“Mutable”: ceramic and clay art in India since 1947 at Piramal Museum of Art, Mumbai

“Mutable” showcases diverse ceramic and clay art objects sourced from artists, artisans, institutions and private collectors from across India.

This landmark exhibition, curated by Sindhura D.M. with Annapurna Garimella, is one of the first of its kind in the city and is on display at the Piramal Museum of Art until 15 January 2018.

Abhay Pandit, Tension of Lines (Seascape), 2014-15, Stoneware, h 18 x w 14 in. Image courtesy the artist and the Piramal Museum of Art, Mumbai.

Abhay Pandit, Tension of Lines (Seascape), 2014-15, stoneware, h 18 x w 14 in. Image courtesy the artist and the Piramal Museum of Art, Mumbai.

Building links between the vernacular and the modern

Pottery in India has evolved in the last 70 years since attaining independence from its functional aspects as a utilitarian household item into an aesthetic object and work of art, thereby making a place for itself in the contemporary art space of today. This has been an eventful journey. An important aspect of the nation-building agenda of independent India was the engagement of rural arts and crafts with the nationalist discourse. Pottery, weaving and textiles played an equally critical role alongside painting, sculpture and architecture in the development of a new Indian aesthetic as artists tried to revitalise India’s cultural heritage by using indigenous elements in their practice.

Vineet Kacker, Khojun…Ya Kho Jaun (Should I Look For You, Should I Lose Myself), 2016, Mixed Media, Image courtesy the artist and the Piramal Museum of Art, Mumbai.

Vineet Kacker, Khojun…Ya Kho Jaun (Should I Look For You, Should I Lose Myself), 2016, mixed media. Image courtesy the artist and the Piramal Museum of Art, Mumbai.

During the course of the 20th century, as artists started focusing on individuality, creativity and personal expression, ceramic and clay art developed its own aesthetic language and established itself as a distinct art form transcending the humble status of its colonial past by incorporating new technologies and modern materials. As stated in the Piramal Museum exhibition brochure,

Mutable: Ceramic and Clay Art in India Since 1947 surveys this changing social, cultural, ecological and visual landscape and explores the enormous range of cultural practices that deal with aesthetics, function and sustainability. The pivotal point of the exhibition is the building of links or bridges between images of the vernacular and of modern art and design.

K Laxma Goud, Untitled and undated, 2017, Ceramic, h 21.96 x w 20.98 x d 10.00 inches, Image courtesy the Guild Art Gallery, Mumbai and the Piramal Museum of Art, Mumbai.

K Laxma Goud, Untitled and undated, 2017, ceramic, h 21.96 x w 20.98 x d 10.00 in. Image courtesy the Guild Art Gallery, Mumbai and the Piramal Museum of Art, Mumbai.

Diversity, creativity and partnerships

Mutable showcases the diverse range of pottery-making in India and displays the works of 80 artists from across the country including Gurcharan Singh who is acknowledged as the pioneer of Indian studio pottery, the versatile Devi Prasad who was a painter, potter and lifelong pacifist, and Ray Meeker and Deborah Smith, the founders of Puducherry’s Golden Bridge Pottery and leading educators in the field of contemporary ceramic art.

It also presents the works of leading artists with heterogeneous practices, who have used clay as one of the various media in their repertoire, such as K. G. Subramanyan, Laxma Goud, Himmat Shah, N. N. Rimzon, Nek Chand Saini and Mrinalini Mukherjee. In order to celebrate the efforts of hereditary potters, “Mutable” also introduces visitors to the practices of famous father-son duos such as Delhi-based Bhuvnesh and Giri Raj Prasad (both National Award winners), and Padma Shri awardee Brahmdeo Ram and Abhay Pandit, trailblazing ceramists from Mumbai.

“Mutable”, 13 October 2017 – 1 January 2018, installation view at Piramal Museum of Art, Image courtesy the Piramal Museum of Art, Mumbai.

“Mutable”, 13 October 2017 – 15 January 2018, installation view at Piramal Museum of Art. Image courtesy the Piramal Museum of Art, Mumbai.

The exhibition throws a spotlight on ceramic and clay practices as they have emerged out of India’s art schools and also focuses on work done by institutions working with potters across the country such as Fabindia, Neerja International, Gwalior Pottery and Mitotic Commenting. On the vast diversity presented in the exhibition curators Annapurna Garimella and Sindhura D.M. said:

Clay and ceramic are vernacular, classic, modern and plural; they change and endure. Mutablecelebrates seventy years of creative work with these materials, presenting an Indian history of ideas, art, design and technology.”

Brahmdeo Ram Pandit, Crystalline Ceramics, 2016, Stoneware, h 17 in. Image courtesy the artist and the Piramal Museum of Art, Mumbai.

Brahmdeo Ram Pandit, ‘Crystalline Ceramics’, 2016, stoneware, h 17 in. Image courtesy the artist and the Piramal Museum of Art, Mumbai.

