Tag Archives: terracruda

A Project With Ektara

My work on the Elements project really whetted my appetite for more exploration in creating temporary, collaborative sculpture in which the viewer’s participation becomes an integral part of the work.  I began developing ideas for new projects while observing preparations at Kumartuli for Saraswati Puja.  Then after returning from my trip to Molela and Nathdwara, I searched Kolkata for potential venues and partners.

Curator and social entrepreneur Nandita Palchoudhuri connected me with charitable organization Ek Tara, located in the Kolkata neighborhood of Topsia.  Thanks Nandita!!!


Ek Tara provides opportunities for education and vocational training for more than 500 children and women who reside in the Topsia and Tiljala area.

For our March 2015 project together, I created a four foot tall head in straw and bamboo.  In an exciting two-day workshop, fifty Ek Tara students gleefully and tenderly covered the large head form with imagery in clay.

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Working with fifty children on a project takes tremendous organization!  Not only were the wonderful Ek Tara  instructors and helpers on hand to smooth the process, but Fulbright-Nehru Student Scholar Julie Schofield‘s assistance was invaluable to me, as she entertained the children who were waiting to take their turn in working on the sculpture.

Fulbright-Nehru Scholar Julie Schofield with Ek Tara children

The sculpture’s title, Lucky Indian Forest, comes from the children. They had been asked to bring forth ideas for a title as they worked to build up the image-laden surface of animal figures and traditional designs, using clay press molds I created for them, and traditional sandesh molds from Kalighat.





What a great project!   Children and adults alike were enthusiastic and happy. The camaraderie was fantastic.  I hope to do many more projects like this one.

Lucky Indian Forest” Named by the children of Ek Tara
Children covering the straw and bamboo head with clay imagery.


“Lucky Indian Forest” at Gallery Sanskriti in April 2015.   Ambica Beri, gallerist, in center,  Anita Kanoi, Ek Tara trustee, on right.




The Goddess of Knowledge

Saraswati is the goddess of knowledge, music and art, and is the daughter of Lord Shiva and Ma Durga.   In West Bengal, Saraswati is revered by schools and universities, because of the belief that she endows the worshipper with speech, wisdom and learning.

Saraswati Puja takes place this year in later January, so preparations of clay images at Kumartuli began in late December.   The energy at Kumartuli is much quieter than the frenzied activity of Durga Puja preparations, but there were a group of artisans in the neighborhood who were making some spectacular images!

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This image is 10-12 feet tall.
This image is about 14 feet tall.


Saraswati is either accompanied by or seated on a swan, and is dressed in white for purity.  In the images made at Kumartuli, she is mostly depicted with two hands that play a stringed instrument called the veena.  In the images where she has four hands, the other two hands will hold a rosary and a book.

Tiny Saraswati images.
Pair of life sized Saraswati figures placed as if conversing.



Saraswati is also a prominent figure in Buddhist iconography – the consort of Manjushri.   Her early history is as a river goddess, and I saw a number of figures adorned with flowing, watery imagery.


Dilip Pal and his assistants were working on eleven commissioned Saraswati images during this time, ranging from two to four feet tall. The floor of Dilipda’s studio at the Shovabazar Rajbari was blanketed with straw, as assistant Netal Pal bent and wrapped and compressed the straw into voluptuous female forms.

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Small Saraswati pandal in the Kumartuli neighborhood.



In December I was very busy with a project called ELEMENTS. ELEMENTS was an experimental art installation for children in Kolkata, the first of its kind in India, and for the kids it was a thrilling sensory experience. Created by Ruchira Das of ThinkArts, this multimedia project melded puppetry, motion-activated laser and sound, and clay.  When I met Ruchira, she knew that she wanted to include clay in the project, but was still looking for ideas of what to do and for an artist to make it happen.  After my months of observing the processes at Kumartuli, the maker in me leapt into action and I suggested that we draw upon Kumartuli for inspiration and create straw figures for the children to cover with clay.   Ruchira agreed, and I happily became part of the project.  I decided that these straw, jute, and bamboo figures would be life-sized children; my reasoning was that I wanted the children to be able to relate directly to the forms as reflections of themselves.

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Working in straw is seriously fun!  And the camaraderie of  our diverse group made the experience even more enjoyable.  Here are the figures the night before the installation opened, with just a hint of clay to get the children started.

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The children at play, more than 150 kids participated!

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And by the end of the event, the figures were transformed.  For me there’s a poetry to these cracking layers of clay, unselfconsciously (maybe even  gleefully?) slathered onto the straw forms.  I love them.

Elements final result view 2

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Given the success of this installation, Ruchira Das plans to have another ELEMENTS event in Kolkata very soon, and is also working on taking the ThinkArts project to other cities such as Delhi and Bangalore.”

