A multidisciplinary artist, entrepreneur and architect, Nindya Bucktowar experiments with clay and mixed media to create installations inspired by natural and urban landscapes.
Over the last few years, the Mauritius-born, Durban-based multipotentialite has been shaping an impressive artistic career. At the beginning of 2021 she was selected for the RMB Talent Unlocked programme, an intensive skills-development and arts-mentorship experience; in 2022 she and her partner Nikhil Tricam were announced as the winners of the Nando’s Hot Young Designer competition; and in 2023 she was selected as one of the 12 finalists of the Anna Award for contemporary women-identifying African artists.
We spoke with Bucktowar to uncover her ceramic-making process and the inspiration behind the latest series.
Tell us about your journey as a ceramicist.
I grew up in Mauritius, a volcanic island, where clay is not readily available. I only discovered my love for clay when I started working with the medium about five years ago. Although clay was a foreign material to my artistic practice, I intuitively knew how to work it. I believe this is the magic of clay. Our knowledge and relationship with the earth is founded on an ancestral and spiritual level. As a species, we are evolving on the medium (earth) and with the medium (clay), and we all have an inherent knowledge of how to play and sculpt with the medium.
On a personal level, clay is a powerful teacher. I’ve learnt so much about myself through this medium: my anxieties, my boundaries, my physical and spiritual self.
When I’m working on a piece or a project, it is essential that I’m grounded in and in tune with all the elements that influence the success of the work. In the past five years, I’ve undertaken various large ceramic installations/commissions, and I’m constantly developing my body of work.
Nikhil Tricam and I founded Kalki Ceramics in 2020. Our factory specialises in high-end ceramic surfaces which can be found in various award-winning spaces nationally and internationally.
You experiment with clay and various mediums for your installations. What inspires these pieces?
Inspired by natural and urban landscapes, I investigate the fragments of these ever-morphing ecosystems. The body of work relates to my psychological landscape in an intimate manner, referring to the fragmented self and my interpretation of the world through a fragmented lens. Swinging between a dissociative self and a grounded body, through the various forms of expression, I present the viewer with an experience of movement and steadiness, fragility and sturdiness, reflecting the rhythm of being human – a reference to our ability to occupy an infinite space while rooted by gravity.
The current form of my work is the beginning of a larger series interrogating the nature of spaces. As an architect, I choose to discard the mathematical and scientific nature of space making, and instead I investigate the nature of spatial memory through fragmentation of a specific landscape. For example, the memory fragments from my relationship with the Indian Ocean are broken pieces of staghorn coral or sea-urchin needles; these are reflected in my installation ‘Reef fragmented’. The forms are upscaled or downscaled, creating playful installations of clay fragments, intimately reflecting my lived experiences, and strongly rooted to the landscapes that I have occupied – South Africa and Mauritius.
Last year, you and Nikhil Tricam were announced as the winners of the Nando’s Hot Young Designer talent search, for your Fynbos Server. Can you share some insights into the creative process behind this piece?
Our two workshops, Kalki Ceramics and Studio Kalki (which was established in 2022), have been crucial to our ability to manifest our designs. We specialise in ceramics and fine steelwork, and we create functional pieces that combine the two materials. We find the contrast between the jewel-like nature of our glazed tiles and the industrial nature of steel incredibly beautiful. The forms and colours of our glazed ceramics are influenced by specific natural landscapes, such as the fynbos-scape in the Western Cape or the corals of the Eastern Cape beaches. While our approach is deeply rooted in our interpretation of the natural and urban landscape, our technical ability as architects equips us to conceptualise, detail and resolve the pieces we make.
What is your favourite part of the ceramic-making process?
A ceramic work goes through various stages: the making/processing of the clay, the sculpting/throwing, the drying, the bisque firing, the glazing and finally the glaze-firing. The two stages that require the artist’s expertise and individualism are the sculpting and glazing processes. The other stages rely on technical knowledge and the elements (air, water, fire).
An artist is only truly alive during the act of making; once an artwork is complete, it belongs to the world. I consciously ground myself in the process, with an understanding that this is where I can truly manifest my voice and magic. My favourite moment is picking up a fresh lump of clay and bringing my ideas to life: the process where I’m resolving complex ideas into simple forms and immersing myself in the act of making and the meditative space of repetitive body and hand movement.
Any upcoming projects or collaborations that you're excited about?
We’re working on various Studio Kalki pieces and Kalki Ceramics installations for Nando’s casas in South Africa, the UK and the USA (Texas). We’ve also developed exciting Kalki Ceramic surfaces for past and upcoming international projects by [award-winning interior architect] Tristan du Plessis.
What advice would you offer aspiring South African artists as they embark on their own creative journeys?
It’s important to define how you would like to see your career grow. Paint a picture of your aspirations and work relentlessly towards manifesting your dreams, with an understanding that it will be a tedious journey that will require flexibility.
Strive for authenticity: create work that reflects your unique point of view and experience of life. In this way, you will always stand proud next to your work, and the world will respect and recognise you for it.
Photographs: Nindya Bucktowar.