LPMI Deputy Art Director T . Krishna Prabakar captures a unique craft in Longpi, Manipur
The traditional art of black clay pottery is unique to the North East Indian state of Manipur. On a recent trip to the tiny village of Longpi, I was fascinated with how the artisans and their stunning clay products have given it an identity all its own
WITH MY EARPHONES STILL PLUGGED IN, I GET OUT of the SUV, stretching. A three-hour drive from Imphal has finally got me to Longpi (pronounced “long pee”). This tiny village, about 37km north of Ukhrul District, is known for its black clay pottery. Not too far from our car, an artisan is adding a few finishing touches to his masterpiece. Completely absorbed in his art, oblivious almost to our presence, he continues to work on a beautiful black teapot. I take the first of many shots. The kids in the background are fascinated with the camera around my neck; they giggle and follow us around.
We watch as he transforms hand-pounded clay mixed with coal into a bowl, shaping and decorating it before trimming off the excess. The functional but beautifully-shaped piece will be allowed to air-dry for a day, before being levelled, polished with brush, stone and fabric to a smooth shine, and finally burned to its black perfection. Bamboo accents are added to give the bowl a distinctive Longpi signature.
Deeper into the village, I find homes that function as workshops for hundreds of these artisans. A few of them are busy packing their creations for the Hornbill Festival, and I am invited to take a quick look at the wares although they are already boxed up. From glasses and casseroles to plates and saucepans, these handcrafted pieces in black look absolutely stunning. The artisans are excited to share their prized products with me; their eyes speak of their pride in the craft even though language is a barrier to our communication. I am privileged to share in their excitement.