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Zizipho Poswa: Beauty, bounty and monumental sculptures abound

Petra Mason spoke to the artist about her work which recently showed at Design Miami, preparation for her Los Angeles debut and the evolution of her practice.

By Petra Mason
SouthernGuild DesignMiami 2003 - Cr.SilviaRos SGuild

A year ago this month Your Luxury Africa set the gold standard with the publication of its inaugural issue titled “A New Golden Era” that featured artist Zizipho Poswa on the cover. Over the past year Poswa has extended not only the scale of her work but her global reach, particularly in North America where her sculptures can be found in collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and most recently, the Art Institute of Chicago.

Represented by Southern Guild –  a formidable platform for contemporary art and design in Africa – Poswa’s New York solo earlier this year at Tribeca’s Galerie56 showcased her first, formative all-bronze sculptures.

Poswa’s pieces featured prominently on Southern Guild’s booth at Design Miami 2023 as the artist continues to lead with her Xhosa heritage and celebrate African womanhood.

February 2024 sees her upcoming solo Indyebo yakwaNtu (Black Bounty) opening as one of two inaugural shows at Southern Guild’s new gallery space in Los Angeles, and promises her monumental bronzes and colossal ceramic sculptures.

In this new body of work, Poswa adopts a distinctly pan-African approach consciously upscaling objects of African beautification and ritual. Precious metal jewellery, beadwork, hair combs and pins made by master artisans across the continent are emulated as bronze-cast elements resting atop vast ceramic silos, revering and immortalising the valued positions these amulets hold.

Petra Mason spoke to the Cape Town based artist about her work at Design Miami, prepping for her Los Angeles debut and her practice in general.

ZiziphoPoswa Mam uNoMathemba 2023 – Cr.HaydenPhipps SGuild

This is your fourth Design Miami presentation with Southern Guild. Tell us about your work at Design Miami this year:

Design Miami offers excellent exposure to collectors. My Miami showcase this year comprised of three works from my iiNtsika zeSizwe (Pillars of the Nation) series individually titled Mam’uNoMathemba, Mam’uNoSayiniand Mam’uNoSekshin that debuted earlier this year at my solo show in New York.

Each form in iiNtsika zeSizwe has been named after a significant woman from my home village of Holela in rural Eastern Cape, South Africa. The titles have been formed by blending the Xhosa term ‘Mam’, meaning ‘mother’, and the respective name of each honoured woman. The body of work pays intimate homage to the women within my extended community, the mothers, sisters, providers, healers and caretakers. They are custodians of Xhosa ritual and custom, preserving traditions as they are passed on from one generation to the next. The loads they carry reach beyond the physical offerings essential to the survival of their communities, they bear the symbolic weight of womanhood with an unyielding generosity of spirit.

Tell us about your forthcoming solo in Los Angeles:

Indyebo yakwaNtu (Black Bounty) is my most ambitious technical undertaking to date and comprises of five ceramic and bronze sculptures reaching heights of over 8 feet tall. The clay bodies were produced during my summer-long residency as an invited guest at the Center for Contemporary Ceramics (CCC). The CCC is an influential hub for expanded discourse and advanced creative production in the West Coast ceramics community and is located at California State University in Long Beach, where I had access to the centre’s immense kilns.

Indyebo yakwaNtu (Black Bounty) draws on Africa’s own mineral wealth. Her people have created an immeasurable creative collection from which African men and women adorn themselves, resulting in a language of objects that has come to shape our identity.

Translated from my mother tongue (which is isiXhosa), “indyebo” literally refers to material riches, but more broadly encompasses the cultural, economic, intellectual and spiritual wealth of Africans. “Ntu” is the spirit that defines and gives impetus – an embodiment of the identity, consciousness and life purposes of African beings.

ZiziphoPoswa Mam uNoSayini 2023 – Cr.HaydenPhipps SGuild

Clay is so tactile and so primal. How would you describe working with it to a blind person?

Clay is an extension of who we are and by virtue of that, we have a natural resonance to clay. My work also has energy infused in it that communicates in non-visual ways. People who do not have sight of my work can engage with the tactility of the clay – with its forms and textures. The best way to experience clay is to hold it. To explain clay is to reflect on its properties which are natural elements: soil and water. It is a beautiful fusion of land and water. The creation process for ceramic pieces requires the addition of another element, which is fire. People who are blind have many of their other senses heightened and this gives them the capacity to engage with ceramics in ways that ultimately enrich the meaning of the work.

If you could choose, where would you want to see one of your clay and bronze sculptures?

At the moment so much of my work is leaving the country and the continent. I have a yearning to see my work in our own cultural institutions in Africa. I hope that they can develop the means to acquire and display my work.

My dream is to see my work in all major museums on the continent. There are so many young people that I wish could walk into a museum in Kigali, Abuja, Niamey, Cairo, Kinshasa, Bamako, Maseru or any other city in Africa and interact with my work. They can find inspiration that will help them realise their full potential and develop a better appreciation for African art and for our essence of being Africans.

I dream of a reality where my work can bring healing to people in rural areas far removed from digital technology. People who can walk into the royal houses “komkhulu” and see my work. They can see how culture can evolve to become a source of inspiration, healing and beauty.

What would give me the most delight is to also see my work in my ancestral homeland – to give back to the very people who inspire me to produce the work that I do.

ZiziphoPoswa Mam uNoSekshin 2023 – Cr.HaydenPhipps SGuild

As an established ceramicist, what would you like to see done to support future leaders in the world of ceramics on the African continent?

The best way to support future leaders in ceramics is to ensure that art education is a central part of basic education. My first encounter with art education was at university. My own progression in the field of art would be vastly different if I had had the opportunity to learn creative skills in primary and secondary school. My aspiration for the world of ceramics is also to see the African continent being more intentional about advancing the manufacturing capacity for this industry. To ensure that we put in place all the infrastructure needed to enable seamless production, distribution and collection.

I spent some of my time mentoring and training younger people in basic art and ceramics skills to contribute towards the future. I have aspirations to collaborate with corporates to support schools in rural areas as my own contribution to the world of ceramics.

Southern Guild Los Angeles opens on 24 February 2024 at 747 N Western Ave Melrose Hill.

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