Japan-India collaborative project: Gurcharan Singh and his East Asian Ceramic Collection at the Government Museum and Art Gallery Chandigarh (2014-19)

Gurcharan Singh (1898-1995), known in India as ‘the father of studio pottery’ and a close friend of the British potter Bernard Leach has been little known in Japan even though he studied in Japan during 1919-22 and was involved in the formative period of the Mingei (folk crafts) movement during the Taishō period when progressive social movements and liberal art activities developed alongside the aspiration for a modern democratic nation. The project started as part of a collaborative investigation on inter-Asian modernity led by Professor Brij Tankha (Emeritus Professor, Delhi University), and Kikuchi was invited to talk about ‘Gurcharan Singh and the Transnational Mingei movement’ for the ‘India-Japan: Roads to the Modern’ in Delhi in 2014. This occasion also enabled an initial investigation of Singh’s East Asian Ceramic Collection of some 150 objects which he brought back from Japan and Korea and bequeathed to the Government Museum and Art Gallery in Chandigarh. It has revealed that this collection has significant importance in relation to the Mingei (folk crafts) movement in Japan and Korea, its mediation between colonial Korea under Japan and colonial India under Britain, and its advanced technology Sign learned at Tokyo Higher Technical School. His membership in the Garakutashū (a hobbyist club involving Japanese intellectuals, financial tycoons, art collectors and international artists and architects) sharing a cosmopolitan intellectual network also sparked the interest of interdisciplinary studies involving many scholars from Japan and India including TrAIN’s former student Dr Helena Čapková (Assistant Professor, Waseda University). In 2017 as part of the second phase, a symposium ‘Asian Dialogues: Gurcharan Singh, an Indian Potter in Japan’ was organised at the Government Museum and Art Gallery Chandigarh by the Japan Foundation New Delhi in collaboration with the Museum, to which I was invited to present a paper ‘Gurcharan Singh and the Mingei Movement’. On this occasion, the team of Japanese ceramic experts including Dr Takuya Kida (Senior Curator, Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo) and myself together with the team of Seema Gera (Chief Curator, Chandigarh Museum) further worked on identifying and cataloguing the collection. The third and fourth phases funded by the Japan Foundation spanning 2017-19 will see the publication of an exhibition catalogue and the travelling exhibition Gurcharan Singh and his East Asian ceramic collection in India and Japan.