Born in Pondicherry, Priya Sundaravalli Sudarshan grew up in Madurai and went on to study medicine in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. She lived for a decade in USA, persuing advanced degrees in biomedical engineering and industrial engineering while training in pottery at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Sudarshan relocated to Auroville in 2002, where she joined the Flame Pottery Studio. In 2009, she returned to the USA for advanced training at the Greater Lansing Potter's Guild, followed by an apprenticeship with Jicarilla Apache master potter, Felipe Ortega, at La Madera, New Mexico. Since 2010, Sudarshan has been working independently in Auroville. She teaches science to high school students by day, dedicating her evenings to her pottery studio called 'Pottery Sipapu'.
Her work draws on her deep interest in animal and plant life as well as natural objects, especially those of the ocean. Following the Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi, Sudarshan's aesthetic celebrates a beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Her works therefore conspicuously feature asymmetries, rough textures, and irregular edges - phenomenon often deemed 'defects' or 'accidents' - and often suggest a meditative serenity and solitude.
Like her teacher, Sudarshan does not use the wheel. All her works are hand-built. "The Jicarilla Apache use a bowl-shaped mould called puki to build their pottery, its final form evolving from this basic form", explains Sudarshan.
"I have a whole bunch of pukis here. Old dried coconut shells, serve as mould bases for many of my pieces and also connect me to something organic and primal while I work the hand-pressed clay sheets in the mould, pinching it, moulding it, flattening it. The pieces I make have become successively lighter over time, moving towards greater delicacy, even translucency, they are meant to be held and touched, to be responded to more than purely visually. As the form begins to open out, it dictates the texturing to be applied. I don't really plan anything ahead, each piece is intimate, a spontaneous expression", says the artist.
But the texturing and glazing is only the first stage. "The piece then has to go into the kiln. I use a kiln fired with casuarinas wood, because the ash from the wood contributes to the glazing. Salt wands leave marks that the hand cannot replicate. One has little control over the firing process. I feel the pieces come out even more magical because the human touch is almost erased. I love the concept of chaos and fractals ... the idea that one can never say which way things are going to go, but nevertheless, there is an overall harmony to it."