This week, we visit Lubna Chowdhary, who creates sculptural objects and site-specific artworks largely in ceramics. During this visit, the artist gives her tips on how to survive working from home, the process of making her tableaux and reconciling the different facets of her identity through her work. Because we are unable to visit in person due to the lockdown, Lubna has been filmed by her husband Nick, who asks our questions on our behalf.
“In the field of ceramics, Lubna Chowdhary stands out, not so much like a sore thumb as like a thumb stuck cheerfully into the road, hitching a ride into the unknown. In a world that can be rather narrow in its focus, sticking to variations on accepted forms, the hybrid, almost contradictory nature of Chowdhary’s work makes her both hugely exciting and impossible to categorise.
Her multi-object piece Metropolis, begun in 1991 and completed in 2017 when it was exhibited at the V&A (in between it was shortlisted for the Jerwood Prize), is probably the most ambitious example of this, and of Chowdhary’s combination of precision and intuition. Made up of more than 1,000 small, hand-made clay sculptures, it references the stuff of the man-made world, but in the making, Chowdhary allows instinct to take over–each little object is allowed to evolve in her hands, to interact in surprising ways with its many fellows. On full, magnificent display (which the work rarely is, because it’s so bloody enormous), it’s fascinating and enchanting.
Chowdhary’s practice is born out of her very particular experience of the world. Born in Tanzania to parents from what is now Pakistan, the backdrop to her early childhood was a pale sandy landscape; the colour-cacophony of her mother’s garden, rioting with dahlias and zinnias.
The contrast was stark, then, when the family upped and moved to Rochdale – now a culturally mixed environment, then very much not – to a terraced house overlooked by a factory. When the dirt is a different colour, you know things have really changed. And yet Chowdhary’s work resists simplistic efforts to pop her into a box defined by her heritage. A strong through-line in her practice is her fascination with different traditions of architecture, and their embrace or rejection of ornamentation, from European modernism to Hindu temples and the domestic-scale, vernacular architecture Chowdhary has seen on visits to India and elsewhere–hand-built from sun baked brick, often by the inhabitants, and coated with cow dung which dries hard in the heat.”
Quoting from a short essay by Nancy Durrant, 2018. © Nancy Durrant