Feat of clay: When the craft became art 

Ceramist Rahul Kumar’s latest solo show innovatively uses clay to tell stories of what has been discarded or left uncommunicated

Published: 23rd April 2023 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st April 2023 03:12 PM   |  A+A-

Ceramist Rahul Kumar

A ceramist with a long-standing practice, Rahul Kumar recalls his early struggles defining his art, “Once I had mastered the basics and the form of the vessel on the potter’s wheel, I instinctively began altering my creations. I would violate them into a variety of undefined shapes. That was the beginning of my craft becoming art. Most purists would be aghast at my creations, at their imperfections.”

Yet, it is these imperfections that are the subject of his ongoing solo show, The Untold Resides Somewhere: Assembling Fragments, at Exhibit 320 in Delhi. He wanted to move beyond the confines of the vessel form, which was dictated to him by the ‘rules’ of pottery. When he distorted these figures, it was his symbolic way of journeying from being a craftsman to an artist.

Sticks 1

“Think of the debris that remains after destruction. It is human nature to attach value to it. But why are we still trying to preserve it after it’s destroyed?” asks the artist, pointing to his series titled Contain, where boxes are arrayed on the floor in a shrine-like arrangement. Their innards consist of torn fragments, sheafs of discarded paper and other quotidian items, fashioned delicately from clay and stone.

Misshapen and cracked three-dimensional boxes, similarly stuffed, form the series Boxed, which is a notable departure from vessels thrown on a potter’s wheel. In Matrix, he squishes freshly thrown forms into black orb-like structures divided into 42 squares to mimic the appearance of wreckage. Hints of gold leaf peak through to indicate the precious nature of what is contained within.

An untitled artwork strings together shards of discarded and broken pottery on industrial wires, the delicate yet dangerous pieces having been picked from a massive pile artistically displayed alongside. “They once had a complete body, and when they broke into shards, the form changed. Just the act of stringing these broken pieces together was risky because they have the potential to wound one. But I wanted to show what it means to hold something so dangerous and violent deeply in our memory and not let it go. Why do we find it so hard to just move on?” he questions.

The 47-year-old grew up in Delhi and pursued a corporate career while practising his craft on the side. A Fulbright scholarship led to an MFA from the University of Dallas, Texas, and he supplemented this knowledge with a Charles Wallace India Trust grant and a fellowship of the India Foundation for the Arts. Over the course of nine solo shows and a number of group showings, Kumar played with scale and concepts, staying true to his chosen medium of clay. A few years ago, he gave up his corporate career to pursue art full-time. He also curates shows, and writes and edits work on global visual art practices.

The latter professional role deeply influences some of his pieces in the ongoing show. In I Have a Secret to Tell and Pages From My Diary, he explores the concept of text as a form of miscommunication. In the former, he creates nonsensical textual characters that seem similar to known ones but aren’t, and in the latter, gibberish on paper is coated with clay and embellished with mesh and other visual barriers because the “idea is not to read the text”. “It is about communicating by not communicating, of preserving by letting go,” the artist says.


Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the newindianexpress.com editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on newindianexpress.com are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of newindianexpress.com or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. newindianexpress.com reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

flipboard facebook twitter whatsapp