No. 023 FURNITURE DESIGN BY CHUMA MAWENI
Theme: Simply Beautiful
A master of hand-thrown ceramics, Port Elizabeth-born Chuma Maweni has shown his work as far afield as the Christie’s Design Auction in London, Salon Art + Design in New York City and Design Miami.
While his first love will always be ceramics, Maweni has recently introduced new mediums to his work. His Imbizo (“gathering” in isiXhosa) table and stool set, made for the 2018 Southern Guild show Extra Ordinary, saw the designer apply his intricate carving skills into wood for the first time, and has since led to an extensive range of tables and stools, which earned him the Object That Moves Award at the 2018 Design Foundation Awards.
Maweni first fell in love with clay on the muddy riverbanks of rural Transkei, where he would form clay figures of bulls and cows as a child. “I didn’t plan on becoming a ceramicist,” he says, explaining that he pursued a degree in graphic design at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. “We were taught many mediums as part of our first-year course, from graphic design to litho printing, ceramics and even stained glass, and after I did exceptionally well in ceramics, my instructors suggested I turn my focus to clay,” says Maweni. “At first I was hesitant, I didn’t think I wanted to spend my life playing with mud. But it consumed me. I’m stuck with it now.”
After graduating with a B-Tech degree in ceramics, Maweni spent several years teaching what he’d learned to rural women in a poverty alleviation programme, before moving to Cape Town to mentor and teach other ceramicists at the Art in the Forest studio with Anthony Shapiro.
There he began to hone his own unique style. “Many of my designs are influenced by traditional African ceramics,” he says, referencing his affinity for pit firing and traditional beer-pot forms. “I borrow techniques that were used by Zulus, Xhosa, Sothos, for generations before me, but I bring a contemporary aesthetic to my pieces.”
The dark, porous surfaces, striking silhouettes and smoky scent of his work soon garnered him a loyal following, and in 2016, Maweni opened his own studio. That same year, he was selected for A New Wave, Southern Guild gallery’s exhibition of emerging designers.
Working with the gallery changed the trajectory of Maweni’s work in more ways than one. Not only was his work showcased internationally, but it was also Southern Guild director Julian McGowan that encouraged the designer to experiment with new mediums. “I never thought I would work with wood, but it was my many discussions with Julian that led to me designing my first set of ceramic and carved wood furniture,” explains Maweni. “I am very excited about this new direction, because it’s made me realise I can mix different media, that there’s no limit to the materials I can work with.” Maweni takes great joy in working with his hands, and loves watching people react positively to his pieces. “I hope that in some small my work creates happiness.”
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.