“I wanted to know what it was like to wear hairstyles from other eras.”
“I’m just a vessel,” Gigifo Poswa said modestly when asked about the popularity of her work.
As an artist and designer dedicated to making pottery vessels, it’s an apt metaphor.In light of her recent exhibition, it is even more important uBuhle boKhokho (Ancestral Beauty) The Southern Guild Gallery in Cape Town features large vessels that represent more or less the human body, given that each is a receptacle for hairstyles from different eras and countries of the African continent.
Essentially, this exhibition explores African hairstyles, the artistry, patterns and designs inherent in their creation, and how they have highlighted the beauty of black women across countries over time. There are 12 sculptures inspired by the ornate hairstyles of countries such as Cameroon, Nigeria, Gabon and Zimbabwe.
They are presented alongside large-scale photographs of Poswa, along with some of the hairstyles she has interpreted in clay. These are glossy images, maybe enlarged fashion magazine covers.
She’s a beautiful woman and makes you feel connected to beauty with elaborate hairstyles that look almost like a crown. This regal undercurrent focuses on a gold leaf encrusted image of her upper body.
Despite the manufacturer’s international standing, this is not a narcissistic gesture. Poswa’s success has skyrocketed since her work debuted in 2018 at the Southern Guild booth at Design Miami, one of her most prestigious international design trade fairs.
Her unique ceramic works have gained international attention. Museums in the United States have collected her work and she has become one of the Southern Guild’s most prominent artists. Her work has waiting lists with impressive price tags.
Yet, when we met her at her Woodstock studio, she didn’t have a diva vibe at all. It’s the last week of December so the studio is quieter than usual. Only her two members of the team she shares with her Andile Dyalvane have turned to smaller, more commercial pieces to sell under her Imiso Ceramics brand, founded by her duo in 2005. It is working.
Her shyness may simply be the result of fatigue, given that she has just stepped off a plane from the United States after attending Design Miami and other art fairs in the city in early December. Hmm. Her first time attending the event gave her the opportunity to become famous and connect with the collectors Southern Guild has pioneered in the United States.
“It was crazy. People were so excited [about the works]When I got there, I realized they already knew the job. Because my work has screened before (in Miami), not just on social media. If it wasn’t for Covid, I would have been in Miami sooner.”
One collector she was looking forward to meeting was legendary American fashion designer Donna Karan, who bought two of her pieces last year. Poswa was also thrilled to learn that South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth had acquired the artwork.
She looks nothing like the women in the sophisticated photos of her exhibition. She can’t sleep with them on,” she says.
In fact, the sculptural hairstyle that inspired her work can only be worn for short periods of time due to its scale and structure.
Transforming these impermanent, almost-living structures into sculptures, Poswa suggests, is the motivation for the series to freeze them in time and give them the permanence that normally escapes them. doing.
I wanted to wear each hairstyle and feel the “power”, so to speak, before sculpting it in clay.
“I wanted to know what it was like to wear these hairstyles from other eras,” she says.
Symbolically, this activity allowed her to embody the feminine line of history and its predecessor. I was able to.
The transformation of photography into her practice is new, and in the context of the exhibition she works to connect the body to the abstract vessels scattered around the gallery.
Hair has been a recurring theme in her art since the Magodi series where she referenced the Bantu knot among other hairstyles.
Working as a model for a hair extension company once drove her interest in hairstyle expression. The company no longer exists, but images of Poswa advertising its products are circulating in salons.
Poswa couldn’t help but stop by one such place, pointing out that she was a model, and showing the hairdresser an image of the work she was creating.
“Part of what I do is respect their work.”
Another key influence driving this body of work and the Magordy series relates to the fact that one of her studio assistants is a trained hairdresser. Samantha Mushamba, whose contribution was recognized at the exhibition, took a managerial position at her studio after starting to do her Poswa hair and nails. When Poswa crafted an approach uBuhle boKhokho (Ancestral Beauty)it makes sense to ask Mushamba for help.
