Ceramic art is an underrated art form. It is celebrated as a rich tradition and practised as a craft, but makes sparse appearances in the world of fine art. Drawing, on the other hand, has been able to untether itself from its traditional roots of mark-making and tracing lines, evolving into a process-driven explorative medium. These similar roots offer possibilities of dual aesthetics between line and form, mark-making and objecthood, allowing for contemporary considerations for ceramic practices.
The elements of observation and inquiry lend themselves to the medium of clay in the show Drawn to Form II: Marking New Spaces, curated by Aziz Sohail at the Koel Gallery in Karachi, allowing the participating artists to express their histories and identities in a synergistic language. The show is a continuation of Drawn to Form: The Matter in Hand in Sydney, which was co-curated by Abdullah M.I. Syed and Merran Esson in August 2015. Sohail seeks to explore the implications of this project in the Pakistani context, sensitive to the colonial subtext present in our understanding of both drawing and ceramics.
In a group show, elements of keen observation and inquiry work wonders with the medium of clay
The union of investigative practice with ceramics is evident in the works of Sadia Salim, whose delicate castings of found objects are a study and record of ecological debris collected during walks within her environment, which include twigs, thorns, stems, pinecones and beehives. Her display not only features framed final pieces but also a table full of a number of editions which read as specimens calling for a deeper understanding of the final results. Her work then constitutes the act of drawing through clay, the table, a 3D sketchbook of experiments, aloof renderings and lifted impressions of her surroundings.
Noor Ali Chagani also explores his environment, looking instead at the transient moments in between past and a transfigured present. Going beyond the picture-perfect, he looks at deconstructed realities of the built environment, springing from his experience of witnessing the infrastructural growth of Lahore in the recent past. Chagani uses the line to great effect in the Line Drawing series, creating suggestive impressions of construction sites through minimalist form — based on a singular element, conjuring an elusive image resting between construction and destruction — a landscape in purgatory.
Naima Dadabhoy draws inspiration from her personal environment anchored in her past. The artist builds an archive of her family’s now dissolved ceramic business — Dadabhoy Ceramics — presented collectively with examples of the factory’s products interspersed with her own interventions. The imagery she presents as paintings on ceramics and as ceramic objects — moulded with the help of the factory’s own formula — is inspired from her childhood memories of creatures encountered in her grandfather’s garden, which she hoped would feature on these dishes but were deemed unsuitable. The artistic images alongside the company logo repeat endlessly, spanning the entire display wall, underscoring the attempted reconciliation of the commercial and artistic aspects of ceramic wares through this personal archaeology.
Abdullah M.I. Syed explores the politics of a dual identity through spiritual musings. The rose appears to represent the human body and the soul. The porcelain rose garland incorporates the white and the dark smoked porcelain, depicting dual spiritual, emotional and psychological aspects of identity. Yet, the work reaches another level of profundity in the video titled, Kundan, squeezing the 10-hour firing process of a single porcelain rose into a few minutes, analogous to the moulding and forging of man himself in clay, water, air and fire. It also captures the path of becoming ‘kundan’ which is forged through a similar process and considered very valuable. The process then represents life itself and the path to emotional and physical maturity and growth, thriving in hardships and in adverse environments, elevating one’s worth as a human being.
Whether directly through imagery and display or through the concept itself, each artist plays with the idea of process in each of their works; be it the process of firing porcelain or the work of the final piece. In this way, the essence of drawing shines through in each work, moulded through the medium of clay and forged in a contemporary hybrid vernacular.
“Drawn to Form II: Marking New Spaces” is on display at the Koel Gallery in Karachi from July 5 till August 2, 2018
Published in Dawn, EOS, July 22nd, 2018