A Dentist to Lions

Dilipda is preparing no less than five images for Jagadhatri  Puja, which is celebrated throughout West Bengal and parts of Odissa about one week after Kali Puja (late October to early November) and exactly one month after Durga Puja.

The courtyard outside of Dilip Pal’s Kumartuli studio, where he prepares images for Jagadhatri Puja.

Jagadhatri is considered to be a calm incarnation of Durga.  She is known as the “Holder of the World,” and it is believed that if Jagadhatri is not there,  the world will fall down!   The origins of Jagadhatri Puja are unclear.  One account is that the puja was founded by Sarada Devi, the wife of Ramakrishna.  Jagadhatri celebrations are observed today with great joy in Ramakrishna missions around the world.

Dilip Pal working on a Jagadhatri image at his Kumartuli studio, Kolkata

Today, Dilipda is amusing himself by repeatedly telling me that he is “The Dentist To Lions,”  as he finely sculpts each feline’s memorable dentition.  In researching Jagadhatri’s history and observing the images of many Kumartuli workshops,  I saw reference to both lions and tigers.



Priest performing rites at Jagadhatri Puja
Jagadhatri  image



In addition to being accompanied by a lion/tiger, the three-eyed Jagadhatri is described as being the color of the morning sun.  She holds a conch and a bow in her two left hands and a chakra and a five-headed arrow in her two right hands.




Kumartuli artisan at work on Jagadhatri image

Some of the Jagadhatri images depict the lion stepping upon the elephant demon, Karindrasura, who represents human pride/power.  According to Sri Ramakrishna, “Jagadhatri arises in the heart of a person, who can control the frantic elephant called mind.”

Straw Jagadhatri images-in-process at nighttime, Kumartuli.

Kali Ma

I prefer Kali to Durga.  Why?  Since I’m not exactly sure, I thought I’d use the writing of this post to help figure it out.


In Kolkata, Kali certainly has less fanfare than the almighty Durga, but from my vantage point, Kali’s devotees appear to have as much or maybe even more fervor for their goddess.  While Durga is considered to be the goddess of supreme power, Kali is thought of as the goddess of empowerment.  That strikes a chord in me – copacetic to what I feel and think when making my figurative sculpture in Santa Cruz.

Kali fascinates me — consider her lolling tongue, that rhythmically wonderful strand of severed, grimacing heads around her neck, and DSC_0514her very active gesture of stomping on her consort Lord Shiva (other interpretations are that of accidentally doing so, and also that her foot on his body calms her anger).

Regarding Durga, even with all ten of her hands loaded with weapons, it always appears to me that her lion is doing, well, the lion’s share of the work (sic) when it comes to battling Mahishasura.

Dilipda and his assistants began their Kali in Dilipda’s studio.  DSC_0029Once  the figures of Kali and Shiva had been formed in straw, they moved them to the street outside of the Shovabazar Rajbari, just next to a tiny Shiva shrine.  Over the next several days, a bamboo, cloth and paper pandal was built over and around the figures.  I enjoyed observing this process immensely, because simply by being present in the situation, I became part of  the rhythm of the street.


Netal Pal buiilding up Kali’s strand of demon heads.


Dilipda at final clay detailing stages of his Kali Ma
Dilipda’s Kali, now painted and adorned with flowing black tresses. Dilipda completes the final details on Kali’s consort, Lord Shiva.

















The fabulous Kali figure above stunned me outside another shop in Kumartuli!  Kali Ma!


Welcome to the Dusty Clay Diaries.

My name is Cynthia Siegel, and I’m currently writing this blog from Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

So what’s the fuss about? In the fall of 2011, I participated in an artist’s residency at Sanskriti Kendra in Delhi, India. Through the Sanskriti Foundation’s Museum of Terracotta, I was introduced to a vast diversity of traditional Indian techniques and processes in working with clay. I became extremely interested in the clay sculptural traditions in which the completed artworks are intentionally left unfired. Often these works are made collaboratively in conjunction with religious festivals, and at the ending ceremonies they are submerged into a nearby river. The sculptures are intended to commemorate the cyclicality of life, to promote healing, to absorb negative energies, and/or to refresh the family or village community life.

These traditions are different than anything I have experienced before, and as a contemporary figurative sculptor, I felt myself drawn to the ethereal, fragile nature of these sculptural processes, and to the idea that after completion, these works are honored, appreciated, and subsequently restored to the earth. There is an enormous amount of creative labor expended to create these works, combined with the expectation of the works’ impermanence.

I became so curious about this image-making process that I applied for, and received, the Fulbright-Nehru Award that is funding this fabulous opportunity to live in India, in which I can learn about the image-makers of West Bengal, as well as create my own artwork and become involved in Kolkata’s contemporary arts scene.

My adventures continue…..