Saturday, June 21, 2014

Christ playing football; Hlungwani Retrospective at UJ Art Gallery – A tribute to the national treasure.

It is not often that one is guided, led and or waved on by God’s hand into the creative sanctuary of one of South Africa’s most revered artists. Sculptor, preacher and visionary; a diverse range of roles ascribed to one of South Africa’s most admired creative icons; Jackson Xidonkani Hlungwani at UJ Art Gallery, Mon - Fri: 09:00 -16:00 and Sat: 09:00 - 13:00. Exhibition closes on 16 July 2014. 

One with God, nature and his community, he transformed his hometown space and place into a site-specific Spiritual Mountain, titled “New Jerusalem. His massive, carved and sculpted platter (meat trough) stands upright, displayed to invite you to feast on his relentless creative appetite.

Driven by his call to serve and prepare spiritual feasts (manna from heaven) Hlungwani, fused Christian beliefs and Tsonga rituals and traditions to create a synergy between a life lived and dreamt.  His extraordinary creative works of animals, human, Biblical and plant images, in the words of Leibhammer (curator of this exhibition), ‘are fanciful, hieratic, somber or ceremonial. They also recall a range of other religious modes, such as Medieval, Romanesque, Oriental and traditional African art and architecture (2014).

The curator of this exhibition, Nessa Leibhammer, and the director, Anneli Dempsey, of the University of Johannesburg Art Gallery have exploited the internal exhibition space to great effect. The narrow space at the entrance of the building compels the viewer to engage the artist’s installation as if on route to the sanctuary of God, situated at the bottom end of the gallery – the widest and most expanded part of the internal space, the width of the entire building.

A large window at this end of the gallery faces north, and is masked with a rural landscape scene, light filters through to shroud the mythical works in a spiritual ambience, in keeping with the artist’s intent for the site-specific sculptural installation.

Hlungwani tells of a revelatory experience that changed his life: one night in 1978 the devil shot arrows through his legs. He managed to get rid of one of the arrows but the other stuck fast. He became so ill that he decided to kill himself. Fortunately, before he could, Jesus appeared before him and told him three things: he would be healed; must serve God all his life and he would see God. Later he founded his own church that he called ‘Yesu Galeliya One Aposto in Sayoni Alt and Omega’. (Art Talk – volume 14 Issue 2, October 2013).

This personal spiritual awakening (baptism in fire) quickened Hlungwani to construct New Jerusalem - a pilgrimage route up the hill along which believers could walk (images above). Near the top they could find the Altar to Christ and the Altar to God, comprising stone platforms with sculptures of God, Christ, angels such as Gabriel II, and a ‘map for God’ (page 5 - MTN brochure ). The Altar to Christ is permanently on display at the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG) whilst the Altar to God is in the permanent collection of the Wits Art Museum.

It took 30 years to visualise and realise his carved and constructed vision of New Jerusalem. In the heart of the gallery space, the curator has alluded to recreating Hlungwani’s sacred space, using a large-scale wallpaper image and a number of sculptural works. Ironically Hlungwani’s divinity is fittingly represented in the work titled Christ playing football – no doubt to coincide with the soccer world cup in Brazil.
Christ playing football. Hlungwani Restrospective at UJ; a tribute
sponsored by the MTN Foundation. 
In the words of Ricky Burnett, to the patient and inquisitive viewer, prepared to respond to the’…fancies that are curled around these images….’ Hlungwani’s work can become both a gateway to this Tsonga ancestry and to world culture.

A tribute to Jackson Hlungwani, this exhibition started its journey at the Polokwane Art Museum, a retrospective of 45 works, curated to provide the local community access to his works on a large scale. Few have seen or experienced his work in a comprehensive display. I first encountered his work in Newtown in 1989, at a solo exhibition shrouded in controversy, sponsored by BMW (South Africa) (PTY) Limited and compiled by their then arts advisor Ricky Burnett.

In retrospect, one cant begin to imagine what would have happened to the works and the ‘New Jerusalem’ had the wide range of sculptures, objects and panels not not been purchased by museums, galleries and art collectors at the time. What is exciting is that this inclusive exhibition is on view for a few weeks only at the University of Johannesburg’s Art Gallery.

MTN Foundation is the sole sponsor of this must see exhibition (Art Talk perfect for school excursions), a fitting tribute to a national treasure whose works, stylisation, art and craftsmanship will be forever inspire me in my creative endeavours. Site-specific, this installation crosses disciplines and integrates art, craft and design reminiscent of time when each and every artifact has “its roots in cultural contexts in which art was congruent with life, and in which artistry was integrated with utility” (Davidson, Art and Ambiguity. 1991:18). 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Ceramics SA regional exhibition 2014

Dale Lambert's vessel; Glazecor Award.

