Contrary to the fast digital world, the pace slows down in the studio of Shamshad Khan who is giving life to formless clay by shaping it into handcrafted ceramics.
Hailing from Bangalore, she got exposed to pottery during her college days as a designing student. There she worked as a commercial photographer for the 18 years.
After coming to Kashmir, she switch to ceramic pottery and gave a new touch to the old age craft of the place.
Creativity rides high over the flight of imagination inside the Tawaf studio at Srinagar that Shamshad started in 2021 by converting a small space at her apartment into thestudio.
Tawaf, the ritual of circumambulating the holy Kabba, in anti-clockwise movement, is similar to the rotatory motion of a potter’s wheel, is where she derived her name for the studio as she believes that spirituality is attached to pottery.
Getting trained from the best pottery studios across India, she contacted various local potters too for learning the craft.
“I learnt the basics at the studios and took it a little further with terracotta. Pottery is a continuous journey of doing every single day and learning the know-how about craft. Creating unique designs and formulating my own glazes is what I have learnt by practicing myself but there is still a lot to learn. You can spend a lifetime learning different methods to treat and work with clay. It’s limitless,” she said.
Her collection comprises mostly functional pottery in tableware ranging from pots, spoon-holder, baking dish, hand-carved bowls, plates, platters etc. French butter dish is one of the innovative things made by her, maintains the freshness and the spreadability of the butter without requiring a refrigerator.
The collection has products that are usable every day. It is specialized stuff. It is a piece of art with perfect usage which can last a lifetime if you take care of them. They are ovenproof, microwave safe and dishwasher safe. You can even cook and bake in it,” she said.
The designs that she has incorporated with her ceramic ware are inspired by the dynamism of nature. She said, “The purpose is to mindfully craft daily objects using fired earth as the material. It’s time to make changes in our existing lifestyles and move to a more sustainable way of living.”
Emphasizing on the idea of sustainability, she said that the materials required in pottery comes from the earth. “Even the packaging of my products has no plastic. Our mission is to protect and nourish the earth. Eating in clay pots is good for health. While nourishing the earth, we have to protect ourselves as well,” she emphasized.
Some of her work incorporates hand-built coiling, slab-built and pinch pottery, the technique of building the shape with the help of hands without involving a potter's wheel. The technique is also for people to learn pottery without the wheel.
In studio pottery, artists work alone or in small groups to create one of its kind pieces of pottery in limited qualities, explore ancient or contemporary methods through a variety of firing and glazing techniques, ceramic decaling, wheel work, hand building, slab construction etc.
The process has taught her to let go of her perfectionism and embrace acceptance.
She said, “Especially now, when many of us realize that control is an illusion, pottery is a great way to remind ourselves that we are not really in control, and we have to accept that and work with it. There’s also something wonderful about making artworks that have a function and purposes that can be decorative and useful. I have enjoyed putting energy into that and then gifting items to friends and family, seeing the pottery in their homes makes me happy like a piece of me lives with them every day.”
Each product is giving a lot of attention and demands a lot of thought processing with it. She said that each item has its own character. She uses an electrical potter wheel and electric kiln for baking.
She said, “I use terracotta for the fact that I want to work with the locals. Also, terracotta is locally available. It is cleaned and processed locally and prepared to be used in the studio itself. Nothing comes from outside Kashmir except raw materials for glazes.”
The weather plays a role in the process as well. As Shamshad takes us through the journey, she explained, “In winters, it might even take a week or two to dry. In summers, things dry much quickly which may cause cracks. However, there are ways to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
The potter further explained that the terracotta is further accentuated by glazing. However, it is challenging because there are not many glazes for terracotta. Glaze is a glass formulation, a mix of powered materials which is applied on the ware and then fired at a very high temperature by melting glass, further making it food safe.
“In Kashmir, ceramic pottery is still a novel idea. People think of it as just a showpiece. Having said that, there is a chunk of people who are aware of the nuances of the art and they not just only appreciate it but also buy the products as well,” the potter believes.
Shamshad wants her work to be seen and acknowledged across the Valley. She said that she has kept the selling pricesquite low, making her products affordable.
She feels that there is no dearth of creativity in Kashmir.“The new generation of potters are not taking it up due to the lack of exposure. There are ways of taking art further with the changing times to make it look contemporary. The world is changing and we have to catch up with it," she said.
She believes that it would take time but the younger generation would sooner take up the work of art.
Shamshad intends to throw open her studio for the people who aspire to learn the same art but due to space crunch, she is not able to do so. “I want to pass on my skills to more and more people, especially the young generation of potters. All I need is an ample space to set up the studio,” she reiterated.
She was all praises for the local potters whohelped her in learning pottery without charging her anything and she believes she wants to give back by sharing the knowledge about the latest in ceramics. “My idea is to expand this craft more than what it is right now,” she added.
Shamshad has showcased her collection in a few exhibitions which has garnered her a good line of customers and needless to mention, the appreciation.
“I picked pottery because I get to work with what nature provides me. You are making it with your hands. Hands will work according to what your heart is feeling,” she said.
She takes orders through her Instagram handle, tawafstudio where she uploads her collection.
While concluding with a piece of advice for youngsters she said, “Formal Education is very important in whatever you do or think of doing in your life, you have to be passionate about it. All of us are so unique in our own selves and should do what we love to do. Work should be fun, not a compulsion.”