The recent exhibition of sculptural ceramics titled Earth Memory: A Collective Identity of Creation at Gallery Espace in Delhi, traces a narrative through the works of seven artists who bring together an ancient material that has been creatively used for millennia. This exhibition focuses on diverse artistic approaches that forge a new identity with clay’s versatile qualities and creative potential by referencing form rather than vessel. The exhibition, with impeccable exhibition design by Prima Kurien, appeared like a small jewel of a collection that drew attention to clay, the humble material of everyday use. The artists presented at this exhibition consider clay as core to their work such as Aniruddh Sagar, Rahul Kumar and Arti Paliwal or as a vital strand within a wider multi-disciplinary practice like Vipul Kumar.

Aniruddh Sagar shows exquisite detailing of texture and control of glaze in his stoneware Mountain Pierced with Clouds (Badalon Se Dhaka Pahad), which contrasts the deep ridges of the conical abstract mountain form with a coral-like, copper blue, glazed latticed ring. The slices of sedimentary rocks suspended on the walls, titled Barasingha and Hathi are interspersed with faint fossil-like animal form markings in wall segments and make for a remarkable series. Some, like Prithvi and Udhta Pahar are reminiscent of an aerial view of a landscape, with seams of rock and river winding sinuously across the horizon. His magnified Seed (Beej), a stoneware form sits majestically, its dry clay surface beckoning the audiences to touch, in order to fully experience the convoluted wings of the seed- like form.

Vipul Kumar’s Moonscapes conceptually and effectively compliment to the power of the earth and its elemental cosmic harmony is evident in his swirling porcelain forms, handbuilt, with an encrusted glazed, surface in tones of white, muted cream, browns and blue glazes. Kumar, a student of sculptor Balbir Katt of Banaras Hindu University, who was famed for his monumental forms was originally trained in stone-carving and came to ceramics through the influence of his younger brother Kesarinandan who is one of India’s leading young studio potters. His earlier series using hand built porcelain to visualize social themes like society’s cancerous decay and global warming turned to lunar-scapes, after his tile panel work on the theme of Navagrahas using NASA satellite photographs as a reference.

From a panorama of landscape and seascape, to the first signs of human habitation, Sukhjeet Singh brings man and his habitation into the conceptual narrative of the exhibition. Using his extruded matrix homes and habitable forms that have a man-in-nature materiality, Singh’s ‘Hidden Treasure’ and ‘Penguin Lake’ uses marbling in coloured clay as well as a limited glaze palette successfully alluding to geographical time and human existence. Homes battling against, and in harmony with, nature continue to be the leit-motif in Arti Paliwal’s sculptures. She calls this, ‘the green jungle converted into the concrete jungle’. She sees the beautiful natural world being served in small doses like a bonsai in urban homes, suggesting a complex relationship with nature. The work uses mixed media in new and unexpected ways such as a collection of teapots, cups, plates and jugs called Nature’s Servings - that look like green mushrooms reminiscent of human habitation. Her latest experiments in sculpture involve the use of a combination of mediums such as glass, copper rods, iron, cement, and wood pieces in her ceramic works. A student of PR Daroz and Arun Kumar at Bharat Bhawan, Bhopal, Paliwal usually uses hand built methods with stoneware clay, fired with dry and matt glazes or a coloured body. She says, “I like the impressions my fingers create on the work while doing pinching of coils and the effects of dry cracks on clay.”

Rahul Kumar’s house box installation questions our visual vocabulary of home as a sense of place rather than the traditional four walls and roof iconic forms. If Arti Paliwal’s concerns are addressed in the proliferation of faceless urban housing, Rahul Kumar’s installation reminds us that home can be whatever is familiar, and uses memory to trigger associations based on amorphous forms resembling tools, objects, textures and perceptions. As he explains about his Memory Keeper series, “Paradox, irony, and dichotomy are all at play in these works.” The ‘excavated’ clay tablets use epigraphs from various traditional languages in order to layer it with the idea of documentation of human history. A student of Delhi Blue Pottery and Dipalee Daroz, Rahul’s initial training was in vessel making, his current work, however, has developed along sculptural and conceptual lines.

Sukhdev Rathod of Baroda’s strong winged forms on plinths, combine negative bite-like shapes in an abstract expressionistic manner with pure form, that create a feeling of momumentality. Rathod trained at MS University, under sculptor Jyotsna Bhatt, and his mentor’s influence is clear in his use of pure lines and in his competent manipulation of glaze quality and texture to create subtle surfaces on his objects. Now based in Murud Janjira in Maharastra, his experimentation in material and technique is uniquely welded to his mastery of form, whether it be inspired by man-made or natural sources.

Garima Tripathi’s installation titled Bond is the most psychologically affective work in the exhibition. She describes her use of scaffolding as a metaphor for relationships. “A scaffolding is a stable, impermanent structure… keeping one safe, but one is always tied and hanging on it…a place in between the building and nothing…as our relationships, including the one with the self…may feel stable but they are not permanent.” Using high fired stoneware clay and wires of aluminium and brass, she has achieved a contemplative work that ponders the human condition. An engineer by education, she trained in ceramics in Boston, Tripathi is also the co-founder of a start-up, Care24, which provides health-care services to the elderly and infirm. She describes her art as her refuge, a way for her to both accept and escape the human condition.

Through the exhibition, the curator helps the viewer think about land, material knowledge, relationships and collective creation. The field of ceramic art has expanded to include works such as these, that stand out for their coupling of material inventiveness and technical ability as well as their relevance to questions that preoccupy us in our daily lives, and their ability to capture our imagination. This discourse will help subsequent generations of artists forge new work through a dialogue and debate on new perspectives at this critical juncture. The art of ceramics constantly harnesses new concepts to confront emerging significant contributions to art while retainingitsageoldlink to earth and early mankind.

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