Southern Guild presents a new collection of carved ceramics by Madoda Fani, titled iQweqwe, on view in the gallery until 17 September. The patterned incisions that have defined Fani’s work to date become an all-encompassing ‘skin’ in this series of 12 hand-coiled works. The show’s isiXhosa title can be translated as “crust” but here refers to insect exoskeletons, a central fascination for the artist. Fani’s work is gaining significant international attention with a recent acquisition earlier this year by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the US.
The iQweqwe collection features both functional and sculptural works in which Fani explores unusual new forms, including vessels with tall, conical lids; a bowl supported by a large, four-legged stand; a two-handled pot; and various canisters. Their contours are articulated by concentric lines carved into the clay, finished with detailed markings and studded protrusions, whose repetition lends the surfaces a mesmerising rhythm.
Veering from his usual blackened finish, Fani has left three of the pieces in their original terracotta state, signifying a kind of “stripping back” and returning to one’s roots – much like an insect shedding its skin. This purity of form and earthy colour gives the works an ancient, artefact-like feel. Combined with their pronounced armour-like exteriors, they appear concurrently timeless and futuristic.
Growth and the natural progression of things are recurring themes in Fani’s work. He likens the creating of a piece to that of a pregnancy: a process of varied phases of development and change, before the birth of the final, fully-formed product that is then named. Fani rarely plans his pieces, beginning with a loose idea and then surrendering to the clay, allowing it to lead him: “I let my work take me where it wants to go,” he says.
His evolution as an artist has brought him full circle, seeing him return to one of his original inspirations – insects – only this time, instead of painting them, he is now moulding and carving them from clay. “The work that I’m doing now, is more of a revisiting of that old work, except now I’m using different materials,” he explains. The medium of ceramic yields other surprising characteristics: when gently tapped, the works produce a similar sound to that of a shell or exoskeleton being tapped.