I can’t help but smile when I look at Cape Town-based artist Zizipho Poswa’s bold ceramic sculptures. Bulbous and larger than life, they evoke pop art and modernism, yet are indubitably South African.
“My work is colourful, African, elegant, organic, eclectic and contemporary,” she told #Trending in an email interview.Raised by her mother, she is inspired by the daily Xhosa rituals she witnessed as a young girl growing up in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape. Poswa says: “I was raised in a community full of women. My work honours their strength.”
Inspired by Xhosa culture
Poswa’s first major series for Southern Guild paid tribute to the practice of umthwalo (a load), which honours rural women who carry heavy bundles of wood, buckets of water or parcels on their heads, often walking long distances.
Her latest series, Magodi, looks to the sculptural forms of traditional African hairstyles, such as the Bantu knot and the 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, with names such as Amanda, Noxolo, Nozuko and Nozibhedlele.
Poswa uses the technique of hand-pinching to create her bowls, vessels and vases, while her vibrant use of colour evokes Esther Mahlangu and her Xhosa heritage.
Mahlangu is someone she especially loves.
"She is an icon and I admire her work so much. I love everything about it, the technique, patterns and her use of colour. She has definitely inspired me in many ways. Her work is very authentic – it celebrates her Ndebele culture very successfully. I wanted to do the same and celebrate my beautiful culture. Esther is one of the very few South African black woman artists. I admire her level of success and I definitely want to follow in her footsteps,” she tells #Trending.
Growing interest in SA art
Her totemic sculptures, some of which stand taller than a metre and take two months to make, have gained her strong international attention. She can be found in important private and corporate collections in South Africa and around the world.
According to Trevyn McGowan, co-founder of Southern Guild: “We are seeing growing interest in South African art and design from international collectors. Last year the Los Angeles County Museum of Art acquired two large-scale sculptures by Zizipho. In the past 18 months, her work has become highly sought after – the demand outweighs its availability. She has sold work to important collectors all over the world; we are thrilled by the response.”
Black female artists are exceptionally underrepresented in the formal art space, especially black African women. Poswa’s unique celebration of Xhosa womanhood is both refreshing and vitally important.