Vibrant orange, zesty green and organic brown glazes collide, congeal and clash in Lubna Chowdhary’s work. She takes the reins of colour – which many fear to do – and creates rich marriages, attracting us like bee to flower. Based in South London in an enviable sunlit studio designed by David Adjaye, Chowdhary works with clay to create tiled pieces, often site-specific, that challenge historical ideas around form, design and ornament. She was born in Tanzania and grew up in the north of England, a cross-cultural background that has had many influences moulding her into the artist she is today.
She did her master’s degree at the Royal College of Art where she was taught by Eduardo Paolozzi (another who wasn’t afraid to play with colour) when he was head of Ceramics. Her mixed Tanzanian, Indian and Pakistani heritage brings influences of richly designed spaces and diverse architectural landscapes to her work. In 2001, Chowdhary was shortlisted for the Jerwood Applied Arts Prize in Ceramics and has completed ceramics residencies at the Camden Arts Centre and Victoria and Albert Museum, the latter being the most recent in 2017.
Her residency at the Victoria and Albert Museum was wondrously fruitful to her practice. There she exhibited her flat work, large geometric tiles of a multiple of shapes laid alongside each other then placed on a number of shelves. The placement of each tile against the other formulates a conversation through their asymmetric yet harmonious sequence. Her interest in architecture is reflected in the haphazard variety of curves, points and angular shapes that are playfully suggestive of a skyline of a city that sits between the east and west.
Down the long narrow corridor between the ceramics cabinet at the V&A, she also exhibited Metropolis, an ongoing, possibly never ending work, consisting of hundreds of mini (about 5-10cm tall) eccentric clay sculptures. Over the many decades in which Metropolis has developed and grown, the project has managed to continuously comment on the man-made world. Some pieces appear to be abstracted modernist components, others resemble mini electronic devices. Here too the placement of each work is consciously planned out by the artist, allowing one’s eyes to fall on one object to the next, opening up an elaborate, almost infinite number of dialogues.
From the molecular and simplistic wall piece at the ice cream shop Olivogelo Gelateria in Belgravia to the beaming Lantern Tower in Slough, her work unfailingly manages to grab an audience. The collaborative aspect of working to commissions drives Chowdhary’s practice, in which she brings along her rich glazes and develops new forms that complement and open up their public surroundings.