a chinwag with ceramicist hessa al ajmani
Hessa Al Ajmani is a visual artist who creates ceramic pieces inspired by and marked with foraged flowers and fauna. We chatted to Hessa to find out more about her creative process, the art scene in the UAE and her love of the natural world.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. I'm an Emirati visual artist working with clay. I was born in Abu Dhabi and am currently based in Ajman. In 2019, I founded Clay Corner Studio, the first public arts studio in Ajman dedicated to ceramics and painting, which I currently manage and teach regular ceramics classes in.
How would you describe what you make? My artistic practice revolves around the idea of observing things which are not so noticeable, but are often present in human interactions and daily commutes. This idea is tied into my hyperrealistic drawings, where I've looked at the human body as a landscape that speak of the land's history. The idea was also present in several photography and printmaking projects I've done about construction sites that we become blind to after years passing by. My ceramics still relates to this same idea: picking plants and wildflowers, and impressing them onto functional pieces is my way of researching and understanding more about the native flora from the deserts of the UAE. All in all, my work relies heavily on the notion of homeland vs. one's conscious choice to be in it.
Can you expand on the technical aspects and techniques used to create your pieces? I always look for new things to incorporate into clay and new ways to work with it. I have the tendency to do everything from scratch: I create my own moulds and floral plaster stamps and use kitchen utensils and objects I find around the house to shape my clay.
How do you source your natural materials? Most of the plants I use are handpicked from the desert or my mother’s herb and vegetable garden, which means that producing my ceramics takes seasons to grow, nurture and build. I consider nature to be a key collaborator in my work and I have to be flexible with what it offers me. I'm also currently looking for ways to harvest clay locally.
What is the ceramics scene like in the UAE? We’re a very small community of ceramicists in the UAE, but I love how we all support and encourage one another and celebrate our unique styles and approaches. Interest in the craft scene has increased in the region in the last few years. I opened Clay Corner Studio because I've struggled with accessing proper space and facilities in the past. I was fortunate enough to have my own private studio at home where I could work, but then I got a lot of interest from people who were curious about what I do and where they could do it, too. I understood the need to have a studio that these people could access.
How has social media impacted what you make? In my early days as an emerging artist, I found my creative style being shaped and steered by the feedback I was getting on social media. While praise and likes can make us feel good, it can sometimes be hard for an artist to truly grow if they’re not assessing their work. Since then, I’ve learned how to use social media to share my portfolio, while still keeping in mind what the core of my artistic direction is. I believe my followers appreciate that I share my work in all of its states, and not just when it’s finished and polished. In a platform that mostly highlights clean, shiny, beautiful things, people start to crave seeing things in their natural raw states. I don’t mind sharing my failed projects or techniques.
What advice would you give to budding ceramic artists hoping to turn this into their job? Practice practice practice! Nothing comes easily to anyone, despite how easy it may look. At some point, you also need to understand that clay is an organic, natural material, so while we all do our best, we must accept that not everything is within our control – things break, crack, and go wrong sometimes, and that’s OK. You must have unconditional love for your work no matter the outcome.
How important do you think handcrafted objects are in the present day? In a world that has become so fast and mass produced, handcrafted objects have become more valuable. I believe it’s so important to keep passing on these crafts to one another as they have been done for thousands of years.
See more from Hessa here or on Instagram.
Images courtesy of Hessa Al Ajmani.