The potters work long days in the mud with their hands and feet hardly ever going outside their ceramic world.

The pottery compound reminds me of the set of Tatooine from first episode of Star Wars, where Luke Skywalker grew up. George Lucas imagined Tatooine as a place as ancient and as unchanged as this. Jesus or Mohammad could walk into the pottery yard and feel they were still in the time they were born in. No sign of the modern world exists until someone takes out a pocket phone to answer a call or take a selfie.

We arrived early to see if our glazes had succeeded at the kiln firing. The kiln is the size of an adobe mud hut and the steps to the top are broken pots cemented together with clay. I perched over the circular pit still hot and smoking from the firing of the previous day.  One of the younger potters, Aziz, sat beside on the flimsy bridge of two poles held together by wooden slats. We reached down and removed charred pieces of broken pots and passed them to one of the old grandfather potters to pile on the rim of the kiln. I was part of a hand-to-hand human chain that has been repeated over and over whenever the shards, that cover and insulate the pots, are cool enough to handle. My mother was a potter, so I know how every kiln firing is a game of chance and there is always surprise and disappointment at the opening. Potters expect to find precious pieces that their hands have made, cracked, or shattered and glazes that have failed. No matter how old and experienced the potter is the results from the fire are always unpredictable.

There is no lid or door on the kiln as there would be on a kiln in Australia. To get to see and remove the pots a layer of broken shards must be removed. They are very hot and burning ash remains stuck to them. Anywhere else leather gloves would be worn but these potters’ hands are hardened like leather and can handle the heat. I did not have a problem with it, and no one questioned that I would have. This process is done in silence and those doing it share a common mind.

I am free to immerse myself in these activities, while also making a film, as Waqar takes over the responsibility of camera documentation, allowing me to be a participant.

The water amphora that I had painted and sprayed glaze onto was upside down in the centre top of the kiln. I could see its base was blackened and when Aziz lifted it out to pass to me, I could read disappointment on his face. The glaze had worked in a few small patches, especially the reds, but overall, it was a failed mess of black and burnt bubbling glaze.  The cones which we had placed in the kiln to see if it reached the desired 1000 degrees, were still erect and had not bent over which they would have done if it had reached the temperature.

I remained in the human chain as the rest of the kiln was unloaded. All our expectations for a successful glaze firing had been dashed and could be read on our faces.

I looked across to a small patch of lawn to where a cloth had been placed and a tea pot with cups and sweets to share with us as their welcome guests.

We sat together and decided the plan should be to build a smaller kiln at the Yellow House to experiment with the glazes and once we have succeeded, they will build a larger replica kiln at their place.  Tomorrow they will all arrive at the Yellow House, and we will begin ordering what is needed for the kiln. We will design, together and it will combine their experience with my research. I want to use gas and will have to get burners made to go inside. I have joined their pottery family and have introduced a shared dream of providing the glazed and patterned tiles for the new mosque the Taliban want to build in Jalalabad. They teared up with expectation when I said, “Someday we will be able to pray together and look up with pride to what we have created.”

Today is Friday and I am going to pray with Waqar and Arshad in the big old mosque in the city. This will be the first time I have done this. I can’t be creating mosque tiles without showing respect to the culture they are for.

Matisse was not a practicing Catholic but in the last years of his life he created stained glass, tiles, and vestments for the priests of the Chapel of the Rosary in Venice.  He started in 1947 worked on the Chapel for 4 years dying at eighty-four, a year after it was completed.  Sister Jacques Marie wrote a book about how she began the relationship as a nurse for Matisse, when he was recovering from cancer surgery and when she became a Dominican Nun, she persuaded him to do the Chapel. Matisse had remained in France through the Nazi occupation and the Chapel seems to have been his way of processing the war years.  As a young artist the Chapel had as great an influence on my development as Picasso’s Guernica.

I learnt to make stained glass, placing a window I made of the Crucifixion above the stage of my puppet theatre. Inspired by Matisse’s black and white tiles of the stations of the cross I invented my own version of the stations. I painted them on a large canvas which I placed on the ground and gave performances moving from one station to the other in a mime. Both my parents and my grandparents were atheists and going to church was out of the question when growing up in Rockdale, but Matisse was the religion of art.

As an artist I have worked with my hands all my life. I manufacture objects and my hands are damaged as a result.

When leaving the pottery yard I impulsively turned around to the two grandfather potters and put my  74 year old hands out as exhibits. They read my gesture and did the same. Our hands are equally worn. They laughed and got it. We belong to the same fraternity of manual creators.


Latest  /  Most Viewed  /  Related