Ceramicist and Furniture Maker
Meet six Cape Town-based designers and artists with star-bound trajectories, and whose work draws inspiration from their heritage.
“I first touched clay on the muddy riverbanks of a stream near my village, just outside of Mthatha – my childhood friends and I would make figures of the cows grazing nearby,” says affable ceramicist and furniture maker Chuma Maweni. It’s this childhood spent in rural Transkei that Maweni, born in Port Elizabeth, turns to for inspiration in his Imbizo collection.
He cites winning the Design Foundation’s 2018 Object That Moves Award for his Imbizo stools as a career highlight. “Working in design-conscious Cape Town has led to my work being noticed, and to my receiving an award such as this one. It’s also meant my designs need to remain relevant and constantly evolve,” he says.
“The blanket represents the golden thread of culture in our lives,” effuses Lesotho-born fashion designer Thabo Makhetha, whose label takes her name. “I chose the blanket as the basis of my designs because the fabric is unique to the Basotho people.” Her garments, largely a collection of beautifully shaped and tailored women’s coats and capes, are created with a singular vision – to encourage in the wearer a sense of self-worth as an African. Having spent the last 29 years living in a number of South African cities and integrating with a multitude of cultures, Makhetha felt the urge as a designer to reconnect with her own heritage. And she’s been recognised for doing so. In 2017 she was included in the Mail&Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans list, her work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, and most recently, the label’s 2019 Autumn/Winter collection film has been nominated for best fashion and best sound at the Bokeh South African International Fashion Film Festival.
“There’s no better time than now to be a young designer. If you’re a young African designer, this is the time to be bold, dream big and refuse to conform.”
In a reversal of the traditional snakes and ladders model, it’s snakes that account for artist David Brits' ascent. “Snakes were the great leitmotif of my early life,” he says, “I was surrounded by them – as pets, in stories, in books and family photographs.” He clarifies this otherwise unusual statement by revealing that his grandfather was one of the country’s leading herpetologists and snake-catchers.
Brits' childhood memories recall a bucolic upbringing, much of it spent in the company of this patriarch who taught him about farm life, humanities, and gentlemanly ways. “Throughout his life, my grandfather showed me his deep generosity, in both wisdom and spirit, and this has left the greatest impression on me.” His death was the catalyst for Brits' current body of work; serpentine forms, both sculptural and on paper. In keeping with prior thematic explorations, these works help Brits make sense of his masculinity, and in a Jungian sense, of the masculine archetypes of his lineage.
They crowd his studio and grace public and private collections locally and abroad. During 2019 they’ve snaked their way into two very populated Cape Town landmarks, Masiphumelele’s Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, and the newly opened Gorgeous George, the city’s first Design Hotels affiliate, and home to an installation of 34 Brits murals.
For founding partner of Imiso Ceramics, Zizipho Poswa, it’s less a case of ‘go big or go home’ than it is ‘go big and go home’. Recent ventures into large-scale vessels not only mark a departure from the small pinch pots of her past but also directly reference the domestic chores of her Xhosa upbringing. “I wanted to highlight the strength of the extraordinary women in my family and in the villages in which I was raised. I drew my inspiration from their chores,” she says, on titling the collection Umthwalo (to carry a load or burden).
The vessels once used for the twice-daily transportation of water home on her head, coupled with ukusinda, the application of watered cow dung to the floors of rural Eastern Cape huts to render them hygienic, have shaped Poswa’s ceramics metaphorically, but equally in form and surface texture. And, with Poswa having studied Surface Design at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, it’s the variegated and tactile surfaces of these vessels that imbue them with depth and resonance.
When recalling her reaction to hearing, in May, that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art purchased two such works, she smiles, “I hope to inspire other up-and-coming artists to follow their dreams and take advantage of available opportunities.”
The younger of the mother-daughter partnership behind OneOfEach’s colourful accessories range, which includes handbags, belts and bracelets made from artfully-paired African wax prints with leather or suede, Tamburai Chirume describes herself as a “child of the continent.”
What do you mean by that, Tamburai?
I was born in Zimbabwe, but, aged five, moved to Cape Town. My family returned to Zimbabwe for alternate holidays, to ensure we remain connected to our roots. Having grown up an insider-outsider I’ve learnt much about the similarities of African culture – the principles of humility, gratitude and always recognising others.
How does this manifest in your designs?
OneOfEach’s product designs are less about a particular Zimbabwean aesthetic and more about combining current fashion trends with a generalised sense of African wisdom and innovation. It’s in our company’s ethos – which prioritises the principles of love, empathy and kindness – where my heritage is most apparent.
Why wax print patterned fabrics?
The ancient wisdoms of our world are recorded in these patterns. Many of them represent proverbs, and persons or events of importance. Our fabrics are filled with colour, which heals and can transform how one feels. What is demanded of you as a designer in Cape Town today? Today’s consumer shops differently. It’s important to offer more than just a product; your story matters most.
Having spent his life in Khayelitsha, self-taught designer Bonga Jwambi, who’s exhibited at Design Indaba and Decorex, regards the township as his source of inspiration. It’s his observation of life around him – the inhabitants, the limitations on space, the availability of materials – that’s led him to create a range of contemporary furniture made from recycled wooden pallets and plastic strapping commonly used for packaging.
Bonga, why these materials?
It’s important to me to raise awareness of recycling. People are often pleasantly surprised to discover that my pieces are made from discarded materials. By repurposing plastic strapping for thonging in my chairs and benches, I reference and modernise traditional riempie.
How has growing up in Khayelitsha influenced the aesthetic of your pieces?
My mother, a single parent, loved colour and neatness, and – since my primary school days – encouraged me to draw. I think that’s why my products are minimal and colourful. I also draw much visual inspiration from the architectural structures around me.
What governs your thinking when designing?
Design for me, is about coming up with solutions. When working, I consider ways of solving the challenges of small, crowded spaces in township living. My furniture is about functionality – my products are compact and weigh little.