Sian Pascale’s terracotta chai cups are a twist on the ancient to-go cup of Southern India. Like the traditional ceramics that inspired her, Pascale’s cups are disposable and environmentally sound but Pascale has gone a step further and embedded them with flower and vegetable seeds. They can only reach their full potential once they are thrown away. The cups were displayed in Pascale’s exhibition, Pi Ki Puht – Earth, clay, cup, earth, at the Obscura Gallery in Melbourne, Australia (December 2011 – February 2012). Pascale explains her project:
Ceramic chai cups have been produced in India using locally-sourced red clay for thousands of years. Baked at low temperatures they were an economical way of ensuring there was no contamination between the lower caste chai wallahs and the higher caste chai drinkers. The chai wallah serves his customer the sweet, spicy brew ladled into a small ceramic cup, the flavor mixing with the earthy taste of the terracotta vessel. Once drunk, the chai cup is tossed away and the satisfying pop sound it makes when being flung from train carriages was once heard all over India.
The local name for these cups is pi ke puht- Pi ke meaning to drink and puht being the sound of the cup smashing. In recent times these traditional cups are being replaced with plastic cups and the cycle of earth, clay, cup, earth has been disrupted leaving mountains of waste across India. These fast disappearing vessels not only embody an alternative view on consumption culture but are also beautiful and functional objects on their own. Produced en-masse, yet hand made and individual. Throw aways, that have become precious.
Here, embedded with seeds (nasturtians, carrot, rocket, parsley) they can’t be kept precious, their potential only fulfilled once discarded.
Sian Pascale is an architect, designer, writer, and ceramic artist who was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1983 and is currently based in Mumbi, India. She earned her Masters of Architecture after completing her studies at the University of Melbourne and The Royal Danish Academy of Arts, Copenhagen. She has worked in Australia for architects Six Degrees, interior architects Foolscap Studio, as well as working in Europe for Dutch architects Doll Atelier Voor Bouwkunst. In 2013 Sian founded Young Citizens, an international design studio, after being commissioned to design Mumbai’s first boutique hotel.
Above image: Disposable terracotta chai cups from Sian Pascale’s exhibition, Pi Ki Puht – Earth, clay, cup, earth, at the Obscura Gallery in Melbourne, Australia. Courtesy of the artist.