The well-known English ceramicist Gordon Baldwin often speaks of how clay allows him to think and make connections with other parts of his life. The ability to cast, coil, slip, dip, glaze, throw, fire, before something emerges that has the stamp of memory and purpose are journeys that clay affords. That’s why for Chennai-based K Gukan Raj working with clay feels like a process of a lifetime. His search for new techniques and methods in ceramic took him to UK sculptors such as Sandy Brown and Micki Schloessingk, through a Charles Wallace India Trust (CWIT) grant in 2013. And though he attended many workshops with potters from different nationalities, returning to watch people from Tamil Nadu using their hands to build with clay, became a visceral learning experience. It proved to him that clay was a tough master. His large glazed stoneware collection is part of the exhibition “Journeys of Clay and Fire”, curated by Delhi-based sculptor Kristine Michael, showing at the British Council, New Delhi, till November 29. This group show on ceramics, presented by CWIT in collaboration with the British Council, presents a varied offering of contemporary ceramics and spotlights the revival of artisanal pottery to sustain communities.
With Raj are ceramicists from different parts of India, including Abhay B Pandit and Neha Kudchadkar, from Mumbai; Ela Mukherjee and Shruti Bansal from New Delhi; Shitanshu G Maurya from Kolkata and Shirley Bhatnagar from Dehradun. Each of them has been recipients of the CWIT grant, which allowed them collaborations with UK-based potters and makers. “The India/UK Together Season of Culture marks India’s 75th anniversary of Independence. Over the next eight or nine months, there will be close to 40 partnerships between India and across the UK. This exhibition is an important part of that story. We wanted to look at the impact of COVID-19 on artists in India and in the UK, besides explore wider values around equality, diversity and inclusion, and global challenges around environment,” says Jonathan Kennedy, director arts, British Council, India.
Abhay B Pandit’s exhibits, inspired by the sea, are in ocean colours of blue, white and grey. “I use a lot of lines in my pottery. Over the years, these lines are getting blurred and reaching abstract forms,” says Pandit.
For Mukherjee, however, the exhibits are about memory. Her fire-and-glazed ceramic pieces, “Tribute to a Shared Past” series, show stairs, niches, and thresholds that are a salute to architectural elements of time gone by. “A lot of my work is from autobiographical memory. I’m constantly excavating stories from myself,” she says. Of particular mention at this exhibition is her large installation of concentric circles made from small terracotta oval bowls, almost like a mandala formation, that presents a play of scale and patterns.
Kudchadkar’s video projections are experiments in space, where the body becomes the object. Her work “Weightlifter”, which is part of her project “Auto Ethnography Through Objects”, shows her lying on the floor with boulder-like clay sculptures. “Weightlifter documents a difficult moment in time, made heavy by grief and helplessness. It records the guilt and struggle of breathing as the world collapses around me,” she writes in her exhibition note.
“Journeys of Clay and Fire” presents the effects of clay on our urban and rural landscape, with all its history, influences and scope for dialogue. A second part to this group show is “Crafting Futures”, which looks at traditional potter communities in India. Two projects have been presented, one, by Design Innovation and Craft Resource Centre (DICRC), CEPT University Ahmedabad, in collaboration with British Ceramics Biennale, and the other, by Indian Institute of Craft and Design (IICD), Jaipur, in collaboration with West Dean College of Arts and Conservation. “Crafting Futures creates opportunities for artisans to attract new markets…through the development of materials and techniques, as well as networking and sales,” says Michael.
While the IICD project, in its nascent stage, looks at improvising the kiln technology of the potters of Baswa, near Jaipur, students at DICRC, CEPT University, have been working with their professors, Jay Thakkar and Rishav Jain, on studying terracotta crafts in Gundiyali, in Kutch, Gujarat, since 2014. “This community is an enterprising one, open to collaboration and growth. They only needed a catalyst, an internal initiative, for each craftsperson to realise his/her potential,” says Jain.
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