At the edge of the quiet, unassuming village of Kampung Sungai Petai, a half-hour drive out of the rich historic hub of Malacca, lies Bendang Studio, a contemporary ceramics workshop that is making waves in the industry. Having started from humble beginnings, its founder Rozana Musa has developed her own brand and a style of tableware ceramics that’s now highly sought after in Malaysia. Not complacent in entrepreneurial success alone, Musa aspires to mold and fire the Malaysian ceramics scene into a new era.
双溪大年（Sungai Petani）是距离马来西亚历史文化中心马六甲一个半小时车程的村庄，在这个平静的村郊地区，就坐落着Bendang工作室——这就是在业界掀起了不小波澜的当代陶艺工作室。工作室创始人Rozana Musa从零开始，成立了自己的陶瓷餐具品牌，形成自己的独特风格，塑造且推动了马来西亚的陶瓷产业进入一个全新的时代。
Musa’s initial encounter with ceramics came early in her childhood when she unwittingly stumbled upon the core ingredient of ceramics – clay. As a child, she often played with the carmine, clay-rich mud on the riverbank, behind her grandmother’s Malaccan home, sculpting skyscrapers and drawing shapes in the sand and silt. Little did she know, this childhood pastime of hers would translate to a deep-seated love for ceramics in her adulthood. Now, rather than building transient sculptures in the sand, she creates intricate ceramics with a touch of modern flair.
At Musa’s studio, each piece starts off as a specially tailored clay mixture, containing a blend of silica, feldspar, kaolinite and a slew of other minerals. Then, depending on the particular piece, the clay will either be cast in a mold, shaped by hand on a pottery wheel, or cast and then finished off by hand. The product from the shaping process is then left to dry for several hours before being baked in a kiln at 840°C for six hours through a process known as biscuit firing. The brittle “biscuits” are then cooled for a day before being colored with a glaze through a subsequent firing process at 1100°C for eight hours. All the recipes for the glaze are developed by Musa and her team, using metal oxides such as cobalt, copper, sodium, and calcium as dyes. Though each piece is somewhat planned, Musa admits she and her team often improvise on the fly, especially when they’re struck by moments of artistic inspiration.
在Rozana的工作室，每一件作品都是用专门定制的粘土混合物制成的，需要通过复杂的配方，将硅土、长石、高岭土和其它矿物混合而成。然后，根据不同的创作理念，将这些粘土或盖上模具定型，或在轮盘上进行手工拉坯，或先用模具定型，再手工处理完成。定型之后，这些陶坯需要先被放置风干，再放到一个840℃的陶瓷窑里焙烧6 个小时，这个工序被称为“素烧”（biscuit firing）。素烧好后的坯体需要冷却一天，然后施釉，再经历一次烧制工序，这一次需要在1100℃下焙烧8小时。所有釉彩的配方都是Rozana和她的团队亲自研究出来的，采用的是钴、铜、钠和钙等金属氧化物作为染料。虽然每件陶瓷作品都是按照预定设计制作的，但当灵感突然闪现的时候，Rozana说她和团队也经常会即兴发挥。
This free, unshackled approach can be seen throughout her studio – a splash of cobalt blue on an ivory plate, a shimmering gold brushstroke on the lip of a teacup, an embossed batik print on a china tray. Even her studio itself exudes this sense of unbridled freedom; The airy, glass-fronted facade, the high ceilings and brick walls painted in hues of white, the plates and bowls haphazardly stacked on low tables, all the while her cats sashay around the displays, jumping from table to table, weaving in between the dishware, while her apprentices, Nisa and Aliah, work with quiet focus and intent at their pottery wheels.
Browsing through her wares, one gets the sense no two pieces of Musa’s ceramics are the same. Each of her creations has its own beauty, its own flaws, and its own identity. At first glance, they all seem too beautiful to use, but their beauty belies a utilitarian sturdiness. Perhaps this combination of beauty and utility is the driving factor behind the surge of demand for her line of ceramics, so much so that she’s now often booked up months in advance with order requests from renowned restaurants throughout Malaysia, and even some from Paris and Japan!
Despite Musas’ current success, her road to where she is was wrought with challenges. Like most young Malaysians, pursuing such an unconventional career wasn’t really on the cards in her young adulthood. But then, through perhaps a stroke of serendipity, she enrolled in the art and design program at the Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), choosing to major in ceramics. When she graduated, however, Musa found it difficult to advance her skills or come across opportunities for work, largely due to the immaturity of the Malaysian ceramics industry. Finding a mentor was difficult, demand for handcrafted ceramics was slow, and the equipment and barriers to entry were high (a ceramics kiln alone can cost upwards of 3,000 USD). According to Musa, of the dozen or so students who graduated along with her at UiTM, only one or two still remain in the craft. Fortunately for her though, she eventually found a mentor in Umibaizurah Mahir Ismail, an established Malaysian ceramics artist whose works have been featured in exhibitions in Japan, Korea, and Pakistan.
尽管Rozana目前很成功，但一路走来，她也经历了很多的艰难挑战。和大多数年轻的马来西亚人一样，要追求这样非传统的职业，在她年轻的时候都会觉得是很不现实的事情。后来也许是机缘巧合，她入读了马拉工业大学（Universiti Teknologi MARA）的艺术与设计课程，选择主修陶艺。但是毕业后，Rozana发现很难能找到提升的机会，主要是因为马来西亚的陶瓷产业尚不成熟。要找到导师很困难，社会对手工制作的陶瓷需求很少，进入这个行业还需要一定的设备，也有很高的壁垒（一个陶瓷窑炉价格至少3000美元）。Rozana说，从马拉工业大学毕业的十几名陶艺专业学生，只有一两个还留在这个行业。她很幸运，因为她最终找到Umibaizurah Mahir Ismail作为自己的导师。Umibaizurah Mahir Ismail是马来西亚著名的陶瓷艺术家，她的作品曾在日本、韩国和巴基斯坦展览。
After just several months of apprenticeship, Musa was inspired to start her own business, and thus Bendang Studio was conceived. She started off small, selling trinkets and accessories to a very niche market. Not long after, she wanted to expand her business, but being bootstrapped, buying an industrial ceramics kiln was out of the picture. Undeterred and being the self-starter that she is, Roza enlisted the help of her ex-lecturer at UiTM to build a fiberglass kiln from scratch. This move not only saved money, but her design was so innovative it won them an award that came with more than 4,000 USD in prize money from the government. And for the past seven years, Rozana has continually reinvested her profits, along with the winnings, back into her studio, buying a new kiln, and more recently, refurbishing the whole space. Rozana’s dedication and innovativeness have turned Bedang Studio what it is today – an impressive studio that’s leading the way for Malaysian ceramics.
Musa’s studio sits right by the through road between Malacca City and Kampung Sungai Petai, two vastly different places, one being a bustling, cultural city, and the other, a secluded, relatively unknown village. The location is perhaps fitting, as Musa’s brand of handcrafted ceramics has connected two similar yet separate worlds – the commercial, utilitarian mass-market ceramics industry, and the niche artistic, dreamy space of ceramic artists. Over the past years, Bendang Studio has brought glimpses of that artistic world to the mass market, with restauranteurs clamoring over her wares before they are even made. Perhaps it is a sign of changing times, of a greater artistic appreciation for ceramics, of the fledgling state of the handcrafted ceramics scene in Malaysia maturing into something significant. Musa certainly hopes so, and if her recent growth is anything to go by, there will certainly be more cobalt splashes and golden brushstrokes to come.
KM 20, Kampung Sungai Petai
78000 Alor Gajah
Contributor & Photographer: Yi Jun Loh