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March 28, 2018

Her Vocabulary Of Forms: Lubna Chowdhary

Text by Rymn Massand

Inspired by varied global cultural influences, British artist Lubna Chowdhary brings them to life through her ceramic creations

As one of the most stylish, talented and distinctive women around, Lubna Chowdhary defies categorisation. She is a ceramicist, sculptor, designer, craftswoman, and seamstress extraordinaire. Living in London for the past 25 years, Chowdhary began working primarily in ceramics, and as her practice grew, her craft expanded into various fields. Her projects are largely commissioned, sometimes self-initiated and eventually find their place in galleries, homes or public and commercial spaces.

Born in Tanzania to Pakistani parents, she moved to England in 1970. All her varied cultural influences are evident in her work, in its forms and shapes and colours and while her association with her gallery in India (Jhaveri Contemporary) is fairly recent (she showed at their group show Windows in Mumbai in September 2017, and at the India Art Fair last month), it feels very much like a homecoming in the best possible way. We catch up with her for a chat, a cuppa and a look into her world.

What are the main influences of your art practice?
Colour has always been a big part of my life. My parents were born in India and then moved to Pakistan, I was born and grew up in Africa and then moved to the North of England. Growing up in Manchester, I had a foot in two very different cultures. I have been conflicted about my aesthetic and cultural choices in the past but times have changed and we now live in a more eclectic global world. It’s a much more comfortable feeling. I feel people are afraid of using colour and so I sometimes feel I’m on a mission. If there is colour available, I use it! Because I could fairly easily make things by hand, I became much more interested in industrial processes. The built environment is a major influence. I’ve travelled to Russia and Berlin, and Russian constructivism and the Bauhaus were strong early influences. I had also travelled to Pakistan and India and was familiar with the traditions of ornamentation characteristics of Asian architecture.

Do you see yourself as a minimalist?
No! I do find a minimalist aesthetic restful to the eye but I’m a lover of materials and the ornamental. I love collecting and displaying, and have endless glass-fronted cabinets around the house. Anthropological collections such as the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam and the Museum of Mankind in London (now gone) were the first totally inspiring collections I looked at in my early years of making objects. They also provided an admittedly distorted view of non-European cultures during times when Western art dominated the scene.

Why clay and why these shapes?
My mum was a seamstress, so I developed dexterous skills in the home. This facility with making led me eventually to working with clay. I wasn’t initially interested in studying ceramics because of its associations. I rather disdainfully saw it as a crafty, feminine pursuit. Although I tried to resist it, I became seduced by the immediacy of clay. It was a material that could be formed without the use of machinery or tools, it responded directly to your hands, allowing you to create forms almost as you conceived them. Being at the Royal College of Art (RCA), and in London particularly, really opened up my mind to so many new ideas and influences. At the RCA I became a sponge soaking up as much as I could, attending lectures in every discipline. I became more and more interested in design, history, anthropology, industrial and traditional processes, museums, cities, and new materials. I started working intuitively with clay, producing many small-scale objects and the end result was Metropolis, a multi-object piece of around 1,000 sculptures, which lay somewhere between an imagined museum collection and a Lilliputian cityscape. All the things I’d been interested in became hybridised through the process of making. Everyone who saw the piece could relate to it and recognise something familiar in its vocabulary of forms.

How does it feel to have a gallery presence in India?
I’m delighted that Amrita and Priya Jhaveri have taken me on. Showing to an audience that has opened its arms to me with a complete understanding and acceptance of the work feels so refreshing. It frees me up to just create work as an international artist without the usual compartmentalisation that occurs in the West.

What’s next for you?
I’m working on two architectural commissions in London. One in Kings Cross for the Standard Hotel and one in Liverpool Street for a new development there. There’s a discussion of a solo show at the new Jhaveri Contemporary in Mumbai.

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