Meet Auroville: Adil Writer

Early Sunday morning was the best time to catch Adil Writer at work for an interview. The Mandala Pottery complex was quiet and serene amidst the singing birds in the forest surrounding it. As I arrived, he was glazing an exhibition piece with Lolly, the Dana community dog at his side. "What are you working on?" I asked as I intruded into his process. "This is a part of my Sweet Dreams Series, not the functional ceramic ware I usually sell on auroville.com" he replied. As I tried to dig deeper into the intention, concept or inspiration of this particular series, it became clear that the artist at work was not creating in order to express his thoughts or make a statement. Adil spoke softly over his paintbrush strokes, "I like to know what people see in it for themselves. Surely it will mean something different to each viewer, depending on their background, history and their own human experience."

We went upstairs into the studio where most of his exhibition pieces are stored or await to be glazed and fired. It is a treasure trove of his unique work. "How did you start on this particular 'Sweet Dreams Series', Adil?" He goes on to explain that he had been gifted a used plaster mold of a doll face from Australia over a decade ago. He picked it up again recently and started working with it. Some people on social media have called it 'provocative', while others have threatened to ‘un-follow’ him on Instagram because of how it resonates with them. "Is the reaction to this series just adding fuel to the fire? Is it reflecting the madness in the world of art? I don’t know… but where’s the fire?  I only see sweet innocent faces here!” he says casually.

Adil Writer was formerly trained as an architect at Sir J.J. College of Architecture, Bombay, India and received his Masters in Architecture at the University of Houston, Texas, USA. He worked as an architect at Gensler & Associates in San Francisco, and later was an associate architect at Talati & Panthaky Pvt. Ltd. in Bombay. He then took a break from architecture to dabble in a course in ceramics at the iconic Golden Bridge Pottery in Pondicherry in 1998, and more or less, did not go back home. Upon his arrival in Auroville in 2000, he felt blessed to put his talent to use by becoming a partner and developing the range of Mandala Pottery with fellow potters, Anamika and Chinmayi. What was once a small scale pottery has now become a professional studio with three kilns ready to fire a busy production of tableware, assorted ceramic items, architectural ceramic murals and installations. Besides the clean glazed look of gas firings, the studio is also known for its unusual soda-fired works which are fired with locally grown wood.

With a tone of reverence and a gesture of gratitude he states "none of this would have been possible had it not been for Ray Meeker and Deborah Smith". It was Ray and Deborah who, in 1971, pioneered glazed stoneware ceramics in southern India when they started Golden Bridge Pottery in Pondicherry, a hinterland known only for low-fired terracotta. The professionalism brought to their studio inspired visiting artists from India and abroad encouraging Auroville potters to develop their craft. "I do not have the patience to be a teacher like them but the time has come for someone to start a ceramic school here in Auroville. In 2001 I wrote a project to kick-start this school but it fell through because we could not find a full-time ceramics teacher! By then I was a partner at Mandala."

There is a rich history of red clay terracotta under the Auroville soil. Archaeological excavations near the Matrimandir have revealed Iron Age burial grounds including terracotta vessels and urn burials containing Neolithic tools that have been dated to 5000 B.C. Some of these vessels have been salvaged but their fragility have left us with many shards. As the red clay terracotta composition is not suitable for the high fire kilns at Mandala Pottery, only 10% of this red clay is used in the studio production to ensure durability. The bulk of their tableware is made towards orders within India as well as internationally. A lot of it  is retailed locally at various boutiques in Auroville and Pondicherry, and of course a select collection is posted at auroville.com for sale. Curious to know if I could have a tableware set made to order, I asked how one goes about it and what time frame one can expect. "Most of the tableware is purchased on order for restaurants, boutiques or homeowners. From the date we receive a 50% advance payment, it would take around 6 to 8 weeks for the order to be completed. It would then be couriered out once the entire balance payment has been received" he replies.

"I am currently looking for a full time potter to work with me, someone who knows and enjoys the daily rituals of working and handling a fully equipped ceramic studio", he states at the end of our interview. So, if you are reading this blog and inspired to commit your hands to being a potter at Mandala or teach ceramics in Auroville, the door is open... just knock! Please visit the Mandala Pottery website and get in touch with Adil! To learn more about Adil Writer, his ceramic art, architecture and paintings (which I love), please visit his website and you will get a bigger picture of the man himself.