Clay, Fire and Porcelain


By Papri Das

While many of us aren’t well acquainted with ceramic art, the recently held exhibition ‘Under Construction’ shows how the art form continues to garner patrons amongst an exclusive group of A-listers. Those who graced the inauguration ceremony include honchos like Siddharth Roy Kapur with his wife and Bollywood actress Vidya Balan, Dolly Thakore, Khushnuma Khambatta and many more. While that's a promising turn out, well-known ceramist Anjani Khanna, who was also featured in the exhibition, feels that the art form needs more patrons.

“I prefer it when the work is bought by people who enjoy art, and understand ceramics as a medium. There are few understanding collectors in Mumbai and Delhi, but we certainly need more serious buyers,” says Khanna, who was recently invited to China to contribute to a permanent collection at the FuLe International Ceramic Museum in Fuping.

While Khanna specialises in stoneware clay and porcelain, the other six contributing have varied expertise. “In ‘Under Construction’, all materials are represented. Neha Pullarwar and Tejashree Sagvekar have worked in terracotta and earthenware, Rashi Jain, Veena Chandran, Nausheen Bari, Shayonti Salvi and I have used mostly stoneware, and Rashi Jain has some works in porcelain,” Khanna points out.

She shares that she was interested in the art form from a young age thanks to her induction to ceramic art by well known ceramist Primula Pandit, but it was when she entered professional life that she realised that her true calling lay in dabbling with fire and clay.

“After college in Mumbai I studied pottery with Mr Ray Meeker at the Golden Bridge Pottery in Pondicherry. I then went on to study biology at the University of Cambridge in the UK and on returning to India worked as an environment policy analyst and journalist. However, I returned to clay and Pondicherry. I spent another year and a half working at Golden Bridge Pottery, before returning to Mumbai,” says Khanna, who now runs her studio and kiln in Alibad in western harbor of Mumbai.

When asked what appeals to her about ceramics the most, she explains, “Clay is a very versatile, ancient and natural material. The material is completely transformed by fire from a soft malleable material to a hard, unchanging form. I find that and the process of working with clay very interesting. Not only does the medium facilitate aesthetic expression, but it also demands technical rigour as the processes of converting raw clay to fired ceramic is arduous and requires learning and skill.”

While Khanna gives a simplified idea, the process isn't that simple. “I work in stoneware clay and fire the sculpture at almost 1300 degrees Celsius. I also work with porcelain, which is also fired at a high temperature. Terracotta and earthenware are fired at a lower temperature,” Khanna shares, adding that the choice of clay too plays an important role in the outcome.

Due of these harsh conditions and parameters, there are very few artists who pursue this form, and even lesser who are successful. Needless to say, that adds to the exclusivity of certain artworks, while others go unnoticed. “There are a few artists working with clay who are successfully supporting themselves with their work. A lot of other artists are struggling,” says Khanna, hoping that more galleries will support the work of artists who work in clay, as the number of practitioners and the quality of their work continues to grow.


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