Cape Town-based ceramic artist Zizipho Poswa is known for an expansive art practice that draws on ancient African traditions (see our visit to Poswa’s studio). Her work is grounded in the Xhosa rituals she witnessed during her childhood in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, and also explores how the sociopolitical role of Xhosa women has evolved throughout generations.
Her debut 2021 exhibition at Cape Town’s Southern Guild Gallery, titled ‘iLobola’ considered the value and relevance of Lobola, a tradition in which a bridegroom’s family offers payment in cattle or cash to the bride’s family ahead of marriage. For the show, Poswa exhibited 12 large sculptures, including Makoti (Bride), uMyeni (Groom), uBuso beNtombi (Gift for the Bride’s Mother) and iKhazi (Agreed Number of Cows), all measuring up to 2m in height and resembling gourd-shaped totems. The pieces were made by assembling hand-coiled clay bases, which were painted in an array of coloured glazes (one or two dripped effects) and crowned with two bronze horns.
Rather than reinforce Lobola’s objectification of women, Poswa looked to the spiritual aspects of the practice and how such traditions offer opportunities for solidifying the bonds between two people and uniting families and communities alike.
Zizipho Poswa’s ‘uBuhle boKhokho’ at Southern Guild
In a new exhibition, ‘uBuhle boKhokho’ (Beauty of Our Ancestors) at Southern Guild, Poswa continues her exploration of traditional African hairstyles, first studied in her Magodi series (the Shona word for the topic). ‘uBuhle boKhokho’ draws inspiration from the elaborate art of hairstyling not just in her native South Africa but across the African continent and extending to the diaspora.
Black hair has long been explored by a cross-generation of African artists, most notably by Nigerian photographer JD ’Okhai Ojeikere, who paired Nigerian women's hairstyles with the new Nigerian architecture of the 1960s, and more recently by London-based artist and hairstylist Joy Matashi. Informed by ancestral hairstyles from ethnic groups including the Fulani and Zande, Poswa looks even further back with this new body of work. Twenty new monumental ceramics and bronze sculptures are spread across Southern Guild’s spaces, alongside a photographic series where the artist recreated 12 hairstyles over a period of five months.
Additionally, some of the sculptures are titled after women who have played an important role in the artist's life, an ode to female solidarity, commonality and conviviality.
Across ceramics and photography, Poswa reminds us of the critical role Black hair has played culturally, socially and politically, across time, as well as its versatility and experimental potential as an artistic and sculptural medium whilst being an important marker of Blackness.
Zizipho Poswa, ‘uBuhle boKhokho (Beauty of Our Ancestors)’, until 2 February 2022, Southern Guild Gallery, Cape Town. southernguild.co.za
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