In conversation with Ceramicist Lubna Chowdhary

We talk to the London-based artist about her bold ceramic designs and love of colour

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Ceramist Lubna Chowdhary is known for her sculptural creations and site-specific artworks that she produces in an array of bold hues and striking shapes. Born in Tanzania, Chowdhary is currently based in London, where she earned her master's degree in ceramics from the renowned Royal College of Art. Earlier this year she had a solo exhibition — presented by Mumbai-based gallery Jhaveri Contemporary — at the 2019 edition of Art Basel Hong Kong. Here she gives us insights into her background, creative process and latest projects.

Design Anthology: What initially drew you to ceramics?

Lubna Chowdhary: I enrolled in a 3D design degree specialising in wood, metal and ceramics, hoping to pursue furniture making. Ceramics was a compulsory material on the course. Initially, I wasn't interested in studying ceramics because of its domestic associations at the time, which rather disdainfully considered it a crafty, feminine pursuit. It was the sort of pursuit I was trying to escape and distance myself from. Much as I tried to resist, I was seduced by the immediacy of clay. It’s a material that can be shaped without the use of machinery or tools and it responds directly to your hands, allowing you to create forms almost as you conceive them.  

How would you describe the design language of your work?

The complex modern world presents us with many competing narratives from a multiplicity of cultures. I use my work to try to negotiate a path between some of those narratives; I assimilate ideas and aesthetics from Eastern and Western worlds and examine the relationships between them. I use the contrasting languages of horror vacui (the fear of empty space), which is commonly attributed to the visual traditions of the East, and the economy of Western modernism.

I look for ways to forge relationships between disparate entities, patterns and visual references, creating in the process an ambiguous interplay between the familiar and the unrecognised. My sculptural work is produced by hand and combined with a vocabulary of forms press-moulded from industrially produced everyday objects. I enjoy improvising, and appreciate the accidental results and details that these traditional methods generate as a result. 

Colour has also always been a big part of my life. I feel many people are afraid of using colour and so I sometimes feel like I'm on a mission. If there is colour available, why not use it? I'm not theoretical or scientific about my use of colour — it’s much more instinctive. I feel confident about using a wide range of colours, and sometimes I use them in a very subdued and controlled way.

When I use or arrange colour, I work with contrasting colours to get the most out of them until they bounce against each other. Colours start to read differently when they're placed next to each other and there’s a relationship between them. One an object is made, I spend a lot of time composing its colour and form.

How was your experience exhibiting at Art Basel Hong Kong earlier this year?

It was my first time showing in Hong Kong, and it was a great success. There was an international audience and my work was acquired by institutions in Hong Kong and in Australia.

Can you tell us about what you’re working on now?

My latest project is an artwork for a new building in Liverpool Street, London. The artwork creates an experience of a journey through the cityscape. Panels on the walls are suggestive of train windows through which you can catch fleeting glimpses of the industrial iconography of the railway landscape. The artwork recreates the visual experience of a journey in a collage of juxtaposed colour and overlapping geometry.

As told to / Babette Radclyffe-Thomas
Images / Courtesy of Lubna Chowdhary

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