In December 2023, ten ceramicists and sculptors met to collectively express what it’s like to share a world in crisis, through their medium of clay, which is so connected to the Earth. ANANYA PATEL was there to observe the artists in their element, and write about the projects they were working on.
Over a span of two weeks in December, ten ceramists and sculptors from around the world gathered at the Ceramics Center, a not-for-profit studio established in Vadodara in 1998. It was among the first of its kind in India, offering support to artists, and at its heart was Jyotsna Bhatt, the late artist and beloved teacher, who was integral to the evolution of the Ceramic Center and the growth of the community. The center has always operated under an ethos of providing space, infrastructure, and technical expertise to facilitate the experimentation and execution of creative ideas, with a focus on creative expression rather than commercial gain.
These ten artists were the second cohort of the “Remembering Jyotsna Bhatt” camp series in her memory, to bring new voices and perspectives to the center. They united under the theme, “The Earth We Share,” collaborating, experimenting and reflecting on the interconnected relationships between humans and the environment, and the issues emerging from geopolitical tension and climate change. The camp culminated in a group exhibition where the artists invited viewers to reflect on the beauty and fragility of the Earth we share. As they worked, artists reflected on their creative practice, on working at the Ceramic Center, on their interpretation of the theme, and on what it means to create art in a collective community setting.
With her roots in Vadodara and a long standing relationship with the Ceramic Center, Falguni Bhatt conceptualized this edition of the camp, selected the artists, and curated the show. “This series of works explores the theme of lost landscapes and the impact of human activity on the natural world. I seek to highlight the beauty of the natural environment, while also drawing attention to the ways in which we have altered and destroyed it.”
Shalini Dam explores geopolitical narratives in her work. Here she prepares the components of her six-meter-long piece exploring the duality of peace and war through its symbolism in various societies and cultures.
Jean Appleby, head of Pottery at the Heartfulness Institute, came to the camp to develop an artistic project.
“From the first time I made art, I felt some guidance, that the ideas came to me in full form, not like I was discovering so much as I was receiving.”
Recently, the guidance Jean received led her to explore an imagined narrative around early human civilization. She crafted a collection of objects created and preserved by early beings to be discovered and used in the present day.
On creating these vessels for others to reflect upon, she hoped to “inspire us to recognize that many beings from many places have inhabited our planet. All beings entrust us to nurture Earth for all to become ONE.”
Shweta: “I believe an artist’s thought has a voice that rings through their work to resonate with its audience. The artwork is an expression of that minimalism that hopes to provoke the viewer to reflect and delve deeper within. My ceramic works are in reverence and gratitude to our life force or energy, to Nature, and our planet Earth.”
Dr. Julie Bartholomew was inspired to continue her research on bees and insect communities. She started her Habitat series in 2020 as a response to the loss of biodiversity, particular insect life, following the wildfires that devastated habitat in Australia. A beekeeper herself, her pieces are architecturally constructed working hives that can sustain bee communities and promote their population growth.
This interest in bees and their collaborative communities is also shared by fellow artist, Antra Sinha. Antra says, “I am intrigued by the different types of shelter that exists in our civilization, and their status. I continue to think about hives, bees, and the collaboration that exists in communities of sentient beings and compare it to humans.”
Indrani Singh Cassime shared her insights on the artistic collaborative community developing at the Ceramic Center. “I have made some lifelong friends, so overall it has been a fantastic experience. We have markings and angles. Hidden and seen, yet to be explored. To me exploring a new material and pushing its limits is just like exploring a new friendship.”
Indrani used this opportunity to experiment with the distinctive features of her environment and the synergy emerging within the group. She brought her own materials, like volcanic sand from a beach near her studio in Pondicherry, and mixed them with clays, glazes, and wood fire ash from the Ceramic Center, creating pieces with unique textures and effects. Her series of Memory Vessels are made of various mixtures of clay collected from her fellow artists’ workstations.
To me exploring a new material and
pushing its limits is just like exploring a
Khageswar Rout is inspired by the unique materiality of the medium: “All the natural elements work together to create a ceramic piece. It emerges from the earth, and water gives it malleability, without which you cannot shape it. Air dries it in place, but keeps it fragile and tenuous, until it is cast in fire to give it strength and hold its form.”
He, along with others, observed that in India, very few community-centered studios exist, where artists have the opportunity to work on equal ground, share ideas and knowledge, and draw inspiration from one another. “We have become used to working in our own studios, to make and promote our own work. We have forgotten that art is meant to be learned and created by receiving from and giving to one another, not in isolation. It used to be that way, but we don’t teach young artists that, and we don’t practice it ourselves.”
Art is meant to be learned, and
created, by receiving from and
giving to one another, not in isolation.
After just a few days in each other’s company, a sense of togetherness and harmony emerged in the space. Each participant supported and collaborated with the others to enhance their knowledge and explore new avenues, lending a fresh set of eyes and a helping hand when needed. They expressed the need for artists to share their learnings and experiences in community art spaces so young creatives have access to more knowledge and opportunities. Many generously shared their new discoveries and recipes with the Ceramic Center, facilitating upcoming generations of ceramic artists, and nurturing an environment of respect and care where they can produce meaningful work that pushes boundaries.