Theme: South African Essence

Honouring the lives and elegance of African women, especially those close to her, Zizipho Poswa’s impressive large ceramic sculptures have won her many accolades across the world. Not only are they being snapped up by top collectors at art fairs but prestigious museums such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art are adding them to their collections. Her recent body of work, exhibited at Southern Guild, called Magodi (hairstyles) celebrates the intricacies of braided and threaded hair, a subject that has always intrigued her. “When I was a student I did some modelling for a hair-extension company and I was fascinated by the time it takes, and the detail. Really, it is an artform in itself,” she explains. Later research bought her to the work of Nigerian photographer Okhai Ojeikere, who photographed West African hairstyles, and Poswa has long been an admirer of many of the weaves donned by her Zimbabwean friends especially. She is equally interested in the intimacy and culture of having hair styled, and has fond memories of growing up in the Eastern Cape, where her mum and late aunt would spend several hours having their hair done together. She named two of her sculptures after these influencial women. Her mother, Nozibhedlele Poswa, now a retired teacher, realised early on that her daughter had artistic talents, and at every opportunity reached out to anyone who could guide Poswa on a career. “She collected creative magazines for me to read and get ideas, which I loved, and now she sees me in those very magazines,” she tells us, proud at the fact that her mother had such faith in her. Poswa eventually made it to Cape Town where she and Andile Dylavane set up Imiso Ceramics, a studio they still run together today. Poswa’s sensuously curved sculptures have a dynamism and gentleness all at once, with a clear reference to their inspiration. Deceptively simple, they are technically extremely difficult to execute. Creating ceramics on this scale is no mean feat and requires help from her two studio technicians to manipulate and help build the main body of the structure, which she does either by throwing or by coiling. The smaller individual additions are hand-pinched into shape. Poswa is particularly adept at this method and her much smaller hand-pinched decorative bowls have sold globally in stores like Anthropologie. Her strong sense of decoration and colour comes from the fact that she originally trained as a textile designer. The making process can go wrong at so many stages. Clay is soft and malleable, so collapse in the building stage is a real issue, then the sculptures have to dry slowly to ensure all moisture is out of the clay – - something that can cause the piece to explode in the kiln. But it is in the final stage, on the high-temperature glaze firing, that the main worry emerges – glazes are notoriously temperamental and can come out a different colour than expected. “At this stage anything is possible,” she explains. “What comes out for me is a surprise and a beauty – something I don’t have complete control of. How the colours come out is often better than expected.” Even when her work is finally on display in a beautiful gallery like Southern Guild, she can look at it from another perspective. “To get the comments and feedback makes me want to go back and do more, improve and go on to the next one.” 

100 Beautiful Things is presented by the V&A Waterfront in celebration of South Africa’s creativity, compassion, ingenuity and resilience. Every week we will be showcasing five amazingly beautiful creative things that make us proud. It is curated in partnership with Platform Creative.