Every year Ceramics SA organises and facilitates regional ceramics awards exhibitions across the country. Showcasing the work of clay products in a variety of design styles, representing the creative output of its members and including the work of Ceramic Fellows – those individuals that made a valuable contribution to the world of clay in a South African context. Often guests, clay specialists, are invited to add creative flair to ceramic proceedings. 
Ndebele Premier Award winner's ceramics by Eunice Botes.
The majority of work on display is of a traditional nature, inspiration drawn from age-old craft practices – skills transferred through a number of informal training programs spread across the region. Then there are a number of entries created and developed at advanced mentorship programs on offer in the Gauteng region. 
Vase Eunice Botes; Premier Award winner.
Shirley's Bone China vessels -
soluble salts decoration.
A number of Ceramics SA’s members have taken their creative talents seriously and embarked on ceramic training at a number of technikons that offered fulltime ceramic diploma programs or art and craft training programs on offer at one or two universities. Most of these programs are now closed down for various reasons – a global trend we will not try to explain here.  
Sandy Godwin's vessel.
It is therefore very necessary to mention the important role of these studios. They provide on-going ceramic training support - guidance is provided by ceramic tutors passionate about their craft and in a number of cases very knowledgeable about the broad field of ceramics. In countries like South Africa these training providers are in many ways the last creative outposts in our fight against the extinction of informal craft skills transfer.

Nkhensani Nkozi
bowl and vase
If the prizes are anything to go by, it is clear that a number of these studios operate like small focussed ceramic incubators – one or two setting high standards, egging on their pupils to produce cutting edge ceramic statements. Training is provided by skilled craftspeople with the qualifications and experience within a stimulating creative environment – experienced ceramists work side by side, sharing knowledge in a studio where critique and support encourages mature and aspiring ceramists to grow in leaps and bounds on many levels. This is a very encouraging development in a country where ceramics is not prioritised as an economic developing sector.

Nici Brockwell illustrated bowl.
The regional exhibition is therefore a wonderful opportunity for viewers interested in seeing a wide spectrum of ceramic statements across the broad field of creativity within the medium in clay. Hand built, thrown, slip cast, in porcelain and and, and the list goes on, and on, for as long as man and woman has inhabited the earth. This craft forms has been shaped from the east to the west, north to the south and it continues to grow and shift in terms of creative possibilities on numerous levels across disciplines and media, across the globe.
Nici Brockwell's award winning bowls - Melanie Robinson Award
Christine Williams.
As mentioned before, it is the duty of each member to make a contribution to Ceramics SA, if they wish to see ceramics grow and develop well into the future. I have committed myself to provide on-going support, especially for this event for a number of years now. Photographing the work for CD catalogue (images posted here), setting up the exhibition and when called upon I act as a reviewer for the local media or Ceramics SA News letter. 
Digby Hoets' very large thrown pots.
This year I was also asked to be a selector and award judge.  A smaller exhibition than the past two years (number of works entered and selected) – the display is divided into two sections, a dry wall splitting the venue in half. The first half of the display consists of the work by invited guest artists and the work of the ceramic fellows (image on the left). 
The main display on the right hand side of the dry wall consists of all the winners and Gauteng ceramists – a display truly representative of this ancient craft, ensuring visiting guests who make their way to Museum Africa can experience each and every work exhibited in this truly vibrant ceramic exhibition (image on the left).

The opening was well attended and opened by Nkhensani Nkosi founder of fashion label Stoned Cherrie (image on the left). She gave a well-received and eloquent address, sharing her creative insight into working with clay. She recently joined one of the ceramic ‘incubators’ and produced two works for the exhibition – incised decoration on platter and vase. Worth mentioning, working in a similar technique, although fired to stoneware temperature, is the vases of guest artist Sarah Walters (images below).

The work of Christina Bryer always attracts attention, masterfully visualised and crafted to perfection, it adds a dimension of class to this regional exhibition. Conceived with great insight and creative experience, the artist as always delivers a dazzling end result.

The winners
Mathiba Molefe-Simelane.
The winning pieces reflect quality and creativity in a diverse range of ceramic styles, techniques and ceramic traditions. The overall winner’s work consisted of a vase and installation of cylinders with incised and painted decoration.  Meticulously crafted and decorated, Eunice Botes is a worthy winner (work seen above).

Dale Lambert’s stoneware thrown bowls with intense blue, an electrifying blue under glaze colour – to be precise, produced striking end results (above). This is particularly evident in one of the bowls no 141 (centre) – the form, shape and intense colour compliments each other to produce a desirable and very collectable ceramic vessel.  
The beautifully and effortlessly illustrated ceramic bowls and cylindrical vessel of Nici Brockwell made her a worthy prizewinner (image on the left). The bowls were constructed of slabs reminiscent of a patched quilt and skilfully illustrated in a range of bright colours to produce a well crafted range of narrative based vessels. 

Sandy Godwin in her award winning ceramics made use of a range of tonal values to produce a dynamic optical end result on the surfaces of her monochromatically decorated vessels (image on the left). 

Madoda Fani’s was rewarded for his masterly crafted hand-built, carved and burnished vessels. On another day with different selectors and judges he could have been a worthy winner (work above). 

The work of Mathiba Molefe-Simelane is honoured for her delicately crafted and incised ceramic surfaces on ceramic bowls fired to stoneware (image above). 
Other worthy winners include, Beulah Vermaak, Hansraj Mitha, Jean Beckley, Monica vd Berg  and Colleen Lehmkuhl (Image below).
Large vessels and teapot by award winner Colleen Lehmkhul.
Ceramic head by award winner Monica vd Berg.

Dale Lambert, Eunice Botes, Jerice Doeg and Nkhensani Nkosi

Nkhensani and Simon