The art of pottery has a rich history in India and is one of the country’s most remarkable and tangible art forms. Its practice is prevalent all over the Indian subcontinent starting from the Indus Valley Civilization to India as we know it today. In this article, we are going to explore a talented duo of potters hailing from the beautiful state of Sikkim in northeastern India, who also create handmade organic lights. In a candid interview with Homegrown, potter and painter duo and also husband and wife, Karma and Sangay told us some details about their creative process, artistic journeys, their art space Studio Zeyma, their hometown’s local art and craft scene, and much more.
How did your artistic journey as a potter begin?
My journey with pottery started back in 2003 in Shantiniketan, where I was working as an apprentice under studio potter, Lipi Biswas. After that, I completed my Masters Potters Course from Karnataka.
Describe your creative process and the purpose with which you create. Tell us a little about the materials you have used and your design influence.
I started ideating and the creative juices started flowing in the year 2010 when alongside pottery, I started experimenting with the seeds of a local tree namely Paksam Minto or Totola, also known as the Indian trumpet flower to use in making the organic lights. This seed has a significant cultural value for Buddhist rituals along with religious and medicinal value. I ventured into using this novel medium for ambient and aesthetically appealing organic handmade lights.
Tell us about Studio Zeyma. What is its origin story?
The word Zeyma means ‘seed’ in the Sikkimese Bhutia language and ‘beautiful’ in the Tibetan language. Having worked outside for years, we made our decision to start our studio in Sikkim in 2008. Initially, when we started the studio we just had pottery in mind. As the process started unraveling through experimentation, fascination, and research we started working on our handcrafted lamps which are organic and provide a soothing, free, and comforting energy. Zeyma lamps are thoroughly handcrafted using Paksam Minto seeds and bamboo in a minimalist way.
Tell us about the design of your studio and how it has grown.
We built the structure with the pottery studio in mind. It is made out of cob, which is a mixture of clay, mud, and straw as it is a sustainable medium to work with and we treated the entire studio structure as a sculpture. There were no blueprints as such and the work was done on-site. We had no prior experience in building such a place but thankfully, we succeeded.
Could you tell us about a project you're currently working on?
We are constantly working on our handmade organic lamps and our pottery projects. We have a growing clientele in Sikkim’s hotels, restaurants, private residences, and the rest of India. Zeyma lamps have also illuminated commercial establishments in Prague, France, New Mexico, and Kenya. We have also been privileged to be part of events such as the Artigiano Fierra in Milan, Italy representing India. We are currently in talks about a big exhibition in Chennai. Our work so far feels like a step forward in the right direction.
How has the geography of your hometown influenced your art?
Since we are born and brought up in the Himalayan region, we automatically chose our mediums to be very organic — be it bamboo, clay or seeds. This is the influence nature has had on us.
What challenges do you face while sustaining your art?
One part is obtaining the bamboo. Currently, we are working with a couple, a husband and wife, who are talented bamboo weavers. They are based out of one of our studios in Ranka, Gangtok. For many years we have tried to train people and make it a larger team. It is definitely a challenge to do that in a world where people are losing faith in the art of bamboo weaving and prefer the security of a government job or work in the private sector. Another major challenge is logistics since we are located in a comparatively remote part of the country. On a larger scale, the life of an artist is a challenge but these two are our major difficulties.
Describe the art and craft scene in Sikkim and are many local people carrying on with their practice?
The younger generation is doing really good work. Some have their own company making soaps, candles, and handicrafts also. More and more young people are embracing entrepreneurship and doing quite well for themselves. They are partnering with traditional craftsmen and creating good business.
What is your future plan for Studio Zeyma?
We have a large piece of land uphill, five minutes from the studio. The vision is to convert it into a residential place where people can stay and attend pottery and painting workshops. We shall build these residential cottages using cob, the same material we used to build the studio. My painting constitutes realistic, semi-abstract, and abstract styles and I mostly work with acrylic and oil paints. I started painting in my school days and I picked it up professionally post-college in MSU, Baroda. My paintings represent moments from daily life, the portrayal of different figures of Buddha, and a series titled ‘My Universe’ depicts my abstract work. The plan is to use the space uphill and construct an art gallery for my paintings. We have also kept a considerable space for organic farming of herbs and seasonal vegetables. The work to realise our future plans is already underway.
You can find out more about Studio Zeyma here.