Pottery is a source of insight into people and cultures. As Neil MacGregor, Curator of The British Museum, explains, "Human history is told and written perhaps more in pots than in anything else." Indeed, pottery has transformed human endeavors, creating new opportunities from prehistoric dinners to space shuttle tiles.
The two small, simple bowls shown above tell a huge story. They are thrown from clay sourced in Ras al Khaimah and echo the culture, traditions and industry of pre-oil life in the UAE. The Julfar Potters from Ras al Khaimah produced pots, using this clay for nine centuries. Sadly, the last pots produced using traditional methods and techniques were made in the 1950’s, the last potter died c1995, and the story of the Julfar Potters is now all but forgotten.
Inspired by my desire to create work using local clay, and driven by the history of the Julfar potters, Tinn is a creative and research project which aims to celebrate and recognize the historical contribution of the tradition of pottery to the UAE’s pre-oil economy and craft history. It has three main goals: the creation of a body of work made from local clay, a series of workshops using local clay, and the production of a research paper.
I have spent the past 18 months searching for a reliable source of local clay and have recently discovered such a source. Tinn will allow me to pursue my artistic goals to create, produce and exhibit a body of work made solely from clay and materials sourced in the UAE. I want to gain an understanding of the character of the local clay and how far I can push the medium creatively. I want to make work in and of the region, echoing and reflecting the potters who have gone before me, whilst offering questions about the future aspirations of the UAE.
Through a series of workshops that use local clay as a medium to connect the current generation of Emiratis, UAE Residents and the Global community to the history of local pottery production, I would like to discover how the local and wider community feel about the cessation of traditional pottery in the UAE and if a desire exists to produce pottery again. I hope such an opportunity to work with local clay coupled with an exploration of the Julfar potters will inspire a new generation to make pots in the region.
Tinn will also provide a platform for the production of a research paper, which will discuss and document the lives and techniques of the UAE potters. The practical side of this paper will involve building a replica kiln from the Julfar period and firing it with pots made using traditional techniques and traditional fuel sources.
I made these small bowls from clay given to me by the son of a potter in WadiHaqil, Ras al Khaimah. It was such a privilege to create these pots, the first to be produced using local clay for over 6o years. They were wheel thrown, fired and glazed in an electric kiln, producing a warm rich red body. This is the first time that this "tinn" has been tested in a modern kiln and the first time a glaze has been applied to this ancient clay. The bowls form part of a continuing experiment with local tinn to try and discover more about the techniques and methods used by the Julfar Potters and answer key questions about the methods of its production. I hope that they represent a new chapter in the history of pottery produced in the UAE.
To view a short clip about Ruth’s search for local clay and the Julfar potters click here