All fired up by the kiln

Moumita Chakrabarti

Earth Synergy: An Indo-Korean Exhibition of Contemporary Ceramic Art, a joint venture of artists of the two culturally oriented countries, Korea and India, brought together 67 artists who presented more than 100 brilliant pieces of ceramic works. The seed for this was first sowed when Kristine Michael, a contemporary artist and co-curator of Earth Synergy, along with senior artists like Ira Chaudhuri, P R Doza and Vineet Kacker, had visited Korea to participate in the 4th World Ceramic Biennale in April 2007. The collaboration resulted in the formation of the InKo Centre which aimed at promoting “an intellectual dialogue between India and Korea by facilitating a consistent programme that draws on the rich traditions of both countries, examines the global dimensions as well as the local and national characteristics that underpin such an exchange” says Rathi Jafer, the director of InKo Centre.

India and Korea have a very similar history of colonialism that had a significant effect on the art and craft of the countries. Michael remarks, “Korea, once the proud centre of world porcelain, faced a diminished sense of importance due to the predominance of European and Japanese porcelain and aesthetics across East Asia.” From a post-colonial perspective, it is reviving the lost art and craft. Highlighting the traditional aspects of both Korean and Indian ceramic art, the works exhibited are brilliant pieces of art. There are three themes that have been explored in this exhibition — ‘Beyond History, Tradition and Culture’; ‘Poetics of the Domestic’ and ‘Metaphor of the Body’. While the first is an expression beyond the historical tradition, the second emphasises the traditional ceramics that are now made with a blend of modernity.

Indian artists like Angad Vohra and Ira Chaudhuri, have played on the traditional techniques while making functional table wares and domestic wares. Celadon has been combined with a typical traditional glaze to give it the ultimate effect. Ira Chaudhuri’s spherical pot and platter is a fine example of stoneware with slip graffito design and electric kiln firing. The floral ornamentation on the works is typically Indian as she explores the themes of rangoli and alpana. Kim Mi-ran, the well-known Korean artists also uses floral designs on her work but retains the Korean flavour in that she draws the peonie flowers and chrysanthemums in her works.

The Korean artists have also explored the traditional techniques while carving the stone wares that retain the natural colour of clay and is coated with white slips made in a wood-fire-kiln, as though it is directly from the earth. Shino is another Korean ceramic technique where works made out of clay are coated with wood ash on the surface to give it a fired ash look. Inlay, also known as punchong in Korean, is yet another traditional technique and is chiefly experimentation on form. Kil-yong Seo have explored the technique of inlay on a vase and a bowl where he has stuck grains on the outer surface of the clay-moulds and then put them in the fire. The grains have burnt away leaving the impression of the grains on the vase. It is a typical Korean aesthetic sensibility to play on the geological forms and flora and fauna too. Jin-ho Lim has made seals on jars with traditional Korean designs. It gives the work a typically classical Korean look and differs starkly from the works of Angad Vohra who uses Indian motifs in his works. Seung Woog Kim remarks, “My work has been deeply influenced by cross-cultural experiences…My colour palette is understated and the glaze is affected by the firing process, resulting in clay objects possessing a warm, aged patina.”

Apart from playing on themes of flora and fauna, the artists have also played on human forms. One would recognise the Gandhara sculpture in the looks of the heads made by Indian artists and typically Korean-looks in the heads designed by the Korean artists. It is stunning to see how plaster mould, slip casting and AutoCAD techniques have given the artists opportunities to explore their creativity. Geometric thinking has also been used to give artists further room for experimentation. Jae Eun Lee says, “Salt firing is one of the most fascinating specialities in the field of contemporary ceramics.”Combining traditional and the abstract modern art, the ceramists have explored a newer dimensions in these simple forms of clay....

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