ARTI DAS | NT BUZZ
Sometimes in life in order to understand our true calling we need to embark on a journey that starts at the destination. For ceramic artist Priya Sundaravalli it was her journey to USA that helped her discover the artist within. Priya is a trained ceramic artist who studied ceramics at the School of Art of the University of Michigan, USA. Prior to this she studied medicine and engineering. “I don’t mind taking risks in life,” says Priya busy at work installing her ceramic art at Gallery Gitanjali.
Her work is now part of the Indian Art museum ‘Jaya He’ at T2 Mumbai International Airport and the Gimhae Airport, Busan, Korea.
Completely inspired by nature and its endless forms Priya’s work is unusual. “I have a huge image bank of places in my mind, be it wild Australia or a volcanic island or any other place that I have not been part of personally but where I want to go. All these images then reflect in my work and take shape when I work with clay. Some of my works also resemble sea shells because water is very important to me and I swim every day. All of these inspire me,” says Priya.
For Priya the journey towards clay art was quite a long one and one that she believes was worth taking. “I went to the USA to study advanced engineering and I was doing my PhD. As part of the PhD curriculum I was allowed to study one subject of my choice and I chose ceramics for the simple reason that I found clay to be a very basic form and it was a familiar aspect from my childhood,” says Priya.
Her turning point came when she attended a workshop by Felipe Ortega of New Mexico, USA.
“He is a native American who belongs to the tribe called Jicarilla Apache. He is also a medicine man. He hosted a workshop on the making of traditional cooking pots from clay. I really liked his philosophy of considering clay as Mother Earth. What also intrigued me was the culture of Native Americans. They are so connected to the land and wilderness,” says Priya who considers Ortega to be her guru.
Priya didn’t just learn about ceramics while in the US but also about Auroville and Mother, the founder of the international township project of Auroville. “It was in USA that I learnt more about Auroville and Mother and her famous article ‘Dream,’ which really inspired me. Even though I was born in Pondicherry I had never come across it. In a way it was good that I learnt about Auroville in the US as then it was important that I took the journey that followed, a journey to find myself,” says Priya, who then returned to Auroville and started teaching science in various schools. “I was teaching and working as a journalist for eight years. At that time ceramics was just a hobby. But there were times when I wanted to express myself and be heard. It affected my mental and physical health. So, I took a sabbatical and went to my guru in the US and made this transition to ceramics,” says Priya.
Priya, who works with clay, says she is not involved with usual pottery articles like mugs and plates. Her objects are purely based on her expressions. She does not use the wheel and works with her hands only. The works are then fired in a wood-fuelled kiln at 1250 degrees Celsius and thereafter glazed.
She also explores new techniques to express herself. She recently started using a dark clay body with white coloured clay, which she realised is actually a traditional Korean clay technique called Buncheong. She was also part of the art residency at Clayarch Gimhae Museum in South Korea in the year 2014. “I liked the Korean attitude to clay. This residency helped make my art stronger as well. First my ceramics were delicate but now they are more balanced as I believe that now my masculine and feminine qualities are more balanced,” says Priya.
For Priya her work is no less than devotion. She says: “Clay is like my prayer. For me working with clay is part of the whole process of forgetting oneself and joining the divine.”
On a concluding note when asked about viewer appreciation for her art she says that it is something that comes from within. “A viewer either has the vibration or sensitivity to appreciate a piece of art or not. To me pottery items being sold by a lady in a market-square are most precious objects, although these are actually dirt cheap. For me art is what you respond to, what’s inside you and what frees you,” says Priya.
(Gallery Gitanjali, Fontainhas, Panaji is hosting the opening “SYN.APSE” an exhibition of the ceramic works and art installations of Priya Sundaravalli on October 10 at 6.30 p.m. The exhibition is on till October 31 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.)