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  • Writer's pictureAnnika Fernando

PR Exhibition | Clay Bodies

Clay Bodies are handmade ceramics by Shayari de Silva, who draws from the qualities afforded by clay as a medium of expression. Clay Bodies refer to the different types of clay available to ceramicists; Shayari uses porcelain, stoneware, terracotta and increasingly, foraged clays from unexpected places. Shayari works out of her studio in Colombo; each piece explores the unique qualities of its clay body and its response to elemental gestures of the hand.

Clay Bodies presents Sky and Sand this July at PR and is from an ongoing body of work called 'as small as a world and as large as alone'.

Shayari says, "I’ve taken this line from an E.E.Cumming's poem I read as a child which has always stuck with me, where he writes, 'For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) / it's always ourselves we find in the sea.' My experience of working with ceramics is very similar to how I feel when I’m by the ocean, which is where I feel most at home and most myself."

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) / it's always ourselves we find in the sea.'

PR Tell us a little bit about Clay Bodies and Shayari

Shayari I’m trained as an architect and art historian, and so making, writing, curating, and editing have all always been part of my practice. I started working with ceramics right after I finished my Master’s in Architecture. I was living in New York and working as an architect and suddenly found that I wasn’t using my hands at all. A friend took me to her ceramics studio one and I loved it so much, I enrolled in a few courses; basically, I’ve not been able to stay away from making ceramics since then.

While parts of my other work can be quite cerebral, even administration-heavy, Clay Bodies is a way for me to ensure I’m still using my hands and thinking and processing things without relying on words alone. It’s also the space in which I allow myself to work introspectively – while a lot of the other things I do are heavily collaborative and minutely planned, with my ceramics I can just follow my intuitions.

PR What is your design background?

Shayari I’ve been interested in making things and using my hands from childhood, for me studying architecture was partly a way to get a good handle on making things at different scales. I’m also really interested in the history and writing parts of design and I do a lot of that too. I studied architectural history, theory, and criticism followed by a professional master’s in architecture, both from Yale. I was able to delve deeper into my interests in design by working at museums including the Yale Art Gallery and the Yale Centre for British Art, and currently I’m curator at the Geoffrey Bawa Trust in Colombo.

I began to learn to work with ceramics in 2017, at Artshack Brooklyn, a magical, marvellous community studio in Bed-Stuy which I still miss dearly.

PR What inspires you? What inspired Sky and Sand?

Shayari I started working with ceramics at a time when my father, who was an engineer, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and I suppose a lot of my work with clay has been quite tied to grappling with that. He was someone who used his hands in incredibly precise ways, and I always loved his handwriting which reflected the clarity and exactitude of his thinking. As he began to lose that precision with his illness, I began to think a lot about what it means to use our hands, to be able to gesture, pinch, roll, and push forms. I do think quite a bit about the way those gestures are mirrored in geomorphologies, or landforms, and clay has a very special ability to connect you quite literally with the Earth in that way.

PR Tell us about the process of making each piece

Shayari I approach ceramics in way a that is entirely different to how I approach other kinds of work, like buildings, or exhibitions. There are no sketches, no writing, I just sit at my stool and make whatever I feel like, usually while listening to music or a podcast. Sometimes a piece is made in one go, sometimes I will fire and refire the same piece over months, although I rarely ever think of any piece as being quite finished. This is also why I am quite reluctant to take commissions and why no two pieces are ever identical!

PR How has dreaming, designing and creating been affected by the challenges of Covid?

....and then the current crises?

Shayari Covid brought many challenges of course, but there was a silver lining in that the endless lockdowns gave me a lot of downtime to work on ceramics. Experimenting with materials and processes is important to me, and I was able to do quite a bit of this in those two years. The current situation in Sri Lanka though is very different; materials are becoming increasingly difficult to find, I’m afraid to fire my kiln, if there is a possibility of a power cut, and I’m realizing how much harder it is going to be find replacement elements or firebrick if required. This has created a kind of preciousness to working which is new to me, since ceramics was where I felt most liberated and uninhibited as a maker.

PR Where would you like to see Clay Bodies in the next 5 years?

Shayari I think if I can keep making Clay Bodies in the next 5 years, that would be enough. I don’t have a growth plan or business strategy because it’s not what ceramics means to me personally; I just hope I can continue to express myself through this medium and sustain it in terms of resources and creativity. I’ve been researching and experimenting with “foraged” (unprocessed) clays and other kinds of kilns like pit fires and barrel kilns – connecting with ways that ceramics has been made locally and historically is something I’m hoping I’ll be able to work on more.

SHOP Clay Bodies Sky and Sand here


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