Contemporary Ceramics

DATED: 13 NOV 2011

Exhibiting after a hiatus of nine years, ceramist Shazia Zuberis current solo. Attrition`, at Chawkandi Art, Karachi, proves once again that solo shows devoted to contemporary ceramics are few and far between here. Answering questions about her new work Zuberi also shed light on the problems that hinder ceramic art production.

Referencing natures organic reservoir you initially furled eroding leaf forms into fractured melancholic figures. This introductory signature gave way to a decorative expression through design and embellishment on vessel forms. This show marks your return to the human condition expressed essentially through simplified primitive portrait forms. What is the inspiration and premise of Attrition, did concept devolve into form or vice versa?

Attrition, is a strictly impulsive and instinctive series-I do not know if the concept developed first or the form-for me its one and the same-my art work stems from some- thing I have experienced, lived through and/or encountered. Attrition as a series in that sense is very personal, as its expression is coming from within.

My work can always be deconstructed into three categories; the conceptual, the form and surface etching. Conceptually, it is the painfully slow (almost invisible) erosion of our morality, our ethics and our sensibility. lt is synonymous with the way water erodes our lives-water which gives life.

For me, clay has this wonderful age old quality. Its been worked with since the dawn of civilisation-it embodies bodies something ancient. ln this regard the primitive nature of form has always been with me- and is most apparent in Attrition-even my stone/pebble forms are specifically reminiscent of larva stone, evolved over millions of years. Ancient civilisations worked with clay and their imprint remains in it-that is how we have been able to learn about these past lives. Yes, I did start using surface decoration some years ago (the Vessel series) which utilised high fire glazes and shiny surfaces (however, that was possibly unintentional) as l was trying again to mimic natural surfaces or stone.

What is the significance of calligraphic text, primal linear markings, animal forms and patterns on the human faces and have you experimented with new technical applications?

ln the end when we have lost everything, our faith remains-we draw strength from our religion. ln a time such as ours with the slow erosion of our society, the calligraphic text is used to draw strength-its used as a chant to regain the sense of morality; to fight against a feeling of impending helplessness. The primal markings across the face are used to show that everyone is an individual-they represent ritual- we use ritual in order to create order in our society, our beliefs-animal forms which in this series is the Markhor simply just represents the people from our region, its our national animal, so Ive used it as a metaphor for us-people of this region.

The technical application is new-Ive worked strictly with earthenware clay. Ive used slips, which is liquid clay with oxides, on the surface, which has then been burnished while `green and then fired to bisque. Ive experimented with slip glazes as well; this is an interesting technique in which a flux is added to the slip which causes the clay to gloss. One of the reasons I adopted this technique for the series is because it has a wonderful natural appearance-reminiscent of natural stone-when burnished to a gloss or a matt it retains a primitive, old appearance, as if something buried has been unearthed.

Contemporary ceramics/studio pottery has a sporadic presence here in spite of young generation interest and diligence. What in your opinion are the hurdles that impede its progress?

A studio for a contemporary ceramist is a very expensive set up-the equipment required for making clay, for mixing glazes, for firing is both financially expensive and simultaneously requires a lot of space. lt is difficult for potters to set up a studio in the house. Having said that, I have to also mention that for both electric and gas fired kilns (these are two types of basic kilns)-you have others such as wood and Raku fire kilns, a steady supply of energy is required and unfortunately in Karachi/Pakistan at this current time, a steady supply of energy is a tall order. l have ruined and thrown away so many pieces while working for this show, simply because of load shedding-it`s been terrible, especially when the electricity goes right when the glaze in the kiln is supposed to melt and instead of continued heat, the temperature in the kiln falls and the glaze begins to cool.

How do you view the studio and artisan potter divide?

The artisan and the studio potter have very little to do with each other-unfortunately I also fall into the same category. I personally havent had the time to delve and work with our local traditional potter. One they are located on the outskirts of the city (Karachi), secondly, I do not have enough space to invite them over to my studio and thirdly, there are no institutions that one can rely on in order to create a meaningful interaction.