Colombo’s Art University | Part I

The University of the Visual and Performing Arts in Colombo has a beautiful Ceramics department that we had the luck to be introduced to by fellow potter, Amrita Puniani. Its faculty members are sincere and genuine peoples who were extremely accommodating. Intrigued by our story, they immediately began to advise us on the pottery related places one can visit in Sri Lanka, they handed us reading material on research of traditional pottery in the country and they took us through their department and extended us an invitation to come and use their facility as our own for the duration of our Colombo stay. The welcome was overwhelming and we were speechlessly grateful. The professors have a wealth of knowledge and experience and we thoroughly enjoyed speaking about Sri Lankan pottery with them: from industrial to traditional ceramics.

Mr. Lansakara, head of the ceramics department, has documented and presented a wonderful report on the traditional art of black-fired ware: a technique that came to Sri Lanka from South India. A community of Tamil speaking potters in the Anuradhapura area still produces and fires in the archaic methodology of their ancestors to create black wares. They make clay from the local lakes and open fire the vessels in an interesting manner. Having not experienced this first hand, we were thankful to read the very informative report on their methodology. Our own experience of black firing in Kerala was not dissimilar in its fundamental nature but rather in its methodology. Evidently the traditional technique of open firing with straw has been modified in parts of South India to suit the times.

After tea we were taken to a spacious room where we were shown the various clay bodies available to the students. Suddenly Mr. Ranjith Perera asked us to wedge clay and after a moment of observing us, began to demonstrate how to spiral wedge: a skill we yet have to master. We could hardly decline the offer to throw with the shimpo wheels sitting pretty and empty in one corner (the third year students were all busy with their end of year exhibition). Now it was Mr. Weerasinghe’s turn to watch over us as we began throwing. The pleasure of throwing on the Shimpo was indescribable: after months of makeshift electric wheels, from ingenious inventions to the barely usable and all forms of manual wheels, these felt divine. We certainly feel like we have made peace with the wheels of the universe.

Before we knew it, it was lunch. We had no sooner sat down and expressed a desire to participate in their next raku firing than we were informed that they were scheduled to do a glaze test raku firing that very afternoon. We were in luck and feeling unbelievably thrilled.

Read what happens next here.

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