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Young Ceramists Casting new Impressions

Author: Salwat Ali      Publications: The Review– Dawn (p.23)      Dated: 28 Sept 2000

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“We potters have a sleepless night when we know time kiln is opening the next day. The tension of the unexpected is so compelling. The clay can warp, colours can go awry and a fiasco can sometimes turn into a dream piece,” enthuses Nabahat Lotia while describing her experiences with clay.

On the other hand Salman lkram is a meticulous planner who takes considerable time to conceive a design. “l make plenty of rough sketches before hand,” he says and adds “l get down to work only after I have sorted out every technical detail in my mind”.

These two young ceramists have two different approaches to handling clay but both possess a distinctly singular involvement with their work. Journeys with Clay, a group show of eleven contemporary ceramists has brought to the fore a flush of young talent ready to explore new directions with great enthusiasm and originality. This display has been researched and curated by Asna and presented with the support of the Fine Arts Committee, Arts Council Karachi.

Asna is a non-profit organization supporting preservation of our craft heritage and its contemporary interpretation through dialogue, research and documentation, curated exhibitions etc. Its maiden venture Maati ki Sargoshi was an exhibition of traditional clay crafts from the four provinces of Pakistan. Other programmes included illustrated talk shows and an extensive clay craft workshop on traditional hand building and surface decoration techniques for contemporary ceramists. This presentation, on now at the Arts Council Karachi, is also one of the main events on their activity calendar.

Ceramist Nabahat Lotia has set up her Pat Gharh or leaf fall series. It is a sensitive portrayal of the structural beauty of ordinary foliage leaves shed during seasonal changes. One hardly bothers to notice their inherent patterns but Nabahat has brought them out in exquisite detail. She not only focuses on cutout shapes such as sharp edged zigzags, tentacle like palmettos and complex filigreed patterns, laboriously trimmed and cut as per original form but also imprints distinct characteristic veins of each individual leaf on to clay. She is also mindful of the rhythmic curls and natural grace of these specimens and cleverly incorporates them as such into decorative plates and bowls for sewing dry snacks. Nabahat has her own kiln and loves to work with red clay fired at low temperatures. She creates dramatic textural contrasts by combining glazed and unglazed surfaces. Having acquired her basic skills from traditional potters, she has gone solo quite often since 1989.

Shazia Zuberi is another artist inspired by natural elements like seed pods, undulating contours of petals leaves and stems, grainy crusty barks and tall majestic trunks. She aspires for a sculptural quality in her work and enlarges her personal growth through highly emotive figurative forms either painted on pots and platters or composed as free standing sculptures. Shazia indulges in experimental techniques to achieve textural variety and displays an obvious bent for expressive work with strong emotional overtones. Her last solo at Momart Art Gallery defined “inner turmoil”.

Another young ceramist declaring a style of her own is Saman Shamsie. Like Shazia Zuberi, she is also a product of Alleghany University Penn. U.S.A. and has graduated with a minor in ceramics. She has a studio and worm with earthenware clay in the vessel tradition, but lately has opened out into free expression and abstracted forms. She enjoys modelling by hand, using the finger and thumb which gives her work a delicate feel. In decorative glazing, Saman is adept in the Maiolica technique which involves slip covered earthenware with incised decoration. Her work on display at the Arts Council becomes interesting and meaningful in the light of her own statement accompanying it. Borrowing from nature she expresses through whorls or petals ol flower buds about to unfurl. She equates this wavering hesitancy with emerging womanhood, which gives a dramatic touch of “feeling” to her work. Some of the pieces also seem to be the outcome of a single turn of a spiral.

Salman Ikrarn is a young ceramist to watch out for. A very recent graduate of NCA (1999), he has already had a solo at V.M. Gallery and he exudes the confidence of an artist who knows his mind. He creates around the vessel tradition and his thrown and mould cast pieces attest to his deft and controlled hand skills. Blending his own recipes for low and high temperature glazes he laments: “Here opportunities are so limited and facilities so non- existent that l even have to mix my own clay”.

Despite this, a certain maturity is already obvious in his work. Salman is aiming for a “challenging breakthrough within the symmetry of thrown pieces to make every piece more dynamic and sculptural.” indeed pieces like Spin and Ocean of thought do come within this category as they conform to basic academic norms but still carry a distinct stamp of individual expression.

Arji Karim graduated with a distinction in ceramics from Hunerkada, Islamabad, in 1997. She has had working experience with traditional potters in Gujrat and glass bangle makers in Hyderabad. ln this show she has put framed wall hangings consisting of rock textured blocks, organic shapes, and irregular tiles connected to form larger rectangular pieces. Her colour palette veers between dark sandy greys and sludgy greens and she is fond of exploring textural bases and incised motif patterns. Arji is evolving a personal language and prefers the freedom of the unconventional for her expression.

lsha Manzoor is another new entrant, an recent NGA graduate, and is presently teaching at lndus Valley School. She is also interested in new techniques and forms, and on her pots and pieces she has already played with semblances from fables like the Arabian night.

lshrat Reza Suhrawardy has been into ceramics for the last twenty years and has mainly concentrated on teaching at NCA and lndus Valley School of Art. She has an extremely practical approach and insists that ceramic design cannot be successful without being efficient. lt is this utilitarian aspect and functionality of design that is so evident in her display. A seasoned ceramist/potter, she can work in pinch, coil, slab, press, ship casting and throwing techniques. Under the auspices of Sunghi Dev Foundation she has organised a workshop on revival and technical improvement for the village potters of Haripur, Abbotabad and Battgram.

Among the seniors, the celebrated Sheherezade Alam is represented by an array of pots, their classical contours and workmanship defining her deep love for the vessel tradition. The Dancing pot was inspired by the movements of noted Khattak exponent Naheed Siddiqui. Likewise, she melds all her concepts in the circular rhythms of the pot.

Suraiya Hasan on the other hand opts for squares and rectangles. Her mounted table stand pieces and wall fixtures are stylish and sophisticated. She is still working in white clay with imprints of calligraphy and this time has embossed grid like motifs in subtle colouration on her plates. “Calligraphy links me to my heritage” she remarked once and her dynamic script markings are losing formal constraints and becoming as free as Japanese ink-and-wash stroke play.

Tariq Javed, originally a painter, has been seriously into clay work for the last couple of years. His entries in this exhibition are on a much quieter scale compared to his earlier brash and outlandish works. A prolific worker, he goes through spells of creativity when he produces some excellent work.

Mian Salahuddin is perhaps the senior most artists in this group and was among the first batch to graduate from NCA in 1963. A Fulbright scholar, he has primarily been a teacher and later head of department and N.C.A. His pieces seem sedate in comparison to the rest. A formalist of sorts, he innovates within the traditional ambit.

Considering that ceramic as an aesthetic discipline has only just begun to amass a following in the last couple of years, Journeys into Clay can be termed a major collective as it showcases almost all the senior and up-coming artists who are committed to ceramics as an art form. This cohesive projection is also bound to place ceramics on a much steadier footing in the art sphere here, giving impetus to its growth on a variety of scales. Already in this exhibition one can witness an adventurous streak among the young talent. They are branching out.