Meet Sarban Chowdhury – an artist, educator, dreamer, thinker, and visual seeker. Originally from Rishra, located on the outskirts of Kolkata, he works as an Assistant Professor at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Jodhpur. He is also a full-time practitioner and collaborates with galleries, architectural and interior firms on projects related to the Decor and lifestyle industry.
Sarban’s creative journey delves into the depths of emotions, traumas, and dreams. With ceramics as his primary medium, he has cultivated a profound relationship with this versatile material. It not only allows him to fuse the realms of art and function but also imparts valuable life lessons, occasionally in a “humbling or even humiliating” manner.
Over a chat, we talk about his early experiences with art, his recent projects, the risks he took, and the sacrifices he made to follow his artistic passion, shedding light on both the enchanting and less glamorous sides of the art industry. Sarban also shares candid advice for budding artists.
Chat with ceramic artist and educator Sarban Chowdhury
R&L: Hi Sarban, so excited to be chatting with you today. Can you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Sarban: Hi R&L, I’m Sarban Chowdhury and I’m grateful for this opportunity. I’m originally from Kolkata, West Bengal but currently based in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. I studied Ceramics & Pottery at Govt. College of Art & Craft in Kolkata and am now an Assistant Professor in the Department of Fashion & Lifestyle Accessories at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in Jodhpur. In addition to my work as a design educator, I’m also a full-time practitioner and collaborate with galleries, architectural and interior firms on projects related to the Decor and lifestyle industry.
“I’m known for my work as a ceramist, designer, and educator, but I see myself as a dreamer, thinker, and visual seeker.”
R&L: Can you also tell us more about your early years and how your surroundings influenced your artistic journey?
Sarban: I was born and raised in a small town named Rishra on the outskirts of Kolkata in West Bengal. Since childhood, I have been interested in drawing, watercolors, oil painting, etc., and dreamt of leading an artistic life someday. I was torn by the contrasting stories of Van Gogh’s struggle and Picasso’s charisma, but both fascinated me.
My mother always encouraged me to practice art. But coming from a background with no exposure to the art world, I had extremely impractical views about this industry as a child. Moreover, academically inclined, the easier obvious path was to become a doctor, or maybe a civil servant.
In a nutshell, a major part of growing up was a constant debate and confusion figuring out what I truly wanted to do in my life. Moreover, societal pressure always constrained me to choose art as a full-time career. But I guess, destiny had something else in store for me and today when I look back, I smile at how my life has changed directions over the years.
‘A Carefully Built World’; Medium: Porcelain, teak wood, cast acrylic, LED & float glass
R&L: From Fine Arts to your current role as an Assistant Professor in Fashion and lifestyle Accessories at NIFT, that’s a rich journey. Tell us more about how this transition shaped your artistic path.
Sarban: Becoming an artist might seem lucrative and trendy for those from elite backgrounds, but for someone born into an average middle-class family, surviving as an artist isn’t easy. I realized this from day one when I entered art college.
I wasn’t the most talented, but I was definitely bold, focused, and endlessly curious. I sacrificed many joyful moments with friends and family in the pursuit of my passion. I researched, devoured books, traveled, attended exhibitions, and engaged with fascinating people. After graduating, I embarked on a career in the lifestyle industry, designing dining accessories for niche brands and design houses. I progressed to collaborating with leading architects and real estate companies on independent space design projects.
I learned that sustaining oneself in this industry isn’t smooth sailing. I faced numerous rejections, project cancellations, financial crises, and even instances of discrimination. Despite the existence of favoritism and elitism, I have received unbiased support from many individuals in this industry over the years.
Subsequently, I ventured into academia, a natural path given my academic inclination and passion for sharing ideas and knowledge. This shift provided stability and flexibility for my creative pursuits. I continue to participate in shows and exhibitions with different galleries. Still, I have plans for my future because the comfort of a “sarkar” job can lead to complacency and creative stagnation.
R&L: Your art often revolves around your inner feelings, experiences, traumas, dreams, and fantasies. Can you share a specific project that embodies these elements and walk us through the creative process behind it?
Sarban: Everything that I observe and experience around me somehow seeps into my subconscious and eventually reflects in my work.
“My work titled ‘The barely visible strings of life’ reflects upon nuances and introspections from day-to-day life in a visual diary format. The visuals identify different episodes of nightmares, fantasies, delusions, and contemplations.”
‘The barely visible strings of life’; Medium: Bone China
My primary medium is ceramics, and I prefer to be known as a ceramist, although I also explore various other mediums. Over the years, I’ve developed an intimate relationship with ceramics. Ceramics as a medium teaches me to look at life from a different standpoint. Failures in ceramics are inevitable, be it at an early stage while making, or while drying, glazing, or firing. Every time I open the kiln, the act is loaded with the possibility of thrill, hope, excitement, or disappointment. The material has the final say over who I am, and what I make as an artist. It can be both humbling and humiliating.
R&L: In contrast, your design practice is more focused on functionality and user-friendliness. Tell us more about how you merge your artistic sensibilities with design principles.
Sarban: I create art to satisfy my soul whereas design-based projects intend to satisfy my curious mind. I am currently working on a few projects incorporating different materials along with ceramic to create daily-use products that have the possibility of creating a difference in certain lives.
The versatility of ceramics has granted me the privilege to explore both the realms of art and design. In a recent project titled “A Well Full of Shadows”, I experimented with regular dining wares that are commercially manufactured and converted them into conceptual artworks with very minimal modifications. This project took me to a Bone China factory in Vadodara to create molds, slip cast, glaze, kiln fire, and gold plate.
‘A well full of shadows’; Medium: Bone China & 24-carat Gold
R&L: Lastly, what message would you like to share with emerging artists facing challenges similar to what you’ve encountered in your career?
Sarban: One should enjoy the process with a certain set of goals in mind. The art world is not an easy one to navigate and often lacks transparency. Here in our country, art galleries seem to operate with an air of mystique, governed by mostly elite individuals. To be honest, this elusive and somewhat pretentious culture never fascinated me.
Art, being profoundly subjective, can be embraced with open arms or shunned with equal ease. This makes it even harder for new artists, and easier for gatekeepers. Unfortunately, I have seen some of my peers forcefully align with such ideologies in a bid to carve out an identity for themselves. I distinctly recall an incident where a reputed gallerist suggested I conceptualize one of my works linked to a certain socio-political agenda.
Young artists often fall prey to the pretentious and sometimes toxic culture of the art world. My experience says there’s no need to fake it just to make it. We should be bold, ethical, and true to ourselves. That’s my message.
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- “Don’t Fake It Just To Make It. The Only Way is to Be Bold and Staying True to Self” – A Conversation with Sarban Chowdhury, Ceramic Artist and Educator - October 4, 2023
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