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Ashwini Bhat, “Alive Series,” 2019. Clay, glaze, paint. Image courtesy of Artaxis. 

Hi! My name is Alyson, and I’m this year’s Getty Marrow Intern at AMOCA. I recently graduated from Chapman University with a BA in Art History and a minor in Anthropology.

Bhat is an Indian artist based in Petaluma, California, where she creates ceramic works in conversation with contemporary and past events. Her work is informed by her background before becoming a ceramic artist; she holds an M.A. in Literature, and was taught in traditional Indian dance. 

Examining current and past bodies of work by Bhat, it is clear that there is an interest in the human relationship between clay and other natural materials throughout time. Some of her older works, such as Honoo-no-Mori (2017) depict a mergence of two oversized forms representing Asian divinity figures that Bhat grew up around. As a person who speaks several languages, works in several artistic mediums, and belongs to several cultures, Bhat uses her positioning as a liminal point to bring others together, inviting them to view her work as a collective group. Honoo-no-Mori achieves this by blending iconography from the Tek Brak and Harappan civilizations, Hindu religion and culture, and Japanese culture, as the works were made during an artist residency in Japan. 

Other work in various series from 2016-2020 have emphasized the connection which Bhat strives to explore between humans and the non-human world. 

“I’m searching for gestural links that emphasize what we share with the non-human world, how we are related not only to animals, but to trees, for instance. If I’m not making art with some awareness of what is at stake in our time, I wouldn’t want to be an artist.”

Some of these earlier series, such as the “Alive Series,” focus on the tactileness of clay, and not the distinction between artist and art, but the visible connection between the two. The “Alive Series” reflects Bhat’s dance background, as she models with the ceramic works, positioning them against her bare skin in an effort to become one with her own work. These pieces are smooth and contorted, resembling something akin to molten lava, yet are jagged and rough from the porousness of the high-fired stoneware, and the cracks that formed in the drying and firing processes. 

Bhat’s most recent body of work explores the relationship between humans and nature in the context of Californian ecology and natural disasters, such as fires and earthquakes. This series, which features works titled Kincade Fire (2020), and Post-Fire Yosemite (2020) is timely, especially as I write this with smoke and ash outside from the current Angeles National Forest “Bobcat” fire just 10 miles away, and the “El Dorado” fire in the San Bernardino National Forest. Bhat’s work serves as reminders of what should be a symbiotic relationship between humans and nature, but what often feels like a fight that humans started and are not prepared to win. More hopeful pieces in the series include Sky Trail (2020), which has the same rough, extruded and melted over characteristics of the fire-centric works, but incorporates blue glaze or paint, multi-color string, and dried foliage.

Alyson Brandes is a graduate of Chapman University and a 2020 Getty Marrow Undergraduate Intern at AMOCA. During her internship, Brandes writes periodically for AMOCA.org, and posts on Instagram and Facebook on Tuesdays. Read her blog posts: