By Mudita Girotra
New Delhi: When a faculty member of the School of Planning and Architecture here decides to hang up her boots and probe hidden embers of firing and glazes and clay constructions, it becomes more than a mere pilgrim's journey.
Artist Manjari Sharma's affair with stoneware began more than 15 years ago when exploring clay meant going beyond pots, bowls and platters -- exploring clay meant an embodiment of the gestural spontaneity and visual momentum of abstraction.
It was also about gauging degrees of expressionism along with the dramatic Shakespearean-like acceptance of imperfections that characterizes the creation of sculptural pottery in all its manifestations.
The alchemy of clay to bring out grainy earthy tonality is vividly conspicuous in Sharma's works that have been exhibited here at Lalit Kela Akademi and are on view till April 22.
"It is loosely defined by the building up of clay, rather than subtraction of any sort," according to the curator, Uma Nair.
"The art of ceramics is an engaging yet deeply expressive way of working and at its most humble beginnings as it relies solely on the human hands as tools," she said.
"To look at Manjari Sharma's stoneware sculptures laid out on a long rectangular table in her paradisal studio at Kalkaji mounts to a summation of intricate and intimate processes born from a whole body experience," Nair said.
These sculptures in stoneware vary in scale and style: from human figures quaintly modelled with the thumb and forefinger in the palm of the artist's hands, to vigorous works produced by throwing wet clay at the wheel to build up form, and everything in between.
Nair feels that Sculpting with stoneware can be fast and immediate, suited to sizes.
"It can be small and expressive, conjuring up images of the first figures of ancient times. Sculpting stoneware is a journey that never ends, it utilises the beauty of the plasticity of clay," she said.
"Manjari doesn't merely throw pots, she builds and fashions them."
"Indeed, she uses a potter's wheel on which to spin the initial clay forms; but after that first rudimentary step the traditional method of wheel-thrown pottery is dramatically overturned, as Manjari slices, and pinches layers and peels apart the clay to create an array of engaging, smiling, animated chunky human persona of uncommon liveliness," she added.
The artist works with a personal structural vocabulary which she pours over thrown shapes including cylinders, bowls, plates, clay slabs, and whatever forms her hand or
mallet could pierce, press, pinch or paddle.
She creates an amalgam of unique, visceral and sculptural signatures to give us a syntax of conversational and compositional variations.
"Heads, jars, platters, tea pots and lamps all seem to tell us that human predicaments and human expressions reign supreme in her lingua franca," according to Nair.
The artist believes that her life has been a "quest". "I have longed for answers to who we are, why are we here and why am I "me"," Sharma said.
"I have meditated with Swami Chinmayanand as a little girl, had endless discussions with my father on life and death, I became a Buddhist for a while, and read some books," she added.
All of this lead her to have some profound and unshakable experiences.
"These pretty much shaped the course of my life from then on… in these experiences I felt the oneness of all existence, of no borders between the manifest and the unmanifest, of being formless and in everything, just as everything was a part of me," she said.
This resonated with her own understanding of things. She began to look at the human body differently. And then she saw the greatest phenomenon of all.
"Trillions of people live on this planet. Many are born and many die, yet none of them look the same. Two eyes, one nose, a mouth and two ears are able to create these endless unique identities," Sharma said.
"This was extremely humbling for someone who aspired to be creative. This to me is the biggest proof of the divine. It is awe inspiring," she added.
So, for her, creating these human forms is like a prayer, a small offering in this ocean of creativity. It is also a celebration of the structure that contains universes.
"Each human is a universe in itself," she said.