Jabulile Nala_Clay Formes by Art Formes_Nesta Nala




b. 1969

the nala tradition

fig. jabulile nala, ukhamba (2023)

Jabulile Nala_Clay Formes by Art Formes_Nesta Nala

Hailing from one of the foremost families of Zulu ceramics, Jabulile Nala bears the memory of a line of female ceramicists that can be traced back to 1900. Born in KwaZulu-Natal, and rooted in the ceramic traditions of her mother, Nesta, and her grandmother, Siphiwe, Nala creates sculptural forms which spiral wildly from their origin point in the Zulu clay heritage, at once incorporating and defying traditions. Each work is a distinctive body, perhaps capped with a short protruding neck, or raised amasumpa, or banded design work. Nala digs for red and grey clays from two sites near her home. Her whole-body approach to nurturing her clay from harvest to fabulation is a profound contribution to the lineage of clay and the obscured archives of the women who came before her. Jabulile Nala has participated in numerous exhibitions in South Africa and abroad and her work is represented in both national and international private and public collections.

jabulile nala

b. 1969 (eshowe, kwazulu-natal)

the nala tradition

Some traditions are of such a heft that they are born of many mothers. And in the case of the Zulu ceramic tradition, the mother is often literal. Mothers, and the mothers of mothers, down a great ancestral chain have left their hands in the clay. Distinct from the individualistic, Western paradigm of “The Great Artist” is a subtler tradition: a making along the ancestral line, a making with many hands and many voices. In South Africa, many artists are inheritors of both of these traditions. When calling to Jabulile Nala, it is perhaps impossible to not call to the great human line from which she is drawn. The artist comes from a strong matriarchal lineage: her mother was “the most famous named Zulu potter of the twentieth century,” Nesta Nala (1940–2005) who began making vessels in clay at the age of twelve, learning the tradition from her mother, Siphiwe Nala (1914–2003), who had in turn been taught by Nesta’s paternal grandmother.

Ukhamba is the term for blackened vessels that are used during rituals within Zulu culture for serving and drinking beer; pots used for communing with the ancestors. The works of Nesta Nala were the first Zulu pots to enter into the fine art realm and to be placed inside the art gallery. “When purchased, these pots came to sit on coffee tables or in museum cases. They never held beer – their owners never intended them to – and potters knew this,” writes author Elizabeth Perrill. Jabulile Nala has been hand-coiling forms, notably the familial ukhamba and uphiso, since 1980. Her work often pays tribute to the characteristically dainty bases of her mother’s pots and the richness of their motifs: the power and symbolism of the triangular form, especially in juxtaposition with the vessel’s curved outline. Jabulile Nala has innovated even further: compressing the round belly of the ukhamba, flanking its sides with handles more commonly found on traditional meat dishes, and providing a larger surface on which to incise and sculpt a myriad of minute geometric structures.

“Once the ukhamba lands in the hands of Jabulile Nala it is sodden with waves of history, heavy with all the bodies that have made it. Her mother’s hand and the bodies and spirits of the long line of mothers before, appearing in each incision, each coax, each pull of the clay.”

Jabulile Nala_Clay Formes by Art Formes_Nesta Nala

fig. jabulile nala, ukhamba (2023)

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Clay Formes

contemporary clay from south africa

CLAY FORMES is the first of its kind: a survey of contemporary clay from South Africa. This volume, through exquisite photography and literary essays, showcases multiple generations of living South African artists, each innovating the potentialities of clay and ceramics. This publication offers enthusiasts and collectors a glimpse into the studios of thirty important South African artists and opens a window into the complexity of each body of work, revealing the richness of both contemporary clay and ceramic tradition within South African art.

This publication has sought to reflect its subject: to be as fluid as water and as weighty as earth. All this is done in the hopes of leaving behind a fresh approach to this manifold medium, and of presenting to the world the previously unexplored richness of sculptural clay in South Africa.

Dedicated to contemporary clay and ceramics from South Africa. The first publication of its kind, published by Art Formes.