Sisi Wendaw

Sisi Wendaw

With a thumb against the clay’s underside, Siyabonga Fani depresses the landscape, and streams of fissures chase his touch. The clay has been aged with a drying agent, and so the material resists the movement, breaking apart so as to bend. The objects made under Fani’s hands are in between things. By his account, they are partial ancestral vestiges, expressions of cultural heritage, tributes to his artistic father, a gesture to the great lineage muffled in the breath of imphepho, a solemn rite. These clayworks are recollections of a part-inhabited, part-imagined homeland. The landscapes that Fani recalls in his bands of charred clay are the drought-parched rivers of the Eastern Cape, the cracked earth revealed beneath. However, twisting this image of pastoral Xhosa identity is the second skin: the muffled coat of the city, the township. Here is the static fuzz of the urban, the smog, the smoke, the music thrumming against tin, the hiss of the highway. This skin bears the texture of gelatinous heat, the mirage in the dust.


Siyabonga Fani works in Woodstock, Cape Town. He has been working with clay since the late 1990s and founded his studio, Siyabonga Ceramics, in 2013, while a student at Sivuyile College (now the College of Cape Town). Fani hand-coils his pieces, working intuitively, drawing forms from the bodies of trees, the rivers and the human beings who make lives from the earth. His work is animated by the joy and estrangement of the township imaginary. In it, there is the yearning for the pastoral mirage of the rural homeland and the desire to hold the land tenderly. And, with the same impulse, there is the nostalgia for the bustle and hum and dialects of the township.

Fani’s works can be found in private and public collections, both in South Africa and the United States.

Siyabonga Fani, Sisi Wendaw, 2023, smoke-fired blackened terracotta. 60cm (high) x 20cm (wide) x 20cm (deep).  

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“And standing in the silence of the studio, with the lights off and the door locked, are the products of this flame, this lacerated landscape: Indlovukazi (Queen), Ntandokazi (Darling). Moulded by the amorous hands of their sculptor, they are serpentine, feminine, with curving necks, upturned chests, and the crooks of exaggerated collar bones. They are part women, part land, and beloved in the most impenetrable sense of the word.”

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Fani’s work is, in part, a requiem for his father, the self-taught artist who would draw sketches of television characters and perpetually redecorate their home. Since his father’s death, Fani’s clay is heavier; it bears the smell of smoke, pit-fired in the alleyway outside the studio. Fani hand-coils his pieces, working intuitively, drawing forms from the bodies of trees, the rivers and the human beings who make lives from the earth.

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