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September 04, 2018

6 Ceramics Artists Who Are Breaking The Mould At India’s First Ceramics Triennale

Text by Sadaf Shaikh

The first-of-its-kind event is the result of a growing revival of the traditional art form and the modern designs coming out of it are giving ceramics a cool new identity

Working with clay has traditionally been an integral part of Indian handicrafts — some of the relics from Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa existed almost three millennia before Christ’s time. However, the contemporary art community in India has for the most part ignored the medium, relegating it to artists of yore, preferring to dabble in mixed media and other newer forms — until recently. There’s been a quiet revival of ceramics through a surge in pottery classes taken by millennials on the weekends and workshops that show you how to create your own tableware.

This movement reached fruition last Friday when India’s first-ever ceramics triennale was inaugurated at the Jawahar Kala Kendra (JKK) in Jaipur. The artist-led initiative is a joint effort by the multi-arts centre and the Contemporary Clay Foundation — under the guidance of Nagy, Ray Meeker (co-founder, Golden Bridge Pottery, Pondicherry) and Pooja Sood (director general, JKK). With over 35 Indian and 12 international artists displaying their wares and conducting master classes and workshops, it’s no surprise that art enthusiasts are flocking to the Pink City.

We pick six artists showcasing at the triennale whose fresh designs have made us believe in ceramics as a serious art form.

Have Fun Pottery by Saraswati Renata, India

What we know: Formerly known as Renata Sidorenko, Saraswati is a ceramic miniaturist who lives in the pottery community of Dana, Auroville. Working out of a two-storey house located in the middle of the forest, you can imagine why Saraswati’s work has a fantastical quality to it — even frogs hopping in the vicinity of the studio find their place in her art. The artist is unwaveringly loyal to the commercial glazes from Russia which are responsible for the bright colours her creations have come to be associated with.

What we love: The eccentric tea kettle with a swing — featuring a tiny teddy bear suspended from its handle.

Kate Malone, England

What we know: Kate Malone is one of the UK’s leading ceramic artists with an illustrious career spanning thirty years. Her first encounter with clay was at school at the age of 14, something she likes to refer to as her ‘eureka moment’ as she was instantly drawn to the medium. Having spent almost three decades creating unique, hand-made pots and intricately ornamented sculptures, her work exudes the kind of fantasy that makes you question your own perception of what’s real and what’s not.

What we love: The lustrous vase designed to look like an inviting bunch of grapes.

Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, Australia

What we know: Sri Lankan-born, Sydney-based artist Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran creates rough-edged, new-age sculptures. His works explore the politics of sex, gender and religion — a study in irony since his loyalty towards atheism is steadfast and absolute. That doesn’t deter the artist from borrowing from his Hindu and Christian heritage as reference points along with drawing inspiration from the internet, pornography, fashion and art history. Especially interesting is the dual presence of male and female organs in his work that alludes to gender fluid realms.

What we love: Grotesque sculptures that give the impression of a haphazard process of painting but have millennial emojis like the poop-face and eggplant hidden in plain sight.

Rahul Kumar, India

What we know: The Delhi-based ceramic artist’s works are mainly utilitarian in nature with almost 95 percent of his creations comprising vessels and utensils. So much so, that even Circle Uncircled, his exhibit at the India Art Fair in 2016, was an installation of 101 platters of varying sizes. Simple as they are, Kumar’s pieces are highly interpretative and seem like answers to the viewer’s own state of mind; designs resembling the yin-yang and inverted snail shells will leave you enthralled.

What we love: An orange-blue platter that brings to mind New Zealand’s Lake Rotorua in all of its kaleidoscopic magnificence.

Satoru Hoshino, Japan

What we know: Hoshino had been working with clay for nearly 15 years when a landslide obliterated his studio along with all his artworks at the time. Instead of giving into despair, he looked at the event as a lesson in humility by nature and it changed his approach towards the medium drastically, making him more reverent of it. The artist’s oeuvre includes large-scale installations that tower over you as well as more intimate objects that you can hold in your hands. You can’t help but feel that you’ve stumbled upon a very dark secret between the creator and his creation when you are in the presence of Hoshino’s artworks.

What we love: His larger-than-life installations that explore the interaction between the centerpiece and the wall art. This one has a whole Upside Down from Stranger Things vibe going on.

Shirley Bhatnagar, India

What we know: Having grown up without any kind of exposure to television or internet, Bhatnagar had her first brush with international cinema during her first year of college in 1992. Soaking in the works of Jean-Luc Godard and Truffaut led her to express much of it in her own art later on. While it is clear that she has a flair for storytelling — just look at her animated tableware and you’ll know what we are talking about — she also has an endearing way of christening them with names like Rangey hatoon pakadna (caught red-handed) and latoon ka bhoot.

What we love: A triumphant Inspector Jug points his gun at three guilty Robber Cups who raise their hands in surrender.

The Indian Ceramics Triennale is on until November 18, 2018 at the Jawahar Kala Kendra in Jaipur.

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