Philadelphia Museum of Art acquires work by Madoda Fani and Zizipho Poswa

The acquisitions indicate rising global recognition of contemporary ceramic design by South African artists.

Two ceramic works by Southern Guild artists – Itafile III by Madoda Fani (above left) and Magodi – Amanda by Zizipho Poswa (above right) – are in the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The acquisitions form part of the museum’s efforts to increase its collection of works by African-American and African artists and designers.

This is the first work by Madoda Fani to be acquired by a museum and the second by Zizipho Poswa, who had a pair of ceramic sculptures bought by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) two years ago. It indicates rising global recognition of contemporary ceramic design by South African artists.

Fani’s Itafile (“table” in isiXhosa) was part of a trio of small ceramic side-tables made for Design Miami in 2019, which continue his foray into hand-coiled ceramic furniture. The works are rendered in a matte black under-glaze contrasted with a clear gloss glaze applied in dotted patterns. They feature rhythmically patterned carvings that call to mind overlapping fish scales or insect exoskeletons.

Born in 1975, Fani grew up in Gugulethu township in Cape Town and discovered his love of clay as a fine art student at Sivuyile College. He worked as a ceramic painter in various pottery studios, gradually developing his own pieces and style. In 2000, his work was selected for the Salon Internationale de l’Artisanat de Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. There he met the ceramicist  Simon Masilo, who introduced him to smoke-firing. In 2009, he moved to Johannesburg and began to deepen his craft at the Kim Sacks School of Ceramics. He learned how to burnish clay with a stone from Jabu Nala, the daughter of legendary Zulu beer-pot maker Nesta Nala, and mastered smoke-firing techniques under the guidance of Nic Sithole.

Although he uses traditional techniques, Fani’s curvaceous, coiled forms and hand-carved embellishments are entirely distinct. He works on a large scale, building organic-shaped vessels whose smooth surfaces are punctuated by intricate, repetitive patterns that give them a scaled, insect-like appearance. Most recently, his work with Southern Guild has seen him branch out into furniture, carved wood and bronze sculpture.

Southern Guild has exhibited his work at Design Miami, at The Salon Art + Design in New York, and as part of the Christie’s London annual design auction. Fani has joined residency programmes in Argentina (2009) and France (2013), received first prize at the 2016 Ceramics Southern Africa Exhibition as well as the Ndebele Milling & Mining Premier Award at the 2015 G&W Mineral Resources Ceramics SA Gauteng Regional Exhibition.

Magodi – Amanda by Poswa is from her 2019 series of monumental ceramic sculptures celebrating the majesty and heritage of traditional African hairstyles, known as magodi (the local term for such hairstyles). These works retain the imposing sensuality of the artist’s previous series, Umthwalo, rendered with increased technical complexity to convey the intricacy of woven, braided and threaded hair. Each of the works in this series is given a traditional Xhosa name in homage to actual women who have been influential in the artist’s life.

Poswa’s large-scale, collectible work takes inspiration from her own narrative as a Xhosa woman and artist living in contemporary South Africa. Alongside lauded South African ceramicist Andile Dyalvane, she co-founded Imiso Ceramics, whose handmade tableware has earned the studio an international following. She grew up in the town of Mthatha in the Eastern Cape and studied surface design, majoring in textiles, at the Port Elizabeth Technikon. She draws on this textile knowledge to amalgamate the visual stimuli she encounters in her daily life into a simplified pattern language.

Poswa’s work for Southern Guild explores her personal experience and heritage in monumental sculptural pieces. Her work is in important private collections internationally. Her first solo exhibition, iLobola, is currently on view at Southern Guild (until 1 July, 2021). She was included in Deeper than Text, presented by 1stdibs and the Female Design Council at the 1stdibs Gallery in Manhattan in 2019. Southern Guild has exhibited her work at Design Miami, PAD London and The Salon Art + Design in New York.

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