Rekha Bajpe Aggarwal: Shaping Clay
Rekha Bajpe Aggarwal graduated in Economics (Honours) from Lady Shri Ram College, University of Delhi, and moved to advertising film-making, which she continued independently for 12 years. Starting with ceramics as a hobby in 1994, she switched over to becoming a ceramic art professional in 2000. Since then she has been making and exhibiting her ceramic artwork in India and Internationally. She's been teaching from her studio and at Ashoka University, curating exhibitions for individuals, Institutions, corporate and government bodies and museums in India, and also internationally since 2019. In addition, she has been organizing workshops, lec-dems, talks and ceramic tours and studio visits virtually and in person.
Rekha has been the founder editor of Indian Ceramic Quarterly for 10 years and a Trustee on the Board of Delhi Blue Pottery Trust for 12 years. She has been on the Jury of Indian and international ceramic exhibitions and won a Diploma of Honour in the International Glass and Ceramics Competition MIKS 2016 in Europe. She was the only invited Indian artist to participate in ArtCeram2, the 6th Sevres Ceramic Biennale, Paris (2018).
1. When did you decide and what prompted you to become an artist? Please give a brief account of your challenges and struggles in your journey as an artist. Any role models?
RBA: After my graduation in Economics (Honours) from Lady Shri Ram College, it was some twist of fate, owing to my writing for the college magazine and my election as President NSO in my final year, that led to my writing the scripts of a couple of TV programmes on fitness. That awakened my interest in film-making. After graduation I worked briefly with a film production house and then joined the film-making department of a large advertising agency. I worked there for over three years, but since by then I was already married, the work timings didn’t suit me anymore. So I quit the agency to start my own film company. However, while making films I had started learning pottery as a weekend hobby and had fallen in love with clay. It all worked well till I found that I was expecting. So after taking a baby break from films and pottery for three years I set up my ceramic studio at home and plunged into clay full time with great enthusiasm. My love affair with clay has lasted over 25 years.
Since I was a very hands-on mother and proud homemaker with an active social life, I worked on my ceramic art only when my child was in school. My time was limited because I had to also manage household work within that time. So, it was really challenging to find some clear, focussed time to spend on my art. It has been a struggle to juggle everything around, but I’ve led a very full life and have no regrets whatsoever.
2. What art project(s) are you working on currently? What is your inspiration or motivation for this?
RBA: My recurring theme for many years has been Shakti, the inner strength of women – I’ve been working on different aspects of it, highlighting them in different ways. I have utmost admiration for the versatility, flexibility and determination of women. Despite endless hurdles in their path, they still manage to achieve great heights and explore their own depths. And yet they are objectified or ignored and seldom deified. The last couple of series I’ve worked on is on the theme of women in homes as part of their daily life depicted as buttons and masks.
Buttons are used on most garments and mostly ignored and never noticed until they go missing. That is when we realize their importance. This theme has led to many people, known and unknown, coming up to me and confessing that they’d never seen things this way. Many people have told me that seeing my work prompted them to call up their mothers and tell them how much they loved them. To me it is important for my work to raise questions and be food for thought. It is not enough to create something beautiful – it must be meaningful too and touch a chord in the viewers.
The concept behind buttons:
Unnoticed and ignored
Until they go missing
Though tiny in themselves
They hold together everything
Always the final full stop
The sign of completion
Versatile in appearance
Complementary in mission
When even the negatives
The positives define
Women and buttons . . .
All definitions redefine.
— Rekha Bajpe Aggarwal (Aaina)
Buttons, Mixed Media Installation
The work brings to the fore the plight and angst of women, mostly mothers, who are largely unnoticed and unappreciated within the socio-cultural context and the larger economic milieu despite being completely indispensable. It reminds people who were unaware to start noticing and even more importantly appreciating their presence in their lives.
Masks are what people use as shields throughout their lives!
3. Contemporary art has become very diverse and multidisciplinary in the last few decades. Do you welcome this trend? Is this trend part of your art practice?
RBA: My art has always been diverse and multi-disciplinary since I’ve always believed in creativity, first and foremost. I have used everything from film to words, from paint to light, from clay to wood and stone and metal to create art. Conceptual art that is minimalistic would best describe my approach. Ceramics is my medium of choice but I’m not restricted to it.
The trend of diversity and openness to move between media and to intertwine them to create something larger than the sum of the parts is important and very welcome. Widening the focus is like opening one’s mind to the unseen and inexperienced.
4. Does art have a social purpose or is it more about self-expression?
RBA: Primarily, art is about self-expression. However, since we are self-obsessed to a large extent as humans, a lot of our own and other people’s personal issues arising from social issues do creep into our work. This happens sometimes even to the extent of creating self-portraits of ourselves that bear the stamps that society forces upon us and the artwork takes on a social purpose more often than not. Artists have always been sensitive people who are unafraid to put themselves and their concerns on their canvas of choice. Art revolutionizes.
5. Where do you create your art (workplace / studio)? What is your process?
RBA: I create mostly in my studio, Studio Re4Clay, which has become a ceramic hub. I started my studio in the year 2000 in a small room without running water or open access to sunlight. It has grown over the years in terms of equipment and space through shifts of residence and is currently a fully equipped studio which can accommodate students on five wheels, or a workshop with 20 participants. It is currently in a long narrow rooftop room and a fairly large open terrace. Here, I’ve been holding classes, lecture and demonstration series and workshops featuring masterclasses with renowned national and international artists. I have a fairly good collection of ceramic books and magazines in the studio which also stocks ceramic materials.
My process begins in my head and moves to my hands like meditation and I am often myself surprised at the results. Creativity must be allowed to have a free hand as part of my process.
6. To what extent will the world of art change in the post-Covid period – both in terms of what is created as also the business of art?
RBA: In the post-Covid period, the 2020 discovery that art can transcend space on a huge level virtually will create a whole new vertical. During the pandemic, most people could not access their studios and as a way of keeping in touch, I started a virtual lecture series and a series of virtual studio visits around the world. This opened up new dimensions for us.
Another thing which became extremely popular was online exhibitions and auctions which actually generated sales without the buyer even seeing the artworks physically. Also, the concept of virtual viewing rooms grew in popularity and this will continue forward to become a norm.
Those who had access to their studios did bumper business with orders flowing in for online sales as people were restricted to their homes and took this opportunity to buy art to beautify their homes.
7. Tell us about any other interest you may have besides your art practice . Does it get reflected
in your art?
RBA: I have a plethora of interests like reading, films, music, food – cooking, eating, reading about and watching programs around it – and reading and writing poetry. I am also interested in outdoor activities like walking, cycling, deep sea diving, and some sports. I like to give back to my chosen medium by introducing the younger generations to art and sensitising them to the beauty and necessity of art. I do this by conducting workshops in educational institutions. I have also taught ceramics as a co-curricular activity at Ashoka University. I also teach specialized techniques of ceramics to other contemporary ceramicists in workshops and organize ceramic related activities and travel as well. I do believe that art is life and every experience one lives through is always reflected in one’s art.
(All images are courtesy of the artist, Rekha Bajpe Aggarwal.)
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