Ann and Pradyumna's collaboration

 Two weeks in the goldfields with beautiful tones, autumn prevailing, provided the  connecting experiences that gave root to the idea, that later flourished in the form of The Universal Tree. We discovered common themes in our work and interests while exploring the landscape at our doorstep. The shapes and diversity of trees became a strong theme, one that had been explored in our previous work and one in which our common environmental concerns and interests could be expressed. Instrumental to this awakening was the presence of Minhazz Majumdar interpreting conversations, giving it context and telling us stories of India including that of the scarcity of wood and women carrying the loads on their heads while walking all day to find fuel for their fires. Later, in  the children’s workshops at my workplace we read Pradyumna’s, ‘How The Firefly Got its Light’ I wondered at the power and depth of this work which spoke so lovingly of the relationship between people and trees and was touched deeply with its acute relevance to this time of great debate in Australia about fire, fear and trees.

In the studio at last, we rushed to make our special tree. Some brief conversations and plans had preceded, but mostly the work took place without words. Pradyumna’s remarkable craftsmanship together with my experience with large scale ceramic building techniques enabled this ambitious undertaking to move forward. The tree was designed in 4 sections, trunk, branching section, branch extensions and leaves.   A double wall was designed to support the curve. Pradyumna built the exterior roots, reminiscent of the banyan tree. I worked on texturing bark surfaces using oxides, slips and sewing tools.  An insect was painted on one side of each leaf. These were inspired by the insect focus from Pradyumna’s story. Birds and animals  included both Indian and Australian species.  A brightly coloured woodpecker, a weaver bird and nest, a sulphur crested cockatoo and a kangaroo are just some of the animals that live amongst the branches and under the canopy of The Universal Tree.         Ann Ferguson