<%-- Page Title--%> Heritage <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 138 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

January 16, 2004

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Burnt Clay
A Saga in Terracotta

Kavita Charanji

Go to Mirpur on a working day and you will find a fascinating collection of terracotta at an outlet called the Burnt Clay. Here portraits of well known figures such as Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Mujibur Rahman, Rokeya Begum and Sofia Kamal vie for attention with brightly coloured vases, planters, lamp shades, glazed painting and masks. The man behind Burnt Clay is Tayabuzzaman Khan (Topu), a talented ceramic artist and animator whose work has earned recognition in Bangladesh for its exquisite and innovative design.

Burnt Clay staged an entry in the ceramics market in 1995 after Khan had completed his diploma and bachelor's degree in ceramics from Dhaka University and been through a short course in ceramics from the University of Sussex, UK. His choice of vocation was born out of the realisation that there was a growing market for ethnic pottery. "I love pottery," says Khan, pointing out that "popular tastes are changing and there is a revival of interest in this medium."

Ceramics, according to Khan, is an expensive medium. The cost of a furnace is over Taka 2 lakh, wheel machine Taka 7,000 and clay comes at a cost of Taka 200 per kg. To start his organisation, Khan and his wife Mahmuda Rahman Khan invested Taka 1 lakh each towards a furnace. Another Taka 2 lakh was spent on other costs such as office furniture and decoration. "It is a myth that pottery is a low cost medium," says Khan.

Along with his ceramics business, Khan finds the time to organise classes in pottery, singing, dance and art for children twice a week at Shishu Aangina, which he runs from his home. Three-month pottery courses are also held twice a week. The next course is to be held in mid-January.

There is a ready market for ceramics, says Khan. "The demand is more than the supply. I plan to employ more people so that I can meet the demand," he says, pointing out that he will take on 10 designers and two wheelmen. As for technology upgradation, he says that he will need to invest around Taka 50,000 for a tile making machine. So far tiles are made free hand but this machine will ensure better quality and quantity of tiles.

The pottery market is valued at a sizeable Taka 1 crore. Burnt Clay supplies pottery to Aarong, Heed Bangladesh, Proshika and others. The organisation is in competition with traditional craftspeople who emulate the former's design and sell the product cheaply. Consequently, Burnt Clay has to keep a step ahead with better designs and products. Among the future additions to Khan's product line are door and window panels crafted out of terracotta. On the anvil also is the production of building material.

Burnt Clay is ably supported by Khan’s wife Mahmuda. Though she has a successful career with the Department For International Development (DFID) of UK, she has been active in promoting the ceramic product line through her contacts with expatriates. Among Burnt Clay's business successes, she cites the example of a one-day workshop held last summer at the British High Commission Club for children of expatriates. "The children were very excited by the medium. For them it was akin to working with play dough," says Mahmuda. The next step forward for Burnt Clay, she says, is the development of export links with countries such as UK, USA and Australia.

With the recent upsurge in demand for traditional crafts, the future for Burnt Clay looks promising. Yet as more players enter the ceramics market and the small indigenous potters display their might, competition will ensure that Khan's brainchild is always a step ahead.



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