“I hit her rock bottom. She made some pieces at home at night and we mounted them and shot them the next day. It was an intense process. She’s very creative. The hairstyles she wants to do.” together and imagined what it would look like in clay form, which was a beautiful challenge for her, too,” Poswa says.
The silhouettes of these hairstyles are recognizable in their sculptural translation, but at first glance they read as abstract compositions. This has always been part of the appeal of her Poswa work, but it also reflects her practice as a designer.
Between the ceramic objects she creates for Imiso Ceramics and the more grandiose, large-scale works she creates for gallery audiences, perhaps there are some aesthetic hallmarks (bold and earthy colors and tones). ) has a vague line in the sense that it can detect , the shape of the blood vessel.
But it’s not just the scale, it’s the intention behind them that distinguishes the Imiso brand’s more utilitarian objects from what she defines as art objects, which she presents in galleries and trade fairs.
Until recently, Poswa was seen more as a designer than an artist, perhaps before ceramics was more readily recognized as an art.
Growing up in Masa, Eastern Cape, she had no ambition to join the art world. She had never met art or artists. She was inspired by the designs she came across, including her plastic kitchen her table her covers. This ubiquitous textile fascinated her astonishingly from a young age, eventually leading her to study her textile designs at Port Elizabeth.
“I knew I could apply this knowledge to media other than textiles. Any design I could come up with could be applied to any surface.
“I knew I was going to work with clay, but I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.”
After moving to Cape Town with Dyalvane, a ceramic artist she met in college, Poswa worked for textile designer Carole Nevin until space became available at Woodstock’s newly renovated Biscuit Mill development. rice field. Having long dreamed of establishing a design hub where a group of young designers working with different materials could share space, ideas and clients, Dialvan and others signed a lease and occupied the space.
“I had very little money to start a business. I had to open the door immediately to pay my first rent,” she recalls.
They started working immediately and chose to work with clay.
Over the years, they established the Imiso brand and a little later creating collectible designs, a design business started by Trevyn and Julian McGowan who would later found Southern Guild Galleries. It’s now an obvious extension by providing a Source.
It took more time in development to create a collectible design piece that pushes the definition of art. Poswa handled Imiso his ceramics commercial interests, and Dialvan ventured into this new territory. Once a stronger team was assembled, Poswa turned to creating more purposeful objects.
“I started with pinch bowls, and people were buying them. When I started telling my story honestly, I was able to create [different kinds of works]’” she explains.
A common theme that unites Poswa’s sculptures and his collectible ceramic works is a focus on women. In her first series, she showed a woman engaged in ‘umthwalo’ (load) in a rural setting, carrying heavy bundles of wood, buckets of water and parcels on her head.
She presented the Irobora (the exchange of goods or money between the families of the groom and the bride) via a series of vessels decorated with bronze cast horns, referring to the cows traditionally used in the process of negotiation. expressed.
Her reverence for women as society’s unsung heroes stems from a deep appreciation and admiration for her late mother.
“I was raised by a single mother. She raised me as well as my cousins. I’m an only child. There were almost 10 of us at one point. She was a teacher.” She may have said she would raise only me, but she embraced all of us and many in the community.
She agrees that her large ship may be recognized as a monument to women, adding that one of her ambitions is to create a genuine public sculpture that recognizes black women. increase.
Poswa may not have time this year. He has a series of dizzying projects, such as being asked to create a new work for a group exhibition to be held in Venice, and is given a large amount of discretion.
Several international residents line up. One in Mexico sees her and her entire studio (including Dyalvane) relocate to that country.
She’s especially excited about her residency at the University of Los Angeles, which will give her access to a much larger kiln than the one she has in her studio.
“Their kiln is bigger than the room. turn your eyes.
Considering what came out of her kiln last year, all eyes will be on these new works where spatial restrictions don’t get in the way of her. uBuhle boKhokho (Ancestral Beauty) It is on display at the Southern Guild Gallery in Cape Town until February 2nd.