Four Southern Gild artists connect us to African heritage through the medium of clay.
Art draws us in. We stand thoughtfully before it and linger in its presence, surrounding ourselves with it in our homes, offices, restaurants, and marketplaces. In each issue, Fifty-Four mag will spotlight African artists whose original work explores narratives we’re moved by and techniques that leave us in awe.
In this issue, we’ve surrounded ourselves with ceramics. We’re excited to introduce you to four ceramic artists working closely with Southern Guild gallery in Cape Town, South Africa. A pioneer of functional art and collectable design on the African continent, Southern Guild is unique for its hands-on involvement in facilitating the production of new work by artists who explore cultural heritage, social change, and personal narratives. Meet the artists we’re enamoured with.
Widely considered one of South Africa’s foremost ceramic artists, Dyalvane was born in 1978 in the small village of Ngobozana, near Qobo-Qobo in the Eastern Cape. He grew up farming and looking after his father’s cattle herd – sewing a deep connection to the land and his Xhosa culture that resonates powerfully through his work today. His medium of clay, or umhlaba (mother earth), is at its most fundamental a life-affirming connection to the soil.
An extensive collection of sculptural ceramic seating, iThongo, is Dyalvane’s fourth solo exhibition. iThongo, meaning ‘ancestral dreamscape’ in Xhosa, refers to the medium through which messages (uYalezo uLwimi lwabaPhantsi) are transmitted from the ancestors. As such, it is an essential energetic link between the past, the present and the future, and the vital connection that fuels Dyalvane’s artistic practice and spiritual being.
The artist states: “My intentions with developing an extended body of work under the title iThongo is to highlight a gathering of dreams, seated in the soul, held by the spirits of our ancestors. Symbols are visual tools harnessed to more effectively impart meanings within messages – codes, if you will – that aid stories. The language of dreams is symbolic and therefore realised as uyalezo, messages from our ancestral spirits.”
iThongo comprises 18 sculptural stools, chairs and benches, exhibited in the custom of Xhosa ceremonial gatherings, in a circular arrangement around a fire hearth and herbal offerings. Hand-coiled in terracotta clay, their voluptuous, rounded bases give rise to sculptural backrests stretching up to almost a metre tall. The intricate form of each is based on a single pictogram or glyph from a series of close to 200 symbols that Dyalvane has designed to denote important words in Xhosa life – such as entshonalanga (sunset), igubu (drum), umalusi (herdsman) and izilo (totem animals) – and which also relate to the natural world and more universal human themes and concepts
See more of the artist’s work at Southernguild.co.za_Andile Dyalvane.
Chuma Maweni first drew local attention for his series of teardrop-shaped vessels and conical pots. Pit-fired with the same techniques used by Nguni ethnic groups before him, their dark, porous surfaces, striking silhouettes and smoky scent established him as a distinctly contemporary ceramicist dedicated to his craft.
Maweni’s iconic table and stool set, Imbizo (meaning ‘gathering’ in isiXhosa – the Bantu language of the Xhosa), set in motion a more monumental direction and saw him apply his intricate carving skills into wood for the first time. The installation has since developed into an extensive range of stools, which earned him a Design Foundation Award in 2018, as well as plinths, side tables and large dining tables. Each piece is unique, with its combination of shapes, precise incisions and textured patterns.
See more of the artist’s work at Southernguild.co.za_Chuma Maweni.
Bold and emblazoned with character, the ceramic work of Madoda Fani carries a dramatically unique sensibility. Inspired by his African heritage, Fani makes hand-coiled, burnished and smoke-fired pieces that are a contemporary evolution of the traditional ceramics indigenous to Southern Africa.
Born in 1975, Fani grew up in Gugulethu township in Cape Town and studied graphic design at Sivuyile College. To make money to further his studies, he worked as a ceramic painter in various pottery studios, resulting in his love for clay being born and slowly developing his own pieces and style. In 2000, his work was selected for the Salon Internationale de l’Artisanat de Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. There he met the ceramicist Simon Masilo, who introduced him to smoke firing.
In 2009, he moved to Johannesburg and began to deepen his craft, guided by Masilo, and then at the Kim Sacks School of Ceramics. He learned how to burnish clay with a stone from Jabu Nala, the daughter of legendary Zulu beer-pot maker Nesta Nala, and mastered smoke-firing techniques under the guidance of Nic Sithole. He credits these artists for helping to mould him into the artist he is today.
Although he uses traditional techniques, Fani’s curvaceous, coiled forms and hand-carved embellishments are entirely distinct. He works on a large-scale, building organic-shaped vessels whose smooth surfaces are punctuated by intricate, repetitive patterns that give them a scaled, insect-like appearance. His 2021 collection of carved ceramics titled iQweqwe, saw his patterned incisions become an all-encompassing ‘skin’ in this series of 12 hand-coiled works. The isiXhosa title can be translated as ‘crust’ but here refers to insect exoskeletons, a central fascination for Fani.
See more of the artist’s work at Southernguild.co.za_Madoda Fani.
Zizipho Poswa is a Cape Town-based ceramic artist whose large-scale, hand-coiled sculptures are bold declarations of African womanhood. She is inspired by the daily Xhosa rituals she witnessed as a young girl growing up in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa and the life-sustaining roles that Xhosa women play in traditional and contemporary life.
Born in 1979 in the town of Mthatha, Poswa studied surface design at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. She draws on this knowledge to amalgamate the visual stimuli she encounters in her daily life into a simplified pattern language. In 2005, she and fellow ceramicist Andile Dyalvane opened their studio, Imiso (meaning ‘tomorrow’) Ceramics.
Poswa’s work for Southern Guild explores her personal experience and heritage in monumental sculptural pieces. Her first major series paid tribute to the practice of umthwalo (load), in which rural women carry heavy bundles of wood, buckets of water or parcels on their heads, often walking long distances on foot. Her second series, Magodi, looked at the sculptural forms of traditional African hairstyles, such as the Bantu knot and dreadlock, and the central role that hair salons play as a meeting place for women. Each work is named after a family member or close friend, giving vivid, physical form to the artist’s support network.
Poswa’s debut solo, iLobola, comprised 12 iconic sculptures made from hand-coiled clay combined with cast bronze for the first time. iLobola pays homage to the spiritual offering at the heart of the ancient African custom of lobola, or bride-wealth – the cow – as well as the role the practice plays in building relations between the two families. Like some of Poswa’s earlier works, this series straddles figuration and abstraction, employing an intuitive vocabulary of shape, colour and texture.
See more of the artist’s work at Southernguild.co.za_Zizipho Poswa.
For more about the Southern Guild, visit Southernguild.co.za.