Mud-on-your-face, and mine too. Let’s laugh together, says Suchitra Ravichandran a terra-cotta artist and designer from Bangalore.
A fistful of mud, shaped into intricate patterns, fired, wired and painted in exuberant colors. These pieces of terra cotta art adorn thousands of faces and necks throughout India and across the world. The transformation of mud into a jewel takes place through the designs of Suchitra Ravichandran, a self-made, self-trained, architect turned socio-entrepreneur-artist.
Scorched Earth, Suchitra’s heart and soul, is a Bangalore-based studio that provides training to women who come from economically weaker backgrounds. They learn to make hand-crafted jewellery and artefacts from clay, earn an income and take pride in their work.
An Odissi dancer who also dabbled in theatre from her early twenties, Suchitra’s initial designs were inspired by the motifs of the dance form, including the highly abstracted and distinct form of Lord Jagannath of Puri who is ever-present at Odissi recitals. Over the years, her designs have come to be inspired by the geometric forms of her architectural past. Suchitra continues to draw from the shapes, flows and colours of nature in its myriad manifestations from the sky, waterbodies and landscapes to birds and flowers. The earth, of course, is the gravity that ties together her art form.
Clay, from local river beds of Karnataka is sourced, processed, refined and matured to allow development of the elasticity and strength needed to enable complex forms. Hand crafted individual pieces are burnished, sun dried and baked in a kiln using reduction firing to give the terracotta a beautiful black base. Scorched Earth’s signature element is the unconventional use of colour on this canvas of black.
The finished piece of meticulously made and painted jewellery undergoes several steps before it reaches the end user. Suchitra pours quality in to each piece of jewellery, conceptualising, making detailed design sketches, developing prototypes and scrutinising every step in the creating process.
Suchitra began experimenting with clay after taking a short pottery class in wheel throwing and hand building in Sydney. She began her jewelry work in a spare room in her home in Bangalore, trying out her creations initially on herself and close friends. Arti Shantakumar owner of OMO (On my Own) concept store in Mumbai, gave Suchitra her break by displaying her creations to a wider audience. Madhuri, a friend, who owned a curio shop in Bangalore, suggested that Suchitra train others and scale up. Bhagya, Suchitra’s first apprentice came from a family of local potters, and worked with her on prototyping designs and learning the skills of jewelry making. Since then, several other women have joined, enjoyed, learned and earned. Some have moved on to set up their own independent units.
Managing a home, going through pregnancy, being a full-time mother to two, gave Suchitra the understanding of the challenges faced by women all over the world in earning a living. Scorched Earth maintains a workplace atmosphere that supports the flexibility required by these women. Suchitra encourages them to work from home when needed, thus enabling them to earn a regular income and maintain a work life balance. Laughter, camaraderie, and catchy tunes from Kollywood, Tollywood, and Bollywood fill up the energetic studio space.
In 2012, Suchitra was selected for the Goldman Sachs 10k Women Entrepreneurship Program, a global initiative that fosters economic growth by providing women entrepreneurs around the world with a business management education, mentoring and networking, and access to capital.
Apart from doing exhibitions and selling through few local outlets, Scorched Earth now primarily uses online sales platforms such as Amazon India. In 8 years, Scorched Earth has produced over 1000 designs, and trained 22 women, out of which 7 are off on their own.
A gregarious person by nature, Suchitra’s friend circle grows naturally and so does the demand for her work. She once said to a friend “my friends are my customers, and my customers are my friends”. No wonder they can laugh so much together.
Categories: 1000 Story Campaign