Getting busy with hands-on art

We spoke to Montreal ceramics artist and illustrator Salina Ladha about the particular joys of her craft

Salina Ladha

Montreal-based artist Salina Ladha is happiest with her hands in the clay, creating works of art as beautiful as they are functional.

She discovered ceramics during her time studying at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and has been working in the medium ever since, as well as painting and illustrating album covers, kimchi jars, music merch and tattoos, among other things. Her most recent sculpture was featured in Hands, a local material arts exhibition that explored “artistic practices and media that are undervalued or refused in art history.” Ladha’s next group exhibition brings her to Toronto in August. In the meantime, she can be found in her Montreal studio with a new sculpture in the works.

Mackenzie Lad: What drew you to ceramics in particular?

Salina Ladha: I really liked working with my hands. It was like playing with mud the first time and it was so fun. The material is really beautiful, too, because you can’t actually make it do what you want all the time… there’s a kind of give and take. It’s always surprising and you’re always learning new things every time you work, even if you’ve been doing it for a long time.

ML: When you create an object for someone to use in their daily life, what do you hope their experience is with it?

SL: I hope that it can somehow improve their daily routine, that having something beautiful will make them feel good, even if just a little bit. And I think that’s really special with functional work, or just work that allows people to interact with it daily, versus just looking at it on a wall.

ML: In both your sculptures and illustrations there seems to be the recurring imagery of the human figure. What does it mean to you in your work?

SL: It’s just something that I’ve always drawn.The idea of the figure is something therapeutic that I need to get out, so that’s where the shape comes from. I don’t want my figures to be representative of someone specific, and I also don’t want to have a direct statement with my art. I would rather make something that lets the viewer interpret it as they will, and maybe feel something from it.

ML: How does the process of building a sculpture vary from that of creating smaller pieces?

SL: These large pieces take a long time, so the idea kind of changes and the form goes one way so I kind of change my initial idea because the material does have limitations. It’s almost like when I don’t know what sculpture I want to make next I make plates in between just so I’m making something and being productive in the studio. But the plates are different because they’re more about the surface than the form, whereas when I’m building a sculpture it’s all form.”

ML: Your newest sculpture “Untitled” has a very unique form. What inspired the form and how did you go about creating it?

SL: It’s hand-built with the coil method, so it’s hollow. I wanted to make a figure that you couldn’t tell was a human figure, but kind of suggested that it was. I drew it like that, but as I was building it there’s always the give and take with the clay so a lot of things aren’t exactly planned. I kind of love it that way.

ML: Quite a few people have adapted your illustrations into tattoos. What’s it like to see your work on other people’s bodies?

SL: It’s really cool. I never thought it would happen! And (a tattoo) kind of works in the ways of ceramics. Every day you interact with it, it’s part of your life. I never really thought an illustration could do that until I realized tattoos were kind of that thing. ■