This Mumbai art show brings celebratory handcrafted crockery to the table

Art, fired clay and potter’s earth now join forces at your dinner table. As families and friends unite for the festive season, after one-and-a-half years of lockdowns, every meal is a special occasion and tables are being set with celebratory, lovingly curated plates, cups and saucers.

At Table Manners 2, an ongoing show at Gallery Art & Soul in Mumbai, ceramicist Amrita Dhawan introduces her work saying “My tableware now cradles food for thought; thanksgiving for the recent past and a promise of future fulfilment.”

Auroville-based ceramicist and founder-partner at Mandala Pottery, Adil Writer, who co-curated the show, talks of an unprecedented surge in orders since the pandemic-induced lockdown began to ease. “From chefs and restaurants to families tired of looking at their melamine plates, all are looking for a specific look and design.”

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He recalls how Delhi-based Chef Bijay Thapa, who was seeking plates to display marzipan roses, “waltzed into my studio and made beautiful flowers with clay”. The solution was a rugged Anagama fired platter, says Adil, whose grouse against users of fine tableware is “that it all goes up on the walls or behind closed glass cabinets. I don’t see the point… bring it off the wall and use it in daily life!”

It took a pandemic to take Adil’s advice. “Now, tableware comes centre stage,” says Mumbai artist and co-curator Shayonti Salvi, adding that people are now cooking more at home, and hosting intimate gatherings. “I know of people trying sushi or Italian cuisine at home and wanting compatible tableware to go with it.” (Inspired by the rise of local cheese makers, she expresses the connect between food and tableware through a mural Koi Fish, made with gas-fired stoneware and porcelain cheese platters.)

A love for handmade ceramics

“Your world, belongings, and your utensils should maintain a warm and friendly conversation with you. If they are made with love and laughter, this energy will be yours, forever,” says Saraswati, who moved from Russia and has been living in Auroville since 2004, where she works in clay and teaches ceramics at The White Peacock. Her installation at Table Manners interprets the connect between clay and food as an energy shared between the potter and the user.

Ranjita Bora who is a chef turned ceramicist is exhibiting Kahvulti: Turkish Breakfast. Explaining how each dish is hand-painted with motifs of paisley and vine particular to Turkey, she says she has focussed on creating art that people eat from everyday: “All my work is handmade, high-fired and food-safe.”

For Élodie Alexandre and Reyaz Badaruddin, founders of Atleier Lalmitti in Andretta, near Dharamshala, handmade pottery makes food taste better. Their exhibit, Breakfast Set, has the pots dipped in glaze after the initial bisque firing and painted with blue oxides prior to the glaze firing.

Devyani Smith, concurs, “Tableware has potential to transcend its primary function; a well-made tea bowl can reveal many secrets on a monsoon day. It can offer comfort and solidarity. It is a testament of coming together of family dinners, fights, and craftsmanship.”

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