Clay and straw are ubiquitous the world over, from British cob and thatching, Egyptian mudbrick, Latin American quincha and African rammed earth to the creation of Hindu idols for festivals such as the Durga Puja Festival in Kolkata. Natural, locally sourced and the bi-product from other processes, these materials have the potential to endure or can be used for impermanent structures, depending on the approach to their application. Clay left unfired will break down with water and can be recycled or returned to the earth.
It was with this in mind that in March 2020, artist, cultural producer and director of Pangaea Lucy Tomlins undertook a research trip to Kolkata, India, to learn more about the techniques of the Kolkata clay idol makers. Lucy spent time at the workshop of Naba Kumar Paul and was hosted by curator and traditional craft specialist Nandita Palchoudhuri.
Taking inspiration from the cyclical use of clay and straw by the Kumartuli idol makers of Kolkata, and the raw energy of the public production of the sculpture and idols in the Kumartuli district of the city, this research led to the development of Pangaea’s Hand Earth Gesture Return sustainable public art programme for Coventry and Warwickshire.