Architect and artist Manjari Sharma is known for using human expressions in her ceramic works. She dabbles effortlessly with clay on the potter’s wheel and amalgamates pottery and sculptures into something unique that bears her mark. She’s presenting a solo sculpture exhibition titled “Sculptour” that features her years of experience in coming up with sculptural heads, bowls, platters, jars, curious human figures and teapots.
Curated by Uma Nair, the exhibition is on at the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi till April 23.
While Sharma took a 10-year break from the art world to engage with NGOs and help people in distress, this exhibition is a result of Uma Nair’s pressuring Sharma to showcase her talent. Nair, who has followed her works for 20 years says: “Manjari doesn’t merely mould pots, she builds and fashions them. Indeed, she uses a potter’s wheel on which she spins 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.”
Sharma’s artworks are neither pottery nor pure sculpture. Her artworks vary in size, shape and figures. They go beyond the mundane pots, bowls and kettle that we often see. “You could have a tool, (a potter’s wheel, scalpel, knife, in this case), but what you do with it really matters... I don’t really think while working. I am spontaneous. I take the clay, moulding it on either the wheel or on the table... I start with an idea and could turn it upside down... That’s spontaneity for me”, says Sharma.
To understand her artworks, one must decipher Sharma’s philosophy. As an eight-year-old girl, she sat meditating with Swami Chinmayananda, realising little that she was being introduced to the spiritual world without her knowing it. It is her quest of spirituality that makes her communicate through her art. “After I meditate when I open my eyes, I realise that ultimately it all boils down to this body, which is beautiful as is”, explains Sharma.
Living by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s maxim —“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience” — Sharma finds beauty everywhere in each and every person.
While other artists try to go beyond the obvious, Sharma is happy and content exploring the various expressions of the human face . Her idea of abstractionism is that of the human body. This also defines why her artworks have human figures in all their beauty. “Before we are in the human body we are a spirit and after death we will remain a spirit. So this life is transcendental. And this truth rids me of all fears. I started observing the human body and was very intrigued. So while we all have two eyes, two ears, one nose and one mouth, we all look different and that’s the greatest proof of the Divine being the most creative. My central idea of ceramics stems from this,” elucidates Sharma.
The artworks on display are a mix of bowls, teapots, human figures but has that quintessential Sharma stamp on it. So you will see kettles with human hands. Sharma captures human expressions effortlessly. A sculpture with a tilt of an eye, a mask with quirky lips, a lamp with a giant face, yet expressive, are sure to make on wonder the “uniqueness” of the human body. For me, the artworks transported me to the idyllic world of fairytales and fables where giants with disproportionate figures rule.
For Sharma, making the process is sensory as well as sensual. The softness of the clay during the forming process remains apparent in the finished form. Sharma uses grogged clay as its malleability is ideal for this free-form process and its strength enables her to produce varied scale works.
The colour palette is generally muted or even charcoal-tinted. Some of her glazing strategies include undercoating with slips and terra sigillates on leather hard surfaces and then pouring glaze overall and then wiping it off.
I specially loved the kettles with human hands and “Bhiku” — a man wearing a short blue shirt with podgy legs on a wooden base. His neck is stretched upwards with a questioning look on his face. This 20 inches tall artwork sums up what Sharma has been trying to express through her exhibition.
Sunken cheeks, knitted eyebrows, fat lips, Sharma’s faces gives viewers a chance to look at human faces in all their beauty. Her entire work is a celebration of life. “It’s coming together of a miracle... celebrating life as is,”,says Sharma.
With her experiments with human figures, Sharma wants to blur the line between good and bad and ugly and beautiful. She wants to emphasise on the fact that one shouldn’t be tense in life. “This whole idea of beauty is so violent and non-inclusive. I don’t like to make pretty faces. Silliness, quirkiness could also be beautiful,” explains Sharma. Celebrating life, happiness and joy doesn’t necessarily have to be equated with beauty and if there’s pain in love and birth one doesn’t stop living and loving. “One should celebrate life devoid of all fears... Let’s be spontaneous”, says Sharma.
I found this unique representation of human head and face intriguing. That there’s beauty in these imperfections and that’s what makes each one of us unique. Sharma’s art is not an end all of living. It is of engaging with the world.