Tradition meets technology

As the makers of utilitarian pottery in India have historically been artisanal potters, artists have always been involved in reviving traditional techniques while assimilating new technologies into their ceramic and clay practices. This is clearly evident in the heterogeneity of styles, textures, designs and purposes of the objects on display at Mutable which are organised into five sections  – ‘Shift’, ‘Utility’, ‘Form’, ‘Object’ and ‘Perception’. Commenting on the broad range of practices of the featured potters, artists, ceramists and organisations that have been working with clay, exhibition curator Sindhura D.M. says:

Respecting this diversity, the term ‘maker’ is privileged throughout the exhibition to describe and place potters, artists and ceramists in a broader field of ceramic and clay practice. Some makers produce more than one type of work which may include functional ware as well as sculpture. This has led us to include them in more than one section in the exhibition . . . The vast diversity of today’s work with clay, which is presented in this exhibition, is an indicator of the change that is happening within practices.

Aman Khanna, Acute, Obtuse, Straight and Right, 2017, Ceramic/Stoneware, h 12 inches approximately, Image courtesy the artist and the Piramal Museum of Art, Mumbai.

Aman Khanna, Acute, Obtuse, Straight and Right, 2017, ceramic/stoneware, h 12 in approximately. Image courtesy the artist and the Piramal Museum of Art, Mumbai.

It was artist Gurcharan Singh’s experience of Japanese studio pottery that enabled him to push the boundaries of form, technique and material and introduce stoneware, dull glazes and unusual shapes of tableware in his practice – evident in the exhibition Kettle, Coffee Cup and Saucers. In the 1970s, it was the pioneering efforts of artists such as Singh and others like Ray Meeker and Deborah Smith who started Golden Bridge Pottery in Puducherry that paved the way for the younger generation of potters to explore new techniques and develop their creativity. Artists such as Vineet Kacker’s work conflates art, design and craft. Exploiting the tactility of clay, he is able to incorporate layers of meaning into his work by expanding its capacity for creative expression. In KhojunYa Kho Jaun (Should I Look for You or Should I Lose Myself) (2016) Kacker merges the earthiness of clay with the modernity of digital technology to create a multimedia installation that urges you to question the spiritual connection between the medium and nature.    

Daily Dump, Khamba 3T, 2017, Terracotta, 15.5 x 30.5 in. Image courtesy the Piramal Art Foundation, Mumbai.

Daily Dump, Khamba 3T, 2017, Terracotta, 15.5 x 30.5 in. Image courtesy the Piramal Art Foundation, Mumbai.

In the ‘Utility’ section of the exhibition due recognition has been given to commercial organisations such as Gwalior Pottery and Fabindia that have championed the cause of developing utilitarian items while providing sustainable livelihoods to many generations of potters. This section also includes some unconventional products such as Daily Dump’s Khamba 3 T (2017), a terracotta composter, and Mitticool’s terracotta Refrigerator (2017), which shows that out-of-the-box thinking has given new life to age-old craft techniques. ‘Form’ features the work of traditional potters like Brahmdeo Ram Pandit who received the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in the country, in 2013 and was adept at using different glazes – a skill he acquired by training in several institutions across the world and imbibing international best practices to develop a studio pottery enterprise.

Gwalior Pottery, Small Milk Jugs, Image courtesy the collection of Anuradha Ravindranath, New Delhi and the Piramal Museum of Art, Mumbai.

Gwalior Pottery, Small Milk Jugs. Image courtesy the collection of Anuradha Ravindranath, New Delhi and the Piramal Museum of Art, Mumbai.

Diversity in expression

In an attempt to highlight the role played by clay as a medium of creative expression that redefined the art of modern day India, ‘Object’ includes exhibits such as the works of artist and educator K. Subramanyan and his student K. Laxma Goud. Subramanyan supported the Gandhian philosophy of promoting indigenous arts and crafts and urged his Santiniketan students to derive something new from the familiar, everyday objects. This is evident in Laxma Goud’s untitled work which is on display in “Mutable” that has the artist using his customary rustic vivacity and earthy style to layer paint on a humble clay plate.

In ‘Perception’, the visitor is urged to look beyond material, tradition and purpose, to acknowledge the importance of the design, the technique and the identity of the maker. Water pots from different parts of India that are on display here show how different artists and artisans explore aesthetics and functionality in a manner  unique to their geographical location, cultural background and education.

Gurcharan Singh, Kettle, Coffee Cups and Saucers, 1970s, Acrylic, fabric, plywood, glue, fiberglass, iron, rexine, plastic and crystal, 77 x 40 x 28, Image courtesy the collection of Anuradha Ravindranath, New Delhi and the Piramal Museum of Art, Mumbai.

Gurcharan Singh, Kettle, Coffee Cups and Saucers, 1970s, acrylic, fabric, plywood, glue, fibreglass, iron, rexine, plastic and crystal, 77 x 40 x 28 in. Image courtesy the collection of Anuradha Ravindranath, New Delhi and the Piramal Museum of Art, Mumbai.

It is this conflation of characteristics of the medium that gives it an aesthetic beauty and technological complexity that transforms even the functional and the utilitarian into a work of art. It is this creative diversity in clay and ceramic practices that “Mutable” seeks to celebrate.

 Amita Kini-Singh

1926

“Mutable. Ceramic and Clay Art in India since 1947” is on view from 13 October 2017 to 15 January 2018 at Piramal Museum of Art, B Wing, Piramal Tower, Peninsular Corporate Park, Lower Parel West, Mumbai 400013.

Related topics: Indian, ceramics, identity, technology, museum shows, Mumbai 

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