By Aisha Hassan on February 25th, 2021
A world of my own
When Tan Yi Hua is working with clay, her intense concentration makes it feel like another realm. “You’re in this bubble and creating your own world and you can just explore...it’s like having infinite power in a way,” she says. Yi Hua is one of the founders of 22 Craft Studio, an educational pottery space in Bandar Sungai Long, Malaysia, that encourages students and ceramics enthusiasts to experiment.
Yi Hua’s pottery journey began when she was 15 years old after attending a local workshop. “I fell in love with the idea of turning something from nothing into something,” she says. As we spoke, we were surrounded by the ceramics that Yi Hua and her team of two artisans created. After working in the corporate world for a while, Yi Hua realized that pottery was her calling because she simply couldn’t get her mind off the craft. She smilingly reminisces that parties and weekend plans also weren’t important. “I wouldn’t have time to create what I had in my mind,” Yi Hua says.
22 Craft Studio opened its doors in 2018 and its workshops have since found great success. The studio has even exhibited in Kuala Lumpur’s Zhongshan Building, a hub for the local creative community. Numerous students' ceramics sit by the door. “I now have the opportunity to share what I love with other people,” Yi Hua says.
The weirder the better
For Yi Hua, inspiration can be found everywhere from Instagram, to the Disney movie Coco, or during the production process itself. “I also like to observe nature’s texture, like the color and patterns from the sea,” she says. Yi Hua also turns to her sister, an interior designer, to discuss ergonomics and whether a certain piece would work well within a home. “I want to experience the limit and do something irregular,” Yi Hua says, which is why she plays with shapes and textures. The Sea View Plates and Raw Brown Cups, for example, play with a mix of glazed and unglazed finishes, as well as both geometric and fluid patterns.
“Sometimes we’re trying weird stuff,” Yi Hua says, as she walks around the studio pointing out her favorite ceramics, which, as she says herself, are the most unusual. She gestures to a donut-shaped vase that looks like it has tentacles, for instance, or a lumpy vase that’s deliberately caved in. A few weeks after starting a piece — about how long it takes to finish, due to the laborious process of shaping the clay, glazing it, rounds of drying and firing in between, and waiting for the kiln to fill up — it’s always exciting to see how it turns out.
Joy in failure
Sometimes things crack, or the color looks strange, or the shape isn’t what you hoped it would be. “Sometimes you can’t really get something that is perfect or what you were expecting but that’s also part of the joy,” Yi Hua says. “I’m someone who pushes the students to try something rather than being very conservative...that’s part of growing or learning, and in a way, that’s part of the fun.”
All around 22 Craft Studio, various ceramics — whether they turned out as expected, or in one piece — are still proudly displayed as reminders of the process and how exciting it is to try again. “The rule is if you feel you need to try, it’s just about whether something is hard to achieve or it’s easy to achieve,” Yi Hua says. “Nothing is really impossible.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aisha Hassan is a writer, journalist, and co-founder of Dia. Previously, Aisha worked for Quartz in New York and Harper’s Bazaar in Malaysia. Her fiction has been published in international literary magazines. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Language & Literature from the University of Oxford, and a master’s degree from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.