Andile Dyalvane’s reputation as a ceramicist extends much further than the borders of South Africa. Regular international exhibitions have introduced his artistry to the world. Yet his work remains deeply rooted in his heritage and ancestry, which is often the inspiration, and subject matter of his sculptures. His show iThonga is on at Friedman Benda in New York until 22 May 2021. It is his second solo show with this particular gallery, through the artist’s relationship with Southern Guild in South Africa, and his fourth solo show.
Dyalvane spent his youth farming in the Eastern Cape. It entrenched a deep love of the earth and this, as well as his Xhosa culture, is present in most of his work. IThonga means ‘ancestral dreamscape’ in Xhosa and refers to the medium through which messages are transmitted from the ancestors. An essential energetic link between the past, present and future, and one that informs Dyalvane’s artistic practice.
IThongo comprises 18 pieces of sculptural ceramic seating - stools, chairs and benches. In the gallery, the pieces are arranged in the custom of Xhosa ceremonial gatherings, which would typically be around a fire.
The form of each seat is based on a pictogram or symbol. These symbols come from a lexicon of 200 icons that Dyalvane has designed to denote important words in Xhosa culture and daily life. The words range from the physical, like igubu (drum) and umalusi (herdsman) or izilo (totem animals), to more spiritual and universal themes and concepts. This is a longstanding project and passion of Dyalvane’s – born of a desire to preserve Xhosa practices and language.
Designed to sit low to the ground, in accordance with traditional artefacts and Dyalvane’s own memories, the pieces connect with the earth (a powerful spiritual conduit). Their rounded forms echo the shapes of traditional kraals (an enclosure for cattle or sheep) and rondavels (a rounded dwelling) and are a nod to the power of circular geometry as a facilitator of energy in Xhosa spiritual practices.
“My intentions with developing an extended body of work under the title iThongo is to highlight a gathering of dreams, seated in the soul, held by the spirits of our ancestors. Symbols are visual tools harnessed to more effectively impart meanings within messages - codes, if you will - that aid stories. The language of dreams is symbolic and therefore realised as uyalezo, messages from our ancestral spirits,” he says.
We talk to South African ceramicist Andile Dyalvane.
Andile Dyalvane, gt2p on creating The Wishing Wall.
Andile Dyalvane, gt2p in never-before-seen installation at Design Indaba 2017.
Our profile on Andile Dyalvane.
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Show: Daniel Kukla, courtesy of Friedman Benda
Portraits: Adriaan Louw