In December, I saw artist Savia Mahajan’s engagement with time, materiality and memory in Amino Soup, her solo exhibition at Tarq Mumbai. Through lyrical ceramic series such as Tempus Fugit, made with varnished terracotta pot, verdigris pigment made in her studio from copper waste, coins and sheets, Mahajan, 43, created a metaphor for the “corrosive nature of time”. It’s ironic that such meditative and delicate works are created in a studio in one of the most chaotic parts of Mumbai.
Mahajan’s workspace is situated in the heart of the industrial belt in Andheri East, which is home to the plastic production industry. “The area is called Paper Box after the corrugated paper boxes manufactured there. And I sit right in the middle of that grungy place,” says Mahajan. “That’s because I need a furnace for my ceramics and this is the ideal place for it.” The ceramicist has been working in this studio for the past six-seven years. The location is convenient as it is barely 20 minutes from her home. That allows her the flexibility to work late hours.
Mahajan calls it a shape shifter of a space—becoming a sanctuary for meditation in between series, and a place of frenetic action when firing her ceramic works. “I mould it the way I want. There are days when it looks like a mad scientist’s lab, when I experiment with found material. Things either keep coming or getting discarded. Because of its location, I am surrounded by the hum of the working city, and the machines,” says Mahajan. While working on a series, she can be found loading the gas furnace, firing it for a day and then letting it cool down. On such days, Mahajan likes to be thorough and disciplined. Though she likes to work alone, when the series requires mixing large quantities of clay with fibre and other found material, she invites helping hands. On other days, the studio transforms into a zen space when she wants to simply sketch, draw or plan the next series of works. “You can see a rainbow effect—every mood and season here is different. It depends on what I am working on and what shape I want it to take.”
Though her studio is equipped with the latest equipment—from the furnace to the slab rollers, which she calls extensions of her hands—there is space for quirks and oddities as well. Take, for instance, Mahajan’s cabinet of curiosities, which contains pebbles collected during childhood, and soil, bark and leaves picked up during travels. “I have a strange relationship with these objects. They are like talismans. I have a long-standing association with the raddi walas (scrap dealers) so you will find all sorts of paper material such as bill books coming in. Recently, I have become obsessed with eucalyptus leaves, and there are always some lying around. My studio is in a constant state of churn,” says Mahajan. Certain materials such as burnt crackers, which might have been lying in her workspace for years, suddenly transform into a work or become inspiration for one. “I don’t know which direction the material is pointing to until one day there is a eureka moment,” she says.