Sheherezade Alam lived an extraordinary life and had certainly left an impression on everyone she met.
At a gathering of her friends, colleagues, well-wishers and followers, hosted at the Chawkandi Art gallery in Karachi, the audience was graced with delightful anecdotes from those who knew the celebrated ceramic artist who passed away May 19. The gallery hosted the event alongside Founders of Asna — Meher Afroz, Niilofur Farrukh, and Shanaz Siddiq. Asna, the host of this event, was established in 1997 and Sheherzade had also been a part of it. They later began the Asna Clay Triennial where their focus was to draw links between the traditional and contemporary craft of ceramics through exhibition, documentation, and community interaction.
Meher Afroz, one of the founding members, began with a heartfelt speech about the late artist, where she spoke about the grandness of Sheherezade Alam’s aura and how it could draw anyone in. During her speech, Shanaz Siddiq spoke about the strength and vibrancy of Sheherezade and how, even with her health deteriorating, she spoke with vitality. She went on to say that one of the beautiful things about meeting Sheherezade was that she always made you feel important.
Niilofur Farrukh continued the tribute with a presentation, which was a keen and unique insight into the life of the vivacious artist. Sheherezade Alam was born in 1948 and went on to study at the National College of Arts. It was here that she met her future husband, Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq. Theirs was but a simple matrimony in Karachi, where they and their friends celebrated with Coke and paan.
The couple went on to have two beautiful daughters. However, in 1999 tragedy stuck for the artist when both her husband and daughter were murdered. Farrukh recalled here that the only thing Alam could do upon hearing the news was to go to her studio and gather the pots together. Clay always came to her rescue.
Chawkandi Art held a heartfelt tribute to Sheherezade Alam, one of the most notable ceramicists of Pakistan, who passed away last month
During her time with Asna, Sheherezade met people from all over, whom she continued to bond with over a mutual love for clay. Farrukh described the late artist as always having a childlike wonder when it came to ceramics, documenting everything she saw.
Sheherezade had an almost inimitable gift of elevating simple pottery, especially through her variation of glazes, which Farrukh described as being so extensive and tremendous that theses could be written on them.
The artist was initially quite inspired by the zen tradition and Japanese pottery, which she then turned inward towards her local cultural traditions of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. Her oeuvre became one that amalgamated tradition and the contemporary, as she understood the importance of one’s history.
Farrukh noted that Sheherezade was someone who mixed colour with tragedy, be it in her clothes, her home or art. She embraced all that life gave her and all that it had taken away. Later on, she began a small school on her premises, where she taught children about clay, and put up displays of the work they made along with those of traditional potters and even her own.
The tribute then continued with a few words from various ceramicists that knew Alam well. Nahabat Lotia shared a precious anecdote from their time together at their Indus Valley residency. She recalled how Sheherezade would always tell stories when she worked on the wheel. She was always the happiest there and Lotia felt that her stories became a part of the pieces she sculpted.
Sadia Salim recollected her conversations with Sheherezade over the years, one of which was the unfortunate hardships that many ceramicists face when trying to set up their independent studios. It is the sad reality that many still face, but to strive through and be remembered for one’s dedication to such a laborious but intricate craft was what Sheherezade accomplished. Salim ended by saying that she has always thought of Alam as a mentor and a comrade, especially since there were so few like her whom one could connect with through their love of the material.
Sheherezade Alam’s life was not an easy one, and yet she never showed frustration with it. She was a true promoter of the ceramic tradition, carrying forward the art to inspire, amaze and preserve.
Published in Dawn, EOS, June 12th, 2022