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February 2005

Windmills and mindscapes

- by Emmanuelle

“…Pictures hanging in the hallway, like the fragments of this song…” Adil Writer's ceramic work and photographs were exhibited at Pitanga .



‘Windmills of your mind' was an exhibition with a difference. Inspired by the lyrics from the song of the same name written in 1968, the exhibition was a harmonious blend of ceramics and flower photographs that captivated many viewers.

The dia (oil lamp) ceramic mural

One of the first pieces you come across when you enter the exhibition hall is a ceramic scroll of sorts, made of separate panels bound together with copper wire, on which the lyrics of the theme song have been sculpted. “I decided to take on the lyrics of this song as the theme because its spirals and similes, metaphors and visuals seem to weave themselves into my ceramic and photographic imagery,” explains Adil. In most of the ceramic works on display, whether the murals, vases, bowls or platters, Adil has scribbled different verses from the song, or passages from other texts which have inspired him, incorporating words and ideas into matter, interweaving them into the elements, blending poetry and pottery. “It's all part of the composition,” he explains, “I take a scalpel and I'm sculpting the words into the clay, or I take a brush and paint them on the piece when it's already been bisque-fired. The focus for this exhibition was this particular song, so I worked with that as a theme. Otherwise, when I'm working with different textures and images suddenly lyrics from a song, or a poem, maybe even passages from Sri Aurobindo's Savitri come and inspire me, so I scribble them on the piece I'm working on. This helps me connect to those texts in a different way.”

As you walk around the exhibition, you cannot help but wonder at the sheer diversity of form and multitude of modes of expression on display, be they the photographs, which hang alone or in groups on the white walls, or the ceramics, and the way all of it has been interwoven to form a harmonious whole, creating a unique ambience and atmosphere.

There’s a whole new world inside flowers

The theme of the photographs is mainly nature, essentially flowers. “There's a whole new world inside flowers,” explains Adil. And his photographs speak for themselves, each telling a different story: the galaxies and spirals in the heart of the red rose; the Biblical scene with the cradle, the star and the three wise men, in the heart of the white Star of Bethlehem; or the purple water lily, in the heart of which appear to be hands joined in prayer. Adil uses digital photography, and the computer programme ‘Photoshop' has brought it to “another level altogether”. On some of his photographs, the work is soft, subtle and barely noticeable, while on others, “I've stretched the boundaries of my photography and taken it to another mode. With Photoshop, you can go totally wild and transform the image you started off with till sometimes it almost becomes a painting,” he explains. The electric blue wild rose on display is a good example of this. Then there's the Atrium series which give the feel of having been painted in water colours, but for which no touch-ups were necessary. “These were shot in my aunt's atrium in California at a certain time of day when sunlight comes pouring in through the leaves and flowers in the courtyard, through the glass and into the shadows of the house,” he recalls.

One of the recurring themes in the exhibition is the extremes of life and death, beautifully illustrated by the photograph of the immaculate white flower lying in a bed of dead flowers and leaves in various stages of decay. “It's all about nature, and a lot of it about life and death: the new and the old, and colours that come from different stages therein…The same kind of earth tones and autumn colours come back in my clay work, giving it a feel of being burned, which is also why I have worked with the contrasts between the glazed and unglazed.”

Pottery, for Adil, is essentially a play between the elements earth, water and fire. “For me it is fire, more than anything else,” he explains. “When you load a kiln for a firing, there is no way of knowing how fire will transform your work, what it will give you back. We potters call it the gift of fire.” There are two lines of ceramics on display at the show: one is the natural, earth tones collection, and the other is glazed with an amazing palette of blues in different shades and intensities. Each piece has a distinct identity and character of its own. Whether it be the collection of blue ‘gypsy bowls', covered with scribbled words; the sepia-toned mural with a blue splash like a water fall; or the mural depicting two clocks, with a multitude of arms in movement. In making the latter, Adil was inspired by a verse from the song: “…like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face…”

Adil does not call himself an artist, and doesn't want to be labeled as one. “I'm basically a down-to-earth potter, who's also an architect and loves to take photographs,” he says. He also doesn't like to talk about his work. “I like people to look at my work and tell me what they see in it, what thoughts and feelings it awakens in them,” he explains. “That is also why I do not like to title my work. That diverts the viewers' attention to what you are trying to make them see or look for. At this show, everybody sees something different, which is a vindication of sorts for me.”

When Adil talks about his current work, he doesn't even want to refer to it as art…”I call these mindscapes.” So maybe we could call him a “mindscaper”… Maybe he won't mind that. But then again, who knows…


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