Storytelling as Craft
For a country whose craft histories stretch back across millennia it is sometimes difficult for the contemporary practitioner to set aside established canons. Folk and artisanal forms are full of stories, which might well be oblique, but they reside in the pots of Harrapa and in the seals of Mohenjodaro waiting to be understood and experienced. To imbue new artisanal forms with personal narratives is a heroic challenge for the ceramic artist. This is alongside questions of authorship and identity.
Javaria Ahmad takes on exactly that kind of challenge through the diverse strands of storytelling which run through her practice as a ceramicist. The functionality of the vessel provides a foil for her observations about the foibles of her surroundings. She animates the surfaces with anecdotal drawings which amuse and enchant you as you sip your brew. These are not mass produced, repetitive, motifs, predictable in their suitability for a vessel of this nature. They are sudden in their pop-up appearance, full of energy which demands engagement, thus seizing upon the opportunity to interrupt the functioning of the vessel.
A similar strategy with very different intent is undertaken in a series of plates with startling, compelling images of birds, rendered with a furious penetrating vigor. Usually, a benign subject what is revealed here is a malevolent creature, reminding one of ravens as portents of doom in stories. Fort the4 artist these are symbols of unpleasant matchmakers, ruthless in their appraisals of young girls in the marriage market.
Quite the opposite are the terracotta plaques: gently layered, delicately embellished with linear patterns, meditative and suggestive of repositories of memories of another time. They are reminiscent of the tablets from Mesopotamia which spoke of the struggles and dreams of the ancients, not too far removed from those of our own times. When oral storytelling fades from human memory, such lyrical coded statements stay with us as visual narrations of our time.
Javaria Ahmad’s facility with her medium is wonderfully expressed in her playful translations of mundane objects of our daily lives, into mysterious articles, curiously familiar and yet strangely aloof at the same time.
The master narrative of Pakistani art has had very little space for three-dimensional expression whether sculpture or the artisanal crafts. It is only in the last three decades that such practices have claimed the critical reviews and audiences they deserved. Javaria Ahmad’s ability to embark on diverse storytelling journeys bodes well for her place in an evolving canon.
Through my multidisciplinary art practice with ceramics as a major medium of work, I explore the ambivalent relation of everyday utilitarian objects with traditional cultural practices that I observe in my surroundings. Working with media that conceptually scaffold my work and speaks of femininity was a natural and intuitive process. Later I deliberately used this very idea of what I call the materials of delicacy - clay, fabric, thread, and safety pins. All these materials signify a frail bonding that compliments the fragile nature of my works. The elements of linearity and repetition are significant in my visual and conceptual language.
The illustrative narrative of my work examines the submissiveness of human beings subjugated to their everyday routines. Transformed into a new entity once fired or glazed, I relate the pliable nature of clay as an embodiment of human nature that speaks of fragility and determination simultaneously. Autobiographical in nature, a few years ago, my art practice started to explore a narrative of middle-class domesticity as a physical and a metaphysical entity of unjust gender hierarchy for a South Asian woman. As my work has evolved, it now comments on the challenges of survival in a world full of obligations and more recently of confinement. The meticulous and repetitive process of my work replicates our everyday routine that seems mundane yet mandatory. Now I see my work as a celebration of our everyday struggles and it is a way of paying homage to them.
The significance of the title is crucial in my work. I always opt for titles with the nature of storytelling. ‘Little by Little, Day by Day’, is a reoccurring title that many of my works hold. I find this title compliments the work physically, conceptually, even rhythmically. The laborious fabrication process and the title behind many of my works speak about gradual growth over time and through effort. I work in layers, often with thin, thread-like coils. The work is delicate, must be done gently and quickly but must also be durable. The process itself is personal, metaphoric, and connected to the themes of my work. I employ domestic objects as a metaphor in my work, reminiscent of my ancestral inheritance.