Zizipho Poswa is a Cape Town-based sculptor whose large-scale ceramic and bronze works are bold declarations of African womanhood.
Born in 1979 in the town of Mthatha in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, Poswa studied surface design at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. In 2005, she and fellow ceramicist Andile Dyalvane co-founded Imiso Ceramics, whose handmade vessels and tableware have earned the studio an international following.
Since 2017, Poswa’s ouevre for Southern Guild straddles figuration and abstraction, employing an intuitive vocabulary of form, colour and texture. Her work is a deep invocation of her personal journey and an homage to the spiritual traditions and matriarchal stewardship of her Xhosa culture, reflected in her practice of naming work after influential women in her community.
The artist’s first solo exhibition, iLobola (2021), paid homage to the spiritual offering underpinning the custom of ‘lobola’, or bride-wealth – the cow. Each of the 12 hand-coiled ceramic sculptures in iLobola alludes to a specific stage or role player in the negotiation process that leads towards a traditional Xhosa marriage. Their voluminous bases take the form of conical teardrops, undulating gourds or giant barrels, emblazoned with massive bronze horns that pierce the air.
Her second solo exhibition, uBuhle boKhokho (Beauty of Our Ancestors), grew out of her earlier Magodi series celebrating the elaborate art of hairstyling practised by Black women across Africa and its diaspora. The 24 monumental ceramic and bronze sculptures survey historic and contemporary coiffures from across the continent, such as the crest worn by Fulani women from West Africa and the fan-shaped headpiece of the Zande from Congo. This body of work was accompanied by a series of photographic portraits of the artist, who collaborated with a hair stylist to recreate some of the iconic styles on herself. In so doing, Poswa interweaves the personal and historic; situating herself in a vast and ever-expanding network of Black women who continue to self-define and affirm their own standards of beauty.
Poswa’s debut solo in the United States, iiNtsika zeSizwe (The Pillars of the Nation), was her first sculpture series made entirely in bronze. Held at Galerie56 in New York in partnership with Southern Guild, the exhibition delved deeper into an earlier series inspired by the practice of ‘umthwalo’ (load) whereby rural women carry heavy bundles of wood, buckets of water or parcels on their heads, often walking long distances on foot. With their elliptical forms balanced atop anthropomorphic bases, the works symbolise both the physical and metaphorical acts of bearing the load. These works are monuments to sustenance and sacrifice, and their presentation in bronze – a material associated with the memorials of colonial and Apartheid-era patriarchs – invites us to explore an alternative framework for respect, recognition and remembrance.
Poswa’s work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and Philadelphia Museum of Art, as well as important private and corporate collections such as the LOEWE Foundation, Schulting Art Collection and HRH Franz, Duke of Bavaria. She has taken part in group exhibitions at Kunsthal KAde (Amersfoort, The Netherlands), Marian Ibrahim (Chicago), Jeffrey Deitch Gallery (Los Angeles), the Indian Ocean Craft Triennial (Perth), and other galleries in New York, Paris, Hamburg and Liverpool. Southern Guild has presented her work at The Armory Show, Expo Chicago, Design Miami, the Salon Art and Design, and PAD London. She was an artist-in-residence at the Centre for Contemporary Ceramics, California State University, Long Beach in Summer 2023.