The shapes of clay

2014-07-10 00:00

FIVE University of KwaZulu-Natal art students have been showcasing their work in the Jack Heath Gallery at the Centre for Visual Arts (CVA) in Ridge Road, Pietermaritzburg.

Louise Jennings, Dela Maiwald, Anda Dodo, Ayanda Mthethwe and Natasha Hawley all specialise in ceramics, but the styles on show differ markedly.

Jennings, who has just completed her honours degree at the Pietermaritzburg campus, has elevated simple utilitarian objects into installation pieces which fascinate and leave you with a sense of calm.

Produced as part of a research paper she prepared on collecting porcelain and the history of collecting, she says she draws on her memories of home and her childhood environment when making her hand-thrown and turned porcelain bowls, mugs, teapots and other pieces.

“I am inspired by 16th century Dutch and Flemish paintings, especially Vermeer, and the work of Italian painter Giorgio Morandi,” Jennings said.

“The purpose of this range of colours is, for me, to be able to create a three-dimensional still life with a painterly presence of calm, serenity and the same stillness of the memories embedded in my mind.”

Dodo’s work is in sharp contrast to that of Jennings. The works are large and have an earthiness reflecting the landscapes that inspire this first-semester honours student at UKZN.

Like Jennings, however, her work has also been influenced by her memories of home and the ideas that she has about herself.

“I am constantly inspired by landscapes and the peaceful valleys of my home,” Dodo explains.

“My inspiration is also drawn from my past and the experiences I have had to endure. By exploring the division between memory and experience, I make work that deals with the documentation of events and the question of how they can be presented in a sculptural form.”

Looking around the gallery I was especially drawn to the work of Maiwald, a postgraduate diploma student at the CVA, which draws on traditional Zulu ukhamba, but then distorts the traditional shapes into sculptural pieces. There are also sculptural forms representing cattle heads, which have been blackened to resemble the black and white skin of Nguni cattle.

Explaining the development of her works, she says that while she has always admired traditional Zulu ceramics, she was curious about the restricted range of pot shapes and surface treatments.

“The wares of these rural women are utilitarian and this explains the limited shapes and surface treatment. The lack of exploration of the sculptural possibilities of clay is also determined by social and cultural norms — women make pots and men make sculptures,” she adds.

“Having had the freedom to explore many avenues professionally and creatively, I began to wonder who these women were as individuals, and how they would have expressed themselves creatively given the opportunity. This research taught me to be aware of the possibilities that ceramic processes offer.”

Another ceramicist influenced by traditional Zulu ukhamba is Mthethwe, a first-semester honours student, who says the vessels she creates “represent my knowledge and interpretation of Zulu culture. The forms of the vessels are inspired by the natural world as well as aspects of my cultural roots and traditions”.

Where the work differs is in its creation. Although Mthethwe uses a hand-build technique similar to that used when Zulu women make pots, things are very different when it comes to firing the pots.

“When hard, the pots are burnished to give them a sheen and then left to dry further,” she explains. “They are then fired in an electric kiln at 98°C. This technique differs from the traditional Zulu method, where the women fire their pots in a bonfire or pit fire made from wood, aloes, grass and euphorbia.”

Mthethwe is also interested in combing pottery with Zulu bead work. “I want to do more research on this and on glazing techniques, which will complement the work,” she says.

Hawley’s work is a colourful exploration of glazes and forms. The first-semester honours student says of her work: “I enjoy the interplay of the opposing transcience and permanence that clay has to offer. I try to develop ceramic forms that are based on my subjective association with architectural modules and formal vessel structures. This allows me to explore spontaneity and chance, coupled with design.”

Different though the work is, the overall impression leaves you intrigued and fascinated by the endless creative possibilities of clay.

Although the gallery is not open for walk-ins, those interested in viewing the ceramics on show can make an appointment with Michelle Rall at 082 821 4107.


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