Debut solo follows recent acquisition by the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Southern Guild presents iLobola by ceramic artist Zizipho Poswa, opening 25 March and running until 1 July. The exhibition – Poswa’s debut solo – includes 10 iconic sculptures made from hand-coiled clay combined with cast bronze for the first time. The artist’s work is gaining significant international attention with a recent acquisition by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, two years after the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) bought a pair of sculptures.
iLobola pays homage to the spiritual offering at the heart of the ancient African custom of lobola, or bride-wealth: the cow. Whereas traditionally the groom’s family would gift a certain number of cows to the bride’s family after a process of negotiation between the two parties, in more recent times the animals are often replaced by a monetary payment – leading the practice to be viewed as more commercial in nature. But this obscures the primary purpose of lobola, says Poswa – that of ukwakhiwa kobuhlobo, the building of relations between the two families.
“During the negotiation process, the families really get to know each other. They talk about what bonds the couple together and even identify potential pitfalls to the marriage. When the couple faces problems down the line, they have this safety net to turn to. I think it’s a really beautiful structure that brings stability,” she says.
Lobola also raises questions that it disempowers and objectifies women, but Poswa unapologetically overrides this perception, choosing to celebrate both strength and sensuality in her work. The 10 sculptures in iLobola reach up to two metres high – her biggest yet – each emblazoned with a pair of massive bronze horns that pierce the air. Their voluminous bases take the form of huge conical teardrops, undulating gourds or giant barrels that invite anthropomorphic associations.
Like some of Poswa’s earlier works, this series straddles figuration and abstraction, employing an intuitive vocabulary of shape, colour and texture. Her artistic practice revolves around aspects of Black female identity in current-day South Africa, paying homage to the sacrifices of mothers, positing the importance of sisterhood, and celebrating intact cultural spaces – such as the traditional African hair salon – where Western influence has remained at bay.
Born in 1979 in the town of Mthatha in the Eastern Cape province, Poswa studied surface design at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. She draws on this knowledge to amalgamate the visual stimuli she encounters in her daily life into a simplified pattern language. In 2006, she and fellow ceramicist Andile Dyalvane opened their studio, Imiso (meaning “tomorrow”) Ceramics.
Distinct from her more functional ceramics for Imiso, Poswa’s large-scale sculptural works for Southern Guild explore her personal experience and heritage. Her first major series paid tribute to the practice of umthwalo (load), in which rural women carry heavy bundles of wood, buckets of water or parcels on their heads, often walking long distances on foot. Her subsequent series, Magodi, looks to the sculptural forms of traditional African hairstyles, such as the Bantu knot and dreadlock, and the central role that hair salons play as a meeting place for women. Each work is named after a family member or close friend, giving vivid, physical form to the artist’s own support network.
Poswa’s ceramics have attracted strong interest from international collectors and can be found in important private and corporate collections in South Africa and around the world. Her Ukukhula series was acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in 2019 and she was included in the Female Design Council’s all-women exhibition Deeper Than Text at the 1stdibs Gallery in New York City during NYCxDESIGN. Southern Guild has presented her work at Design Miami/, The Salon Art + Design in New York and PAD London.