In a new glaze

Topical, playful aesthetic and even philosophical, this was the mood set by the ceramic work at Juneja Art Gallery in Jaipur. Sangeeta Juneja’s art gallery, that is located in an urban mill area in Jaipur played host to a powerful exhibition that focused on the different expressive qualities of ceramics. Quite unlike the Ceramic Triennale at the Jawar Kala Kendra, which was more about large installations, and an inclusion of various media that does not strictly qualify as ceramic. The exhibition curated by two ceramists, Rekha Bajpe and Ruby Jhunjhunwala focused only on ceramic art produced by over 120 Indian artists. Divided into two sections, Just an Illusion and Woven Together, the exhibition indicated to the viewer at first glance that ceramic art is so much more than platters, cups and functional wear. Ceramic artists are utterly capable of creating emotive and powerful work, irrespective of the challenges and restrictions of the medium, all it takes is inventiveness and hard work.
“Ceramic artists have been doing conceptual work for quite some time now, it just takes an event like the Triennale to bring them all together. We figured that there is limited space at the Triennale and since they have a slightly different approach, why not have exhibitions around the city that showcases ceramic art?” says Rekha Bajpe a ceramic artist in her own right, but also a curator who has one of the few locally produced magazines that is dedicated to ceramics.
“When I was approached by Rekha and Ruby, I was happy to give them the space to host their exhibitions, one at Juneja Gallery and the other at my Amer Fort gallery which is smaller but has a very high footfall. Now I look at ceramics with new eyes,” says Juneja who normally showcases bronze sculptures and canvases at her gallery.
As one enters the gallery what strikes one first is a large rotating wheel made of wood and mild steel, titled the Aisle it is created by Ahmedabad-based artist Khanjan Dalal. At the tip of each spoke of the wheel is an ornate cone-like structure, made in stoneware. Each cone contains a ceramic figure bent over in pain. To the side of this large installation, is another work that consists of ceramic speech bubbles, where within one speech bubble is another. This section is titled Homebound and it indicates a cacophony of voices that often seem to overlap and no one listens to anyone. Both these works speak of the trauma of the loss of his mother during a shooting incident of communal violence. “Thirty years later after that incident occurred I don’t witness any evolution as far as humanity is concerned. All I experience is a cyclical motion of suffering and loss, be it Kashmir, Yemen, Syria or Palestine. All that is evident is the illusion of control and power in the aisle of humanity,” says Dalal.

Another work that jumps out at one is Sonia Rashid’s delicate installation Pale Blue Dot, that consists of around 200 stonewares left hanging from barely visible fishing lines, over a kind of crater-like structure. On the inside of the structure, the artist has incised patterns like resemble high-rise buildings. The installation subtly conveys the delicate balance between nature and man-made edifices. The pale blue dot is the earth the only home we have ever known. “I am inspired by Carl Sagan’s words …our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the world challenged by this point of pale light,’” says Rashid.

On a lighter note is the work by Chirayu Kumar Sinha titled Bronze Chamiya and Blue crown Chamiya, two very humorous heads created in stoneware of women dressed up to go out for the evening. Using all the elements of ceramics, he has created a lasting image that is jocular and displays a fair amount of skill. Another work by Neelima captures a youthful spirit of a ballerina dancer, in waves of blue and white, stoneware with paper clay. The other end of this playful spectrum would be Prithpal Singh’s The Spirit of Gaia, delicate white porcelain works that capture the visage of the forest spirit, an earth mother whose otherworldly face is crowned by a wreath of flowers. Singh explains that the spirit of Gaia is ever prevalent and plants communicate with each other through a network of underground roots. Yet another interpretation of the female form is addressed through the sublime works of Sultana Khan that speaks of the female torso as injured yet resilient. The stretched clay with its marks and sutures becomes a beautiful metaphor for the ageing body. Also interesting is Shuchika Rathod titled One Life Too Many. It consists of a maze or puzzle like blocks that are covered on their top side with numerous dot-like pixels. As one keeps looking at the work, words start to jump out at the viewer like Hate, Love, Greed, Joy and Peace. Created in stoneware and oxidation, it is clever and visually challenging, one can spend quite some time trying to read all the words and it leads one to a contemplative space.
Finally, we are led to the mega installation titled Woven Together that is a collaborative work made by 42 artists. “Each artist created around 300 tiles and then Ruby assembled them all together suspending them off the ground by a metal grid above,” explains Bajpe. The work is totally immersive and one can spend hours just walking through the hanging bowers of tiles interacting closely which each of the individual sets of tiles. While some have created abstractions of colours and textures others have created faces and text upon the tiles. Each string works individually and together, one may be walking through a forest created by tiles. One comes away feeling completely visually satiated and is left with much to ponder over.
Images used with permission.