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As the third edition of the Auroville International Potter’s Market is set to be held in next January, the township is abuzz with activity and anticipation

The art of ceramics has come of age in Auroville, Pondicherry. Over the last few years, this community of specialist artisans has grown rapidly, with a number of new initiatives supporting local artisans. “The scene is very promising and optimistic,” says artist Priya Sundaravalli, a longtime Auroville resident who mentors several training initiatives. “Many potters have discovered the balance between production ware and creative self-expression,” she observes. While solo and group shows are on the rise, the Auroville Art Service also organises events featuring regional artists. “These shows do not discriminate against clay work,” relates Priya. “Ceramic artists get to show with other visual artists, which is the way it should be.”

Art and soul
Several workshops now focus on advanced processes of raku
firing, and the Japanese technique of Haiyu slipware, notes Priya. Moreover, many Auroville schools now have ceramics as part of their curriculum. White Peacock Studio, run by the Russian artist Saraswati Renata Sidorenko, is a prominent centre that hosts classes for children and adults. “This is a non-commercial club, a family affair,” says Saraswati, who trains youngsters, while her mother, Anna Morozova, facilitates workshops for grown-ups. “It’s a place for non-professionals to explore the purest form of creativity, paying no heed to the commercial side of the art world,” avers Saraswati.

A kiln slate
The ceramic revolution in Auroville began in the early-’70s, led by the patrons Deborah Smith and Ray Meeker, who founded Golden Bridge Pottery (GBP) in Pondicherry, informs the architect-turned-ceramist Adil Writer. “The sub-culture of ceramics has now spread into the hinterland,” says Adil. Some of these studios are larger than those in Auroville, and are flooding the market with stoneware of varying quality,
he adds.

As the GBP has slowed down activities, few others are left to carry the torch forward, says Adil, who runs the studio Mandala Pottery. “We are known for functional ware, murals and installations,” he says. They also create “Studio ceramics”, represented at exhibitions in the country and overseas.

Glaze of glory
About 10 years back, Mandala Pottery “adopted” a small terracotta facility outside Auroville, informs Adil. “This small local unit has now grown larger than my studio,” he says. “We have some of our designs made here under our strict supervision. It is advantageous to both studios.” The studio hosts wood or gas-firing sessions almost every week, supplying works to shops, boutiques, spas, and corporate groups across the country.
“We also have export orders,” adds Adil, “but we focus on shops that respect and understand the
positives of a handmade pot.”

A few years back, Adil and the ceramic artist Rakhee Kane hosted Ruthanne Tudball from Norfolk, UK, for a workshop on soda-firing. “Soda firing is a very specific way of firing pottery, lending a vibrant orange peel look,” he says. A booth at the upcoming Potters Market will showcase such work.

“Historically, ceramic meant terracotta, which is low-fired,” explains Nausheen Bari, another artist at Mandala Potter. At GBP, students learn how to fire clay with wood, and the traditional Korean and Japanese methods of anagama firing. “There is a solid base here,” she adds. “Students are making a profession out of this, and it has had a cascading effect on local potters.”

Pottery in motion
Lately, many ceramic artists are taking to works of larger sizes, observes Bari. “Porcelain is also being taken up seriously for sculptural work,” she notes. “However, tableware is very much in demand, as India is waking up to the prospects of handcrafted, personalised lifestyle products.”
Until recently, ceramics were barely recognised as an art form, reflects Bari. “But now, it’s getting better
visibility,” she says.

The Auroville International Potters’ Market, initiated by Ange Peters of the Forest Pottery Studio, has a fair share of village studios hobnobbing with potters from all over the country, and overseas. The outcome is positive on more fronts than one. Other members at Mandala claim that the status of “the humble potter has risen  greatly”,  says Adil. “A barometer of this is that people working in Auroville now have better chances in the marriage market,” he adds, in a lighter vein.

The Auroville International Potters’ Market will be held from January 26-28, 2017. Details: 0413 2623101; auroville.org

 — Team Indulge

Pics: Adil Writer, Mandala Pottery, Marco Saroldi, Nausheen Bari, Priya Sundaravalli, Saraswati Renata Sidorenko, White Peacock Studio, Vimal Bhojraj

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