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Exhibition Review

Hybrid forms that resist categorisation: Lubna Chowdhary at PEER, London

Grace Storey

Nov 09, 2021

Lubna Chowdhary, Certain Times, 2021
© Lubna Chowdhary / Photo by Alberto Balazs 



Lubna Chowdhary’s solo exhibition at PEER in East London takes its name from the geological term for large rocks or boulders which are displaced from their original location through glacial flows and carried hundreds of miles across the landscape to settle in an alien context. The title of the exhibition, Erraticsserves as a metaphor for Chowdhary’s trajectory as a diasporic artist: she was born in Tanzania in 1964 to Indian parents and moved to the North of England in the 1970s, where her family worked in the textile industry. Chowdhary went on to study ceramics at the Royal College of Art in the late 1990s under the tutelage of Eduardo Paolozzi.


Erratics also refers to the multiple strands of Chowdhary’s artistic practice. While PEER’s spaces are compact, across the two galleries are wall-based ceramic tiles, miniature plinth-based objects and large wooden floor-based sculptures, as well as a site-specific intervention which extends throughout both sides of the aperture connecting the spaces. Made from industrial lagging, Chowdhary uses the reflective silver material as a multiple, giving it a decorative, ornamental quality. 


There is an oscillation throughout the exhibition between the industrial and the handmade, the functional and the aesthetic. In the first gallery, Chowdhary’s Disobedient Typologies (2021) consists of a miniature cityscape of monochrome ceramic objects displayed together on a plinth. Chowdhary has described how working directly with clay enables her to process a multiplicity of references due to the proximity between thinking and making. In these objects, she explores two opposing aesthetic languages of restraint and excess: Western Minimalism and the use of pattern and ornamentation, in part drawn from her inherited cultural vernacular. As the title of the work suggests, Chowdhary seems to find excitement in making hybrid forms that resist categorisation. 


This is particularly true of Erratics 1, 2 and 3 (2021), three large floor-based wooden objects which appear to exist between sculpture and furniture. The series was developed following Chowdhary’s residency at the V&A, London in 2017, where she became interested in colonial period furniture produced by craftsmen in India, who interpreted and somewhat mistranslated British Victorian and Edwardian domestic structures. Chowdhary’s sculptures were fabricated using both CNC (Computer Numerical Control) production, and traditional woodworking skills, achieving a combination of machine precision and individuality, elegance and awkwardness. 


On the wall behind the sculptures are two shelves of brightly coloured ceramic tableaux titled Certain Times (2021), created using machine waterjet cutting overlaid with multiple layers of manually applied glaze. The geometric patterned tiles rest against the wall positioned shoulder to shoulder, and the landscape format of the modular pieces allows them to be read as an architectural grouping. They are discordant rather than harmonious in colour and form, reflecting the language of the metropolis and the human made world, in which skyscrapers, temples and street shacks from different periods might be found alongside one another in densely built cities across India or Pakistan, for example.

Chowdhary has also recently unveiled a large, site-specific ceramic tile piece titled Interstice (2021), which occupies the entrance lobby of the recently redeveloped 100 Liverpool Street, a multi-use business and retail building which stands on the site of the former Broad Street station, adjacent to Liverpool Street station, which served as the main terminus of the North London Railway network from 1865-1986. In response to the history of the site, Chowhary’s vivid coloured multi-panel installation wraps around the curve of the lobby, recalling the view from a fast-moving train. 



Lubna Chowdhary’s exhibition at PEER has been developed in partnership with MIMA, Middlesbrough, where an expanded iteration of the show will be presented in 2022. The exhibition remains open on view until November 20, 2021.