Marina’s newfound interest in pottery is particularly interesting and inspiring. She says, “It all started during my first year in university, when I saw couples of students doing pottery in front of me for the first time. It was a very attractive and therapeutic form of art that grabbed my attention. So, I knew that one day I would be choosing pottery as one of my minor courses.”
Despite her intentions, Marina did not properly enroll in the pottery class until her fourth year in AUS — a year after she had experienced the tragic car accident that changed everything. Having just come out of a back surgery in Egypt and traveling back to the UAE, Marina was brave enough not to take a gap year and continue her undergraduate studies regularly. She insisted on joining the university on time and with her peers, all while avoiding academic pressures and solely focusing on simply passing her classes. To her shock, however, Marina’s back surgery was the factor that academically pushed her into achieving her highest grade point average yet and maintaining it all through her third to fifth year at the university. It was funny; Marina started her third year with hopes to slow down, little did she know that the actual recovery process would only start a few semesters later, when she finally decided to pursue her then unborn passion and join the elective pottery class at AUS.
Upon joining the elective pottery class, Marina started to realize its effects almost immediately. Specifically, she discovered the therapeutic elements of pottery when she was alone on a late Thursday night. She states, “The studio was quiet, and I was working on an elongated vase that consisted of eight pieces with a lot of details and form complexity. I realized that all the physical and mental pain in me had disappeared as I concentrated my mind and body on the piece that was in my hand.” Marina also adds, “It made me realize that we exist at a critical point in history, in which everyone needs to make a change.”
For her, the change she speaks of was provided through her pottery-making passion, and the mental and physical healing it provided her. She explains, “Clay made me unconsciously calmer, always have hope, happy as a kid, fresh and ready to dive into my architecture world with more creative thoughts, as well as spreading positive energy in my surroundings after every class. It always pulls me back to a peaceful and quiet zone in my mind, where I can recall all the unpleasant events that have been repressed for years in my memory.”
While many would object to the concept of clay having such powerful effects on a person, its therapeutic benefits have been discussed by a number of psychologists and researchers today. For one, in a recent article by Psychology Today, clinical psychologist Jo-Ann Finklestein lists the different types of therapy provided to us by clay and pottery-making every day. She claims that clay provides its practitioners with an overwhelming sense of self-gratification, holistic experiences, self-expression, meditation and most importantly, an outlet to release negativity and aggression. That being said, while Marina did experience a lot of the above mentioned benefits through pottery-making, she mostly resonated with its negativity-releasing capabilities. She explains that pottery-making is not just an activity to her, but that it provides her with a world-enhancing tool and outlet, and a world where she can dive into to express herself or turn to when she wants to be alone.
In addition to the therapeutic effects she gained from pottery, Marina was also receiving numerous compliments and positive comments from her friends, family and everyone else who got to see her work. Such attitudes towards her productions inspired Marina to turn her newly discovered passion into a business, one where she can sell her work and perhaps encourage others to discover the effects of pottery-making themselves. “Any person can sit on a pottery well and have fun at any time, but it takes some effort and willingness to actually be able to convert all the mental and physical pain into a master piece of pottery/ceramic, and my goal is to help people have such a tool in their life,” she says.
Pottery by Marina Nassif. Images: Courtesy.
Recently, the ongoing pandemic, although very unfortunate, helped turn Marina’s business intentions into a reality. At first, Marina was planning on pursuing her master’s degree in the United Kingdom; however, her plans were paused, along with the rest of the world’s, when the pandemic caused the world to literally shut down. Following these events, Marina realized that since her plans were not going the way she had originally planned, she should shift her attention and pursue her recently discovered therapy and passion: pottery.
Like many others, Marina decided to start small while launching her online business. She began by ordering a pottery wheel in Kuwait. She explains that the wheel arrived one day before the lockdown was issued in Kuwait. Realizing this, Marina saw the wheel’s arrival as her green light to take the leap and start the business right away, and her business has been expanding and growing ever since. Even though the world was slowing down with the pandemic and lockdown, Marina managed to turn her life around, and make the best out of a bad situation. She states, “the world stopped, but I was starting my small business at home.”
After ordering her pottery wheel, Marina continued by setting up her new business’ online presence. “I shared my work on Instagram and social media, and I got very positive feedback from people that pushed me further on creating a website and selling my pieces online,” she explains. Her first post on social media was in October of 2020, and her business started to flourish and catch the world’s eye around two months later.
Looking back at her success, Marina feels proud of her passion, business, and the therapeutic effect it seems to have on all of her customers and clients. She expresses, “I am happy and excited to spread all the positive impacts that pottery has taught me to the world!” On her website, Marina currently sells products in three distinct categories: Home décor, kitchenware and handmade accessories. She has also been receiving a number of special customer orders for individuals, companies, non-profitable organizations, shops, restaurants and hotels. Moreover, the Clay Therapy website offers a number of classes/workshop/events activities. Nowadays, Marina’s success has ultimately got her thinking of expanding her business and setting up a physical presence to help her popularize her concept around the world and open in several other places in the near future.
In addition to paving her way into the business world, Marina views her online-based company as a gateway to delve deeper into the pottery-making world. She says, “I think pottery is an endless learning form of art. The more I work with people from all ages, the more I learn more about how people think and how the material reacts. So, my business has given me a wider range to study the material clay more.”
Seeing as Marina’s business focuses on helping others, Marina hopes that, through Clay Therapy, she will be able to utilize her pottery-making skills and knowledge into contributing her part and benefiting the world, especially in her home country, Egypt. Marina also hopes to help others, specifically ones who have been in a similar situation as she did, whether it was a tragic accident or fear of taking the leap and starting an online business. To them, she advises, “I believe that everything happens in life is for a reason, and that we are all different and unique in our own ways to accomplish our dreams in life. So, I would encourage anyone that is passing through any kind of physical difficulties to never put it as a barrier of stopping them to live life to the fullest, but rather use your difficulty to make a difference, and make the impossible be possible to the world!”
To view Marina Nassif’s work online, please visit Clay Therapy Studio online at https://www.claytherapystudio.com.
This article’s content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as medical/health advice or instruction. Content is not intended to be relied upon to treat or offer solutions to specific problems. This is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of healthcare professionals tailored towards your particular health, lifestyle or circumstance.
Laila Mostafa is an Egyptian writer and a literature student at the American University of Sharjah. Her passions include arts and culture, theatre and contemporary literature.
The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees and affiliates.