Southern Guild and Galerie56 present iiNtsika zeSizwe (Pillars of the Nation), a solo exhibition of bronze sculptures by Zizipho Poswa, opening on Monday, May 15 at Galerie56 in Manhattan’s Tribeca. This is the South African ceramic artist’s debut solo presentation in the United States, as well as her first collection of work made entirely in bronze.
Poswa’s monumental sculptures are bold declarations of African womanhood. She is inspired by her Xhosa heritage and the life-sustaining roles that African women play in traditional and contemporary life. iiNtsika zeSizwe expands on the thematic interests of Poswa’s first series of major hand-coiled ceramic sculptures, titled Umthwalo, which stacked abstract forms on top of voluminous bases to create totems symbolizing female strength and resilience. With their exuberant shapes and resplendent patinas, these sculptures elevate to heroic status the everyday practice of ‘umthwalo’ – the isiXhosa word for ‘load’ – whereby women transport heavy items on foot by carrying them on their heads.
In the rural Eastern Cape province (and other parts of South Africa), women traditionally perform the tasks of gathering wood, collecting water and taking bucket loads of clothing to wash in the river. For Poswa, who partook in these daily rituals as a young girl, the strength required to balance these burdens and walk long distances is testimony to the endurance of Xhosa women.
The artist notes that her first US solo is a tribute to her own mother, the community of women who raised her and others like them, whose contribution to society is rarely recognised. “These are the pillars of our nation” in Poswa’s words; monuments to sustenance and sacrifice given the lustre and permanence of bronze, a material historically reserved for memorialising colonial patriarchs and the architects of Apartheid.
Standing at variable heights up to 1.6 metres (5 feet) tall, the seven bronze sculptures in iiNtsika zeSizwe depict precariously arranged objects – a barrel, a pile of sticks, bundles of fruits and vegetables – that appear almost in motion. Their textured and rounded forms make use of a rich array of bronze patinas and finishes. A series of large photographs, commissioned especially for the exhibition, portray Poswa in various acts of ‘umthwalo’ in and around her rural village, Holela, in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa.
Poswa’s work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Loewe Foundation, as well as important private and corporate collections around the world. She has held two solo exhibitions of her work at Southern Guild in Cape Town: iLobola (2021) and uBuhle boKhokho (2022). In 2021, she was a featured artist with Andile Dyalvane in the inaugural Indian Ocean Craft Triennial in Perth, Australia and was included in Self-Addressed, curated by Kehinde Wiley at Jeffrey Deitch Gallery in Los Angeles.
She has taken part in group exhibitions in New York, Paris, Hamburg and Liverpool and has presented her work through Southern Guild at Design Miami, The Salon Art + Design in New York and PAD London. This June, she will be an artist-in-residence at the Centre for Contemporary Ceramics, California State University, Long Beach (CSULB).
Watch the intimate and stirring film, made in cooperation with BMW South Africa, that documents Poswa’s homecoming to her rural eastern Cape village of Holela.