From their studio in Woodstock, Cape Town, three talented ceramicists push the boundaries of creativity to make their mark
Inside the studio of Siyabonga Ceramics with ceramicists Madoda Fani, Siyabonga Fani and Chuma Maweni
At first glance, Siyabonga Ceramics studio at the back of The Palms @ Woodstock lifestyle centre in Cape Town seems deserted. Interesting items – some shiny, others matte – in various stages of completion litter the space, where there’s evidence of clay, sculpting tools and a kiln, off to one side. Then Madoda Fani and his fellow ceramicists and collaborators Chuma Maweni and Siyabonga Fani, Madoda’s younger brother, come into view.
All shining stars on the South African ceramic scene, the talented trio produce their beautifully wrought pieces here in this shared studio space. 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, with Madoda joining him five years ago and Maweni coming on board 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. Siyabonga and Madoda cut their artistic teeth at Sivuyile College, now 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 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 from the world around them. Madoda’s entranced by feature films such as the Star Wars franchise and Japanese movies, from which he gleans 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 and mentored by other creatives, 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 like coiling and pinching, with pieces being bisque- and smoke-fired. Their works are then burnished with stones or polished with shoe or floor polish to achieve the dark patina they’ve perfected.
Evolution is key in their process, and they continually push boundaries. Maweni still produces his signature teardrop pieces, but has branched out to make stools and other functional furniture. Madoda loves clay and is creating a 65cm chair that will soon wing its way to Design Miami with Southern Guild, but he’s also started working in bronze, and 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 travelled overseas, won awards and regularly have work selected for a plethora of exhibitions, including the prestigious Ceramics SA regional and national exhibitions. This year, Maweni and Madoda also produced new work for Southern Guild’s Extra Ordinary exhibition, 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.’ siyabongaceramics.co.za @fanimadoda
this page (from top) Ceramicist Madoda Fani works on one of his hand-coiled vessels for which he is best known; clay creations by Siyabonga Fani (left), Chuma Maweni (middle) and Madoda (right) are on display at Siyabonga Ceramics in Woodstock. opposite Madoda stands in the trio’s shared studio space next to a clay chair that he is working on for Design Miami 2018 with Southern Guild.
this page ‘I don’t think about a design before I start. I let the clay talk to me and together we create magic,’ says Siyabonga, who’s moved on from his early colourful creations and is now making large, carved vessels. oppositeAlthough Maweni works with traditional processes, he isn’t limited by them and mainly explores contemporary forms that reflect his spirit as an artist.