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The Indian Potters Changing How People Perceive Ceramics

By Hillary Kang

Rohit Kulkarni (left) and Bhairavi Naik, co-founders of Curators of Clay.
 
Curators of Clay
Rohit Kulkarni (left) and Bhairavi Naik, co-founders of Curators of Clay.

The art of pottery is deeply entwined with Indian culture. In recent times, however, artisans say that the medium has largely fallen out of favour for more practical alternatives like metalwork and plastic.

“India’s relationship with clay craftsmanship remains one of functionality,” says potter Bhairavi Naik. “Historically, since metalwork has been far more developed, clay has remained more basic and primary.”

Naik is one half of Curators of Clay, a Pune-based ceramic studio that the former advertising professional set up with her partner, Rohit Kulkarni. Curators of Clay is, as its founders like to quip, “indulgently mismanaged” by the duo, who had both been media industry veterans before starting Curators of Clay in 2014; Naik was the former Associate Vice President at Saatchi & Saatchi India, while Kulkarni was a Creative Director at Disney-UTV Motion Pictures.

Curators of Clay
 

“After pursuing pottery as an indulgent hobby over the years, we were looking to see if a full time career was possible in the field,” says Kulkarni.

He adds, laughing: “As successful media professionals, many thought we were mad to attempt this.”

Their 13,000 followers would disagree. Instead of a traditional online storefront, Curators of Clay releases their products in edits, which they announce on their Instagram account to their eager fanbase; These edits are often snapped up within the day.

“For decades, handmade products were looked at as ‘bargain buys’ in India,” explains Kulkarni. “But we’re now starting to realise and respect our own craftsmanship.”

Between announcements of new releases, the duo often share personal anecdotes about their creative process on their Instagram account.“In the past, we’ve tried to push our luck — and meet deadlines — by firing damp work, hoping a slow firing will sort things out, but those attempts have resulted in heart wrenching breakage,” reads one recent post. “But now, wiser with our experiences and kinder to our hearts, we won’t be firing anything until everything is absolutely bone dry.”

Curators of Clay
 

The aesthetic of Curators of Clay is distinctly pared back, a look inspired by both nature and the duo’s love for Japanese aesthetics.

“We don’t decorate our work,” affirms Naik. “We like the craftsmanship and glazes to showcase the inherent beauty of our work.” Or, as Kulkarni likes to quip: “Our work is sober, we are not.”

It was serendipitous, then, that their latest collaboration would be with India’s largest Japanese chain restaurant, Sushi and More.

For the collaboration, Naik and Kulkarni created an exclusive series of sushi serving stoneware sets. Limited to just 100 boxes, the sets are a loving amalgamation of Japanese aesthetics and the duo’s own fondness of nature. The chopstick holder, for example, is a tribute to the Sahyadri mountain ranges that Naik and Kulkarni both grew up with. India and Japan also have more in common than one might think, says Kulkarni, such as their mutual “focus on spirituality”.

“Both countries also have a well-documented history and heritage, which shows in their culture,” he adds.

Kulkarni once said that the duo wanted to set up Curators of Clay because they longed to be “more than good corporate cogs” — to be a part of something that would bring them satisfaction and meaning. Now, over six years on, they hope that their creations will bring others the same joy that it brought them.

Says Naik: “We describe Curators of Clay as a pursuit of happiness, peace, and beauty — with clay as our medium of choice.”