By Feby Imthias, Freelance Writer
Published: Gulf News – August 21, 2008, 23:42
Get to know Homa Vafaie Farley, Abu Dhabi-based potter and winner of Dubai International Art Centre’s Professional Achievement Award 2008.
I believe we are given different paths to follow, and it is up to us which one we choose. You shape, mould and polish your life. You are responsible for how your life unfolds and progresses.
When I see beautiful ancient pots, I hold them admiringly; I wonder whose hands produced this exquisite work of art.
When you create a pot or any other form of art, you always leave a part of yourself. It is exciting to think that one day, thousands of years from now, someone may find a piece of your work and wonder who made it.
I was always drawn to clay, but never had the opportunity to take it up until long after my children were born. About 20 years ago, I tried my hands at the potter’s wheel at a local market in Saudi Arabia.
It was love at first touch. I knew instantly that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I am a focused person, so during the first two years, I did nothing but make pots and read books on pottery. Every night after the family was asleep, I’d use the quiet time and make pots and read pottery books.
Striving for perfection
I would describe my work as Middle Eastern or Iranian with a European twist. I completed my training in the UK and most of my tutors are from Britain. I studied Ceramic Design at the Glasgow School of Art.
I learnt a great deal about pottery as an art during my visit to Japan five years ago. I have an appetite for learning new techniques and don’t ever want to stop. I think this is what makes my work different.
I’m design driven and quality obsessed. I do not ever feel totally happy or content with any of my pieces. I can always find some flaw.
Poetry or pottery?
As a child I was happiest when working with my hands. I loved painting and sculpture. Fereidoon, my eldest brother and a professional artist, was a great motivator.
I also wanted to be a modern poet like Forough Farrokhzad [Iranian poet and film director] and was actively buoyed by my father, Iraj Vafaie. I used to memorise poetry and recite to friends and teachers. There is a verse by Forough, which goes: I will plant my hands in the flowerbed/I will sprout, I know, I know, I know…” I believe these lines capture my passion for pottery.
I went to the UK as a teenager to study English but I married young, so I didn’t pursue further studies until later. From a professional point of view, it’s been a long journey from being a poet, a student of English, martial arts expert to Abu Dhabi’s homegrown potter.
When I visited Iran after about 22 years of being away, I met the director of the National Pottery and Glass Museum in Tehran (Aubgineh and Soufalineh Museum).
It was an emotional homecoming. After looking at my portfolio, they invited me to hold exhibitions twice in Tehran at the Museum of Pottery and Glass. I am honoured to be the only contemporary potter to have a permanent display at the museum for the past six years.
It was exceptionally inspiring and hard to believe that the potters of thousands of years ago were capable
of making such beautiful and intricate works of art using limited and primitive tools.
In this age, I think technology has taken us places and I firmly believe in tapping its potential. I spent a lot of time on a computer, particularly answering art students who are in the process of preparing their theses or research works about pottery or potters. My website, as well as profiles on Facebook and LinkedIn, have been great in connecting potential pottery students and the Abu Dhabi Pottery.
A woman’s world
It was hard when I started the Abu Dhabi Pottery. My husband had changed his career. The new flat wasn’t spacious enough to run workshops.
But I had the strong support of my husband, Michael, and our friend and my sponsor Abdul Rahman Al Mullah. Together we achieved success. There was a time when the business wasn’t doing well. I even considered closing it down.
It’s hard to run a small business. I do all of my PR work myself. I deal with ministries and do all the documentations and licences – it isn’t easy, especially as a woman.
Being a daughter of the desert, I am greatly inspired by it and the sea. I am fascinated by ancient pottery of over 2,000 years ago. Currently I am carrying out research on a double-skinned vessel that can be filled from one end, turned upside-down and then poured from the other end.
It is one of a kind; it’s housed in the Tehran National Museum. During a recent visit, I was privileged to take this 4,000-year-old pot, photograph, examine and measure it. I am in the process of recreating this pot and designing new contemporary pieces inspired by it.
Art, not craft
I wish we could have a sequel to the blockbuster movie, Ghost, starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. It did have a great effect on the pottery business and still does.
But seriously, I don’t think pottery will ever become unpopular. As a hobby it is the most relaxing thing you can do; when
you touch clay you tend to forget everything else. I am one of those potters who consider pottery an art, not a craft. I try to explain this whenever I deliver lectures, particularly to young people.
My daughter, Neusha Farley, is also a potter. We are very close. I have learnt so much from her. I have never formally taught pottery to my daughter but she has so much knowledge as she is interested in learning. She has her own unique style, different from mine.
I am very lucky to have a wonderful family that supports and encourages me. Michael has been my biggest fan and totally biased. He has been very patient and understanding of my interests in pottery and martial arts.
I used to teach children with special needs from the ILA (Indian Ladies Association) Special Care Centre
in Abu Dhabi. Most of them are so talented and creative. We were amazed at what they were capable of making. In Dubai when I was running the Dubai Ladies Club pottery workshop we had a group of Down’s Syndrome kids doing pottery.
I have also taught at the Zayed University and Higher College of Technology in Sharjah on special occasions as an invited tutor, holding pottery workshops. There is so much untapped creative talent among these young people; I just
wish they would all get the chance to cultivate it.
I love teaching and am lucky to receive a lot of positive energy from my students.
One of the most exciting things for me is during a demonstration for schoolchildren on a day trip. As the clay forms into a pot in my hands, they gasp and say, “It is like magic!”
As told to Feby Imthias, a freelance writer based in Abu Dhabi