Githan Coopoo’s Clay Handbags Reflect His Diasporic, Queer Identity

False Ceramics handbags
False Ceramics handbagsGithan Coopoo

Githan Coopoo is a self-taught jewellery designer and sculptor from Cape Town who works exclusively with clay as a medium. Originally focused on volume, opulence and fragility, Coopoo’s clay jewellery are essentially statement pieces that speak to his lived experience as a queer South African of Indian descent who happens to adore all things bright and beautiful.

Expanding upon his practice, in the past two years the artist produced some larger scale works aligned with his own experiences and thoughts about queer love and sex called false ceramics. These works have predominantly taken the form of vases, luxury handbags and tiles that communicate simple but pointed messages of a queer tonality that span from sarcastic to intimate in timbre. He also pulls influences from his Desi descent, building upon the metalwork of his grandparents and lifting inspiration from his parents' relationship.

Githan speaks about his medium of choice, "Clay is very human in its behavior and I like to highlight that in my work, as well as my love for mythology, ancient civilisations and the gifts they have left us. There is something special about objects that are lost and then found again. They change in their absence.

Mythology often allows for an easier transmission of queer ideas in this way. Although I have a kiln, I produce these vases out of air drying clay as I feel this again breaks away from the traditions of ceramic production while still engaging my sculptures in the ceramic cannon of representation, an innately queer act. I actually find it far harder making large forms out of air drying clay, as it is not intended for these purposes – but again, this appropriation is a signalling of the agency I hope to bring about in my work."

False Ceramics handbags
False Ceramics handbagsGithan Coopoo

The 'false ceramic' handbags are up for display in an exhibition in Johannesburg, South Africa till March 11. The description for the exhibition reads, "A loud and deliberate gesture. A conversation between India the prophecy and a younger version of myself – a double diaspora desi, in the throes of belonging and not, all at once. An anthem to flamboyance, camp, boyish effeminacy and spectacle. Spanning a series of bright and chalky sculpted accessories, Desi Casual Glamour is a mosaic of Indian cultural references, songs and affections.

More than anything, it draws on overt stereotypes, specifically of the Hindu faith. This collection of clay handbags, each with its own carved & painted phrase, references Coopoo’s relationship with various aesthetic and social notions both withheld and enforced upon him growing up as a South Asian South African. Both joy and melancholy are here. The evident exuberance of colour and form conceals in the din a struggle with cultural identity and ownership: too ethnic; not ethnic enough.

This is just one of the conflicts these bags carry. They themselves become totems of the queer South Asian diaspora and its experiences. With a mutual love and pride in one's culture – one must meditate on whether these words are validations or perhaps insensitive cultural assumptions and insults."

The scope of Githan Coopoo's creativity from jewellery to these handbags lives to comment on the intersection where identities, queerness and materialism meet. The Indian South-African artist draws from his cultural background but is not bound by it. His pieces reflect everything from the full spectrum of human emotion to phases and states of queer intimacy and desire moulding expression and essence into form.

Follow Githan's work here.

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