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When Woman Becomes The Wheel Herself
Sangeeta Jawla


Stills from the performance and engraved pots


The project titled "When Woman Becomes the Wheel Herself" delves into the cultural and gender dynamics surrounding pottery-making traditions in India, particularly focusing on the exclusion of women from the creative process due to menstruation taboos. Despite these barriers, women from potter communities across India have found innovative ways to participate in pottery-making, challenging traditional norms through makeshift wheels, hand-molded pottery, and defiant songs. The study explores the symbolism of pottery vessels and the significance of the potter's wheel, drawing connections to Hindu mythology, where the wheel symbolizes the union of Shiva and Shakti. The exclusion of women from pottery-making activities is rooted in perceptions of impurity associated with menstruation, reflecting broader societal attitudes towards femininity. Despite these challenges, some women defy traditional norms by engaging in pottery-making activities, asserting their presence and creativity within their communities. The project/ fellowship also investigates various reasons for the absence of women in skilled pottery-making, ranging from practical concerns to deeply ingrained patriarchal norms. Methodologically, the research employs ethnography, feminist approaches, and practice-based research, aiming to give voice and visibility to women potters and their narratives of resistance. The project aims to address research questions regarding the predominance of males in pottery-making, the gendered identity associated with the potter's wheel, bodily techniques employed in pottery-making, innovative alternatives to traditional wheels, and women's roles in the pottery economy. Through storytelling performances, exhibitions, documentaries, and pottery sessions, the research seeks to disseminate knowledge and empower marginalized individuals within pottery communities. Ultimately, the study sheds light on the complex intersections of gender, culture, and craft, highlighting the resilience and creativity of women in challenging societal norms.


Artist's statement

In my artistic journey, traditional pottery becomes a sacred vessel, transporting me into a myriad of realms spanning mythology, philosophy, history, and beyond. It serves as a potent channel through which I explore the intricate tapestry of Indian culture, delving into realms such as archaeology, gender, poetry, material culture, labour economies, caste, ecology/environment, visual arts, and musicology.

This endeavour is a harmonious symphony of fieldwork, academic insights, and the profound generational knowledge embedded within the communities of skilled potters. Drawing inspiration from the rich tapestry of Indian traditions, my artistic pursuit aims to create a holistic space, a sanctuary where the gradually fading artwork of these potters can be not only recognized but also meticulously conserved.

As a storyteller wielding the medium of clay, my mission is to weave narratives that echo the cultural richness and metaphysical trajectories inherent in Indian pottery cultures, echoing through the corridors of time. Through the delicate art of engraving and inscribing upon clay canvases, I extend these stories to captivate diverse audiences, both young and old, fostering a renewed appreciation for our cultural heritage.

Furthermore, as a female practitioner navigating the traditional potter's realm, I confront the question of female agency. Despite the societal confines that often restrict women from touching the wheel, my work sheds light on the pivotal roles they play in every other facet of pottery production - from the meticulous preparation of clay to the intricate processes of decorating and selling.

My artistic journey is not confined to the studio; it extends to the academic realm, where my Ph.D. research immerses me in the rich tapestry of folklore, material culture, and social relations within the vibrant potter community of India. Each chapter unravels the myths associated with the titles of potters, the folklore surrounding their tools, and the tales encapsulated by the potter's donkey. Additionally, my research illuminates the migration tales of these artisans as they traverse from one district to another, shaping and reshaping the narrative of their craft.

In essence, my art is a testament to the profound interconnectedness of tradition, storytelling, and academic exploration, seeking to preserve the invaluable heritage woven into the very fabric of Indian pottery cultures.

About the artists


Sangeeta Jawla epitomizes versatility, seamlessly embodying diverse roles as a research scholar, practicing potter, and compelling storyteller. Her academic journey intricately intertwines with her artistic and narrative pursuits, particularly in documenting the folklore of India's potter communities, forming the cornerstone of her Ph.D. thesis titled "Potters’ Narratives: Identity, Social Relations, and Material Culture." Her academic repertoire includes certifications in Folklore and Cultural Studies and Hindustani Music, alongside a certificate in Sanskrit language, all from prestigious institutions. Furthermore, she possesses three years of rigorous training in classical vocal music. Beyond academia, Sangeeta actively contributes as a resource person for various institutions and has showcased her storytelling prowess at esteemed venues. Her commitment to research is evident through her roles as a research fellow with reFrame and a research grantee at Sangeet Natak Akademi, aimed at deepening the understanding of cultural narratives. Not limited to scholarly pursuits, Sangeeta is also a recognized potter artisan authorized by the Ministry of Textiles, embodying a holistic approach to preserving India's rich pottery heritage through both scholarly inquiry and hands-on craftsmanship.


Ashish Kumar Sharma embodies the convergence of a seasoned theatre practitioner and a distinguished performance scholar, specializing in scenography and lighting design. His trajectory in performance design was propelled by the prestigious Head of School Excellence scholarship, facilitating his training at the University of Leeds, UK. With over a decade of immersive involvement in theatre across India and internationally, Ashish has made a lasting impact, contributing designs to over 20 productions. His academic voyage includes an MA in Performance Studies from Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar University Delhi, followed by a transformative experience in the MA Performance Design program at the University of Leeds. Ashish's dedication to knowledge dissemination is evident through his roles as a Guest Faculty at esteemed Indian universities, nurturing the next generation of theatre practitioners. Presently, he is engrossed in a junior fellowship project under the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, reflecting his commitment to advancing the understanding of performance design. Ashish Kumar Sharma's journey epitomizes a harmonious fusion of practical theatre experience, academic pursuit, and pedagogical commitment, establishing him as a prominent figure in performance design and scholarship.


Antara Baluni, a theatre enthusiast hailing from Delhi, graduated from Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar College, University of Delhi. Her theatrical journey began in 8th grade, marked by enthusiastic participation in intra and inter-school competitions at St. Xavier’s Sr. Sec. School, later diving into children's theatre workshops, cementing her dedication to the craft. Over the years, Antara actively collaborated with various directors and teams, recently venturing into production management, blending her organizational prowess with creative endeavors. Beyond the stage, she's embracing a journey into salsa and bachata, showcasing her passion for diverse artistic forms. Alongside her performing arts involvement, Antara explores crafting, mastering clay toy and artifact creation, sewing, and crafting skills including ribbon roses. Her artistic breadth extends to literature, finding solace in reading and crafting poetic verses. Antara's portfolio boasts contributions to 10 distinct productions, notably including "Ande ke Chilke" by Mohan Rakesh and "Gaj Foot Inch" by K.P. Saxena, reflecting her multifaceted talent and commitment to the arts.

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