Saraswati is one of those unique artists whose work you can recognize from a mile away. She talks about her journey doing ceramics in Auroville and her hope to bring joy to people through her art.
Called Back to Clay
Auroville is known to be a good place for ceramic artists – we have about 15, each with their unique style. While many learnt in and around Auroville, Saraswati was already a ceramic artist before landing in Auroville, and was not planning to continue that work. “I came 16 years back from Russia. When I came, at that moment I wanted to change my life completely and I didn’t plan to continue ceramics in Auroville. I thought from reading the brochures that Auroville would tell me what to do.” Although she worked in different places in Auroville, she eventually realised that she needed to do what was right for her, and was called back to clay.
Being a ceramic artist in Auroville is not necessarily an easy journey, and finding a place and a kiln was a challenge. “To start anything new here is hard. The idea that you come, nobody knows you but is happy to help you… It is not yet there. Every potter is also struggling with their own work.” More than that, she felt there was a bit of a bias against artists: “This perception that artists are not dedicated enough to the community because they are dedicated to their art, that was definitely there… Maybe it has changed a bit over the years, but when I came I hesitated to say that I was an artist.”
Over the years, her sense of what it means to be an artist in Auroville has changed. “Now I see it differently – I don’t need to think about how what I do relates to Auroville because I know that I am inside the core of Auroville, breathing its aims and ideals. I think if there would not be Mother’s push I would never manage all of this, to get all of this together. Maybe it’s not very modest to say, but I know that electrical sparkle, bzzz, of connection of a higher force. Without that I normally can’t manage anything. It’s like Wifi but a bit higher (laughs).”
A Balancing Act
Saraswati has two big projects to juggle: one is the White Peacock Studio, where she teaches children in her clay class. The other one is her Have Fun Pottery, where she makes her objects and art – sometimes on order, sometimes as inspiration strikes. “These projects are completely different, only the material is in common. At the White Peacock, we are working with the kids after school, so a lot of it is about entertaining them. Every time I come with a new task and we survive somehow (laughs). Here in my own pottery, I go with my own ideas. I have to balance between the two, because one gets my battery charged and the other is more… draining, so to say.”
Working with the kids might be a bit challenging, but Saraswati sees it as a way for her to contribute to the community. “I believe that everyone is supposed to contribute to Auroville. And since I can’t make myself very commercially efficient, I think this is the best that the community can get from me. It brings me a good feeling that I am part of the community – that I am working for it. And what matters to me is that sometimes I go for a class and something small and bright comes out of a child’s hands, and it makes me so happy.”
Art on Order
The rest of her time she spends in the Have Fun Pottery, where she works on two different types of pieces. “Whatever you see here that is practical, that you can use, it’s commercial – those go by the dozen. And whatever looks more strange to you, that is my art (laughs). If I could choose, I would do only art, but I know the time has not come yet.” For her art, exhibitions are the best platform: “Often when we have exhibitions in India, that’s how people come to know about me. But it’s completely on pause right now due to the Corona situation.”
Part of the journey to be commercially viable is to tailor work to the customer. “Sometimes I don’t feel great when I take an order. Usually it squeezes me a bit. It’s much easier for me to offer something I already made and see who likes it, than to be completely in a structure. That’s why retail in shops is nice –the shop helps you find that person who likes it.” For her tailored stuff, she has started to draw a line of what people can ask of her. “Sometimes people just send me a picture from Pinterest and say: ‘Go make it.’ It’s out of the blue sky, it’s probably someone else’s life work. It was too painful to do that, so I have closed that window now.”
Seeking to Bring Light
When asked what inspires her art, the answer is: nearly everything. “In the middle of work inspiration comes, one work pulls the tail for the next. I try something and I know I need to do it better next time. But my first inspirations were interiors of my home and kitchen – at some point I made everything in miniature. Now everything can inspire me or become a new texture, or become part of the next structure, or God knows what.”
The red thread in her work seems a certain innocence or sincerity, which comes from how her ideas about art have developed over the years. “I don’t think too much about it anymore, but before I was sure that if I invite people for exhibitions I don’t want to put them in trouble – I want to relieve them, give them joy, with my instruments. I don’t want to increase troubles in this planet. For me, art has to make something better, if possible. If not possible, just don’t make it – if you can’t bring any light, then sit, meditate, eat, drink, do something else!”
“My aim is to bring light, this is how I understand the aim of art. It’s not necessary that joy and fun have to be on this superficial level, it can be deep also. But there has to be light in it. There has to be an answer, not only heavy questions. I think so. Because artists are supposed to develop their strings towards a higher knowledge and intuition. If they really connect with the right forces, they can bring something good down.”
You can find Saraswati’s work at the Auroville Boutique in the Visitor’s Centre, or you can find it for order in the Auroville Online Store.