The three talented ceramicists of Siyabonga Ceramics continue to push the boundaries of creativity to make their mark. Brothers Madoda and Siyabonga Fani and Chuma Maweni showed us around their studio space for our Slow Living issue.
All shining stars on the South African ceramic scene, this talented trio produce their beautifully wrought pieces here in the creative hub of Woodstock. Siyabonga Ceramics – which comprises a shop in the centre, where they showcase their work and the studio, where the nitty-gritty happens – was started by Siyabonga in 2013, Madoda joined him five years ago and Maweni in 2016.
While they work mainly on individual commissions, projects and pieces, they contribute a percentage of their sales to the running of the studio and collaborate on what Siyabonga calls ‘bread-and-butter’ pieces. ‘When we’re not busy, we do items for the shop: Chuma throws the pots and Madoda and I decorate them,’ he explains.
They have an impressive wealth of experience between them. Both Siyabonga and Madoda cut their artistic teeth at Sivuyile College, now the College of Cape Town Gugulethu Campus, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, then honed their ceramic painting skills at Kalk Bay’s The Potter’s Shop. From there, the world’s proved to be their oyster. Maweni started working with clay while spending time in the Transkei as a boy, then studied art and design at the then-Port Elizabeth Technikon. After that, he specialised in ceramic design, before joining the Art in the Forest gallery and outreach centre in Constantia.
Although their African heritage and cultural rituals propel the narrative of their individual work, they subscribe to a distinct, contemporary aesthetic and continually seek inspiration ion the world around them.
Madoda’s entranced by feature films: the Star Wars space franchise and Japanese movies are firm favourites from which he gleans a myriad design ideas. Siyabonga’s experimenting with going back to his roots, but fashion, the female form and the floral kingdom remain inspiring. For Maweni, architecture is a significant influence, with his favourite building being Dubai’s 75-storey Cayan Tower.
They’ve also been individually inspired, encouraged, taught and mentored by other artists, including Southern Guild co-founder Julian McGowan, artist Jan Vermeiren, ceramicist Nic Sithole, potter Chris Silverstone and gallery-owner Kim Sacks. The threesome all work with terracotta or black clay and use traditional techniques, including coiling and pinching, with pieces being bisque-fired, then smoke-fired. The works are then burnished with stones or polished with shoe or floor polish to achieve the dark patina they’ve perfected.
Like true artists, they’re keen to evolve and continually push boundaries with their work. Maweni still produces his signature teardrop pieces, but has branched out to make stools and other functional furniture. Madoda, known for his curvaceous, hand-coiled vessels with their meticulous carving, loves clay and has just created a 65cm chair inspired by his heritage (which will soon wing its way to Design Miami with Southern Guild), but he’s just started working in bronze. ‘Clay can be limiting, so I’ve begun experimenting with other materials,’ he says. One of his first bronze works has been accepted for Southern Guild’s House of Bronze exhibition. Siyabonga, who freelanced for a German company for nine years and also created a range for a Cape Town waterfront hotel, has moved away from colourful creations to large, beautifully carved vessels.
Their talent hasn’t gone unnoticed. They’ve all travelled overseas, won awards and had work selected on a regular basis for a plethora of exhibitions, including the prestigious Ceramics SA regional and national exhibitions. This year, Maweni and Madoda were also invited by Southern Guild to produce new work for an exhibition entitled Extra Ordinary and their work was included in the Christie’s 2017 Auction.
Their commitment and humility are impressive, but it’s their passion that stands out. It’s really quite simple: they love what they do. Siyabonga sums it up: ‘When I’m making things, I simply follow my hand wherever it goes.’
Text: Sharon Sorour-Morris Photographs: Adel Ferreira as seen in the November Slow Living issue.