Creative Women at Work: Lubna Chowdhary, V&A ceramics resident
‘I am always trying to combine ideas and aesthetics from the eastern and western worlds,’ London-based artist Lubna Chowdhary tells me, ‘the eastern influence is a very strong part of my identity but I like to bring both sides together to tell a story.’ Born in Tanzania to Indian parents, Chowdhary grew up on the outskirts of Manchester, in the 1970s. Having graduated in 3D Design from Manchester Metropolitan University she went on to study an MA in ceramics at the Royal College of Art, under the tutelage of Eduardo Paolozzi. Lubna is currently the ceramic artist in residence at the V&A, I bumped into her on my way to the Balenciaga exhibition and practically invited myself to her swanky new studio…
TNMA: Tell me about your work, Lubna
LC: I’m known for my tile-based projects – and though it doesn’t look like it my work is trying to address identity in non-western cultures. When I was a student, I won a scholarship to India and it was then I realised I had to work with both sides of my identity. To combine western modernity with the traditional idea of ornamentation and pattern. The simple geometric shapes are slightly taken out of Islamic culture. They’re just my hybrids, I’m trying to have some sort of cross-fertilisation of cultures and materials, hopefully to produce something that is not watered down but has it’s own character. When I first graduated I was making larger sculptural pieces – which is something I’d like to develop, I’d like to make larger, more personal work again. To make forms in a much freer way, I’ve always wanted to get away from the domestic association ceramics has.
TNMA: How are you finding being at the V&A, it must be great for research?
LC: When I was a student at the RCA, we were always sent here and this was a very different institution. I didn’t quite know how to react to the colonial aspect. A lot of my early work is about me and my identity and I’ve been trying to tap into that again. I’ve been looking at hybrid objects that are from India but have been commissioned by Europeans, and that cross-fertilisation supports what I’m making. In the past, I felt quite awkward mixing the two but I’ve been tapping into the European side of my heritage and working with that. I’m making a lot of small maquettes and once I have the ideal forms, they can be made a lot bigger.
TNMA: You’re known for working with intense colour, has it always been important to you?
LC: When I was at the RCA there was very little colour in the prevailing European aesthetic. Danish ceramics had a purity of form but that was nothing to do with me, I wanted to be able to use colour in its widest form. To be very playful with colour. The recent return of the Memphis Group feels like there is a lot of colour around – so now I might really go to town!
TNMA: Obviously you wear an apron when your working with clay but are there other style considerations within your job?
LC: I’m often working with architects on building projects and it’s a bit of a man’s world. If I’m dressing for confidence, I dress in a more masculine way. I always wear makeup and always have had long hair, so it’s like a counterbalance.There’s a lot at play culturally in being an Asian, you become culturally defined. But the women I admired when I was growing up were Annie Lennox and Chrissie Hynde, I was never attracted to feminine role models and tried to move away from the gender stereotypes society imposed on me.
TNMA: Where is that beautiful cape from?!
LC: I made it and my husband (a graphic designer) embroidered it. It’s quite straightforward, I bought some boiled wool – which is quite flexible and takes shape easily – and put a couple of darts at the neck. My mum was a production seamstress and worked from home, she would get bundle pieces, different sections and shapes. When we came here in the 1970s there weren’t any traditional Asian clothes so we had to buy fabrics and make them. I grew up making clothes, and this has become part of my vocabulary – it translates into my ceramic work.