One often hears that no one could now make marble filigree or inlay like they did at the Taj Mahal and that Rajput miniatures are glorious examples of our past, “museum pieces,” that no modern artist could equal. But what if our country encouraged a large scale manufacture of stone inlay and filigree work or even traditional sculpture? What if, instead of leaving it to the whims of some curio dealers, craftsmen who have a knack and interest in these styles can be trained to approach ancient styles and methods with the advantage of modern technology and perception? Wouldn’t the country’s cultural traditions be enriched?
It would be nice if the ‘100 years or more’ rule of thumb widely used in the commercial world to define ‘antiques’ inspired governments to redefine the role of craftsmen working in traditional modes. Today it is possible to get 10,000 pieces of antique Blue and White Chinese porcelain vases online from factories in China. Creations from the factories at Jingdezhen, the ancient porcelain capital, and other places are often said to be even better than some Ming and Qing era samples. Individual ceramic artists are also emerging, making the most of the precision and efficacy of manufacturing tools and materials. There has been a revival of interest in collecting such items.
The cache of ceramics at Voices of the Vases, on view at the Gorky Sadan on July 26-30, was comprised primarily of such contemporary old-style collectibles. The entrepreneur, K.P.V. Nair, who has been sourcing them from various parts of China and Vietnam during his tours over many years, admitted that he had not been able to display his best pieces because of the risks involved in transporting them from his home to the venue and a public display.
Even so, there was enough to arouse even a layman’s interest in ceramic technology. How, for instance, does one get a wide variety of textures in the same vase? How does one achieve such a fine glaze? One marvelled at the way the designs were carved, stamped or reticulated on the surface. There were different kinds of vases, small ones for flowers perhaps, some perforated vases for incense, Arabian style ewers and some fancy ones that were merely for decoration. There were some export pottery inspired items showing European influences in the choice of designs.
It hurt a little to see the random use of designs with no specific significance. There seemed almost too much colour and one had the feeling that the ancient struggles to harness minerals, temperature and technique made for greater economy and subtlety. One actually rejoiced when, at times, the artists seemed to drop the older styles altogether to try out new decorations, such as the face of a girl on a vase.