A sea of objects stretches towards the horizon. Plotted across the expanse of the display case are small and vibrantly coloured items – 1,000 of them, in fact – handmade by artist Lubna Chowdhary.
Entitled Metropolis, the work has taken her 28 years to complete, beginning in 1991 and building over time until its completion in 2019. It is currently on view in the lobby of Jameel Arts Centre, which reopened this month after being closed for weeks due to the pandemic.
The clay sculptures draw inspiration from the idea of ‘horror vacui’, or fear of empty space, hence the dense arrangement of one object next to another. It borrows the concept from Middle Eastern and South Asian art and design, but is also reflected in ornamental elements found in the Victorian era.
From a distance, Metropolis could be mistaken for a model of a cramped city, with buildings, towers and houses barely separated by breathing space. Look closer, however, and one can see how Chowdhary has moulded the objects according to various references, some imagined and others influenced by the urban landscape and everyday objects. Though some objects may resemble one another, each piece is unique, as intended by the artist.
That’s what makes them easy to marvel at – there are mushroom-shaped forms, computer monitors, satellite dishes, arches, facades with ancient designs, along with other bulbous, curled and rounded seemingly alien objects.
Each exemplifies a feat of imagination and fantasy. Together, they mirror much of the world around us. In this way, the artist pushes us to reflect on our built environments and the structures we encounter in everyday life.
Born in Tanzania to Indian parents, Chowdhary was raised in England. She studied ceramic art at the Royal College of Art in London, and has been working with materials such as clay and tiles in her practice. Her preference for glaze gives the sculptures in Metropolis a sheen that still allows the textures of the underlying material to shine through.
Metropolis was first exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2017, and was presented at the Kochi Muziris Biennale in March of last year.
It is on view at Jameel Arts Centre until October. Visitors are requested to book two-hour slots before arrival to ensure that the centre is within capacity. Measures against Covid-19, such as donning face masks and social distancing guidelines, are in place.
More information can be found on jameelartscentre.org