CultureIssue 1 2021

Healing Clay

Before ceramic artist Andile Dyalvane’s new solo show exhibits in design capitals Cape Town and New York City, it traveled to the Eastern Cape, showcased first to the village that raised him.

Finding purpose

Fifteen years ago, Andile felt compelled to take an example of his ceramic work from his Cape Town studio as a gift to his father in Ngobozana, the rural village where he grew up. He designed a clay beer pot and kindly asked his mother whether she would prepare traditional umqombothi.

Driving through the night, Andile arrived, heading straight to the kraal to bless his gift and give thanks for his safe arrival. He then filled the pot with his mother’s brew and went to surprise his father. Seeing the pot for the first time, his father had tears in his eyes and sent Andile to call his uncles and grandmothers to the house that afternoon.

The village that Andile grew up in is across a valley and river from the ancestral land his family were forcibly removed from during apartheid. Over the years, much cultural practice was lost to government rule and western beliefs.

When the elders gathered at Andile’s parents’ home, his father announced he had called them there because his son had arrived.

Andile Dyalvane in studio. Photography by Adriaan Louw, courtesy of Southern Guild

“I thought that meant I had arrived from my 12-hour drive,” Andile laughs, “but they were talking about something way beyond what I was thinking.”

At that time, when Xhosa ceremonies were performed in the village, umqombothi was drunk from ibhekile, a metal bucket, and food was eaten on plastic plates made in China. Seeing the beautiful clay pot, the older family members remembered the pots their elders drank from. The colours and patterns reminded them of what they wore, and they started to remember songs they had sung.

They agreed that Andile had indeed arrived. “The one we have been waiting for who will restore our dignity and help us pride ourselves on who we are, it is him,” they said.

That’s when Andile realised his purpose and his gift.

Going home

iThongo is Andile’s fourth solo show. In December 2020, it opened at Southern Guild in Cape Town, and in June 2021, it will open at Friedman Benda in New York. The collection of sculptural ceramic stools are arranged in a circle, as is custom during Xhosa ceremony.

Andile Dyalvane iThongo, Eastern Cape. Adriaan Louw, courtesy of Southern Guild Friedman Benda

As a young child, you have people who nurture your gift, but none of these people are experiencing the healing that your work brings about.

‒ Andile Dyalvane

iGubu ('Drum') Adriaan Louw, courtesy of Southern Guild Friedman Benda

Andile’s work is celebrated in art and design circles worldwide and is most often purchased by wealthy foreigners.

“As a young child, you have people who nurture your gift, but none of these people are experiencing the healing that your work brings about,” Andile says.

This time, before the exhibition was installed in the city, it first traveled to Ngobozana to be presented to the community.

“Going to the Eastern Cape is still the making of this work,” he explains. “Everything that happens around it is an energy that each piece carries. These pieces will carry the people and the feelings, the songs and the land.”

Messages from his ancestors come to Andile in dreams; he feverishly transcribes these into a series of symbols. Each glyph stands for a different place, ritual, item or person in Xhosa culture which informed the design of the stools and the meanings behind each one.

A gift for the ancestors

Whenever Andile goes home, he visits the grave sites on the now overgrown ancestral land to call on the ancestors’ spirits to join the family when they commune to honour them and give thanks. This time, he left one of the artworks there. The stool’s symbol is the shepherd as it’s the ancestors’ role to guide and protect. It has further significance for Andile as he was a herdsman as a boy in the village.

“The gesture is a way to say, ‘This is your son, one of your great, great grandchildren, to say we’re here [to fulfil] whatever it is you were not able to fulfil based on the torture and the trauma that you experienced. If you communicate with us, we avail ourselves,’” he says.

Andile also took 90 pots with him so that every home could have one of their own that he hoped would be a seed to start to remember.

These pieces will carry the people and the feelings, the songs and the land.

‒ Andile Dyalvane

Umtshayelo (“Broom”) Adriaan Louw, courtesy of Southern Guild Friedman Benda

Andile maintains that his work is way bigger than himself. “It’s for humanity,” he stresses, “It’s not only for my village or my clan or amaXhosa or only Black people; it’s for every human being because it’s a reminder that we belong.”

iThongo opened at Southern Guild, Cape Town, on 10 December 2020 and will run until 5 February 2021. It is accompanied by a short documentary film and a catalogue containing academic texts shedding light on the exhibition’s spiritual aspects, both made possible with the support of BMW South Africa.

Photography by Adriaan Louw and Hayden Phipps

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