Sheherezade Alam is a potter and lecturer of Ceramics and History of Art at the National College of Arts in Lahore, and has her own ceramics studio at her home in Lahore, where she now teaches ceramics workshops for children. The inspiration for all her work originates from the earth and the natural environment, shown in the earth tones she uses in her work.
What is the main inspiration for your work?
The handmade object became a concern because we have a 9,000-year-old legacy of clay in the Indus valley. I used to love looking at pottery, there was all this pottery in our history, in our heritage and no one cares [anymore]. My mission is to tell everyone we are earth, fire, water, air. I didn’t choose clay, clay chose me. Five years after graduating from the National College of Arts, Lahore, I set up my own studio, although no one wanted to see the liability of a woman in that setup. I am a product of the sixties, so I believe in revolution – my husband told me to bring revolution into the studio. I was the first woman to set up my own studio as a potter in 1977.”
Why did you chose pottery as your medium?
As humans, we have a close attachment to clay. We eat, we live, we drink off the earth, we are of the earth, fire, water, air, and that is what pottery is. There is a great affinity between a human being and a pot. Clay lead me to shape, then I practiced and built a relationship with it. My inspiration comes from museums; my work is at the same time contemporary and ancient. I belong to Harappa (archaeological site in Punjab) and Harappa belongs to me. I want people to feel that we are very ancient, if you give people a sense of history you get more attached to your country, you are responsible for your country. Not only do you touch the ball of clay, it touches you, suddenly it is a shape.
Your use of colour in your work is very interesting. Do you chose them specifically?
It took me years to make colours, it’s a whole chemical part of clay. Once you add fire to anything it becomes chemistry. It took me at least ten years to start a pallet or colours. I used the turquoise used by the Persians to represent Multan. a city in Punjab with a river flowing through it. I used stony colours for England and when my daughter died, I felt the need to take on the colour red. I wanted to carry on my husband and daughter’s legacy. The Mother and Child pot was one small pot fitted into a bigger pot. I did a whole series of black pieces with red inside. I did a whole sea of red, then I went through a period that was white, [and] now I don’t really know where I am. I try to use pigments which are not shiny and glazy. I learnt 2,000-year-old glazes in China, so my work became finer and I could make larger pots. If I do a few more it will be fine, if I don’t, I will teach children. I went to China to make porcelain with turquoise, there is an amazing translucency with the use of watery turquoise. Thanks to clay, I was better prepared for the tragedy of losing my husband and daughter who were murdered. When I buried my husband and daughter I felt I was sending them back to clay. We have thousands of potters whose work is not being recognised because so much is made by machinery these days.
Do you do any research before creating pieces or do you just create whatever comes to mind?
Glazes are like recipe books as everything is caused by a specific chemical reaction. I have now come away from glazes as Pakistan and India don’t have a glaze pottery tradition. The Persian and Afghan influence is where the Muslim potters stopped to use it on tiles. Everything used to be made for a purpose: to store water and food. There is an incredible amount of clay that we are not realising. I wonder about people who made these pots, they were civilised people, I want children in Pakistan to know that part of our history. We have so much history and culture history, your heritage is your identity.