Zanoxolo Sylvester Mqeku is an artist spearheading the potentialities of clay, sand, and metal. His work emerges in part from a gestating Master’s dissertation, completed through the Central University of Technology (CUT) in Bloemfontein. This self-reflexive research attempts to recuperate ancient ceramic techniques through Industry 4.0 fabrication technologies (the term “Industry 4.0” refers to a period of accelerated technological development and interconnectivity), allowing his medium and practice to come into resonance and dissonance against each other. Harvesting sand from the Caledon river, Mqeku builds sandcastles in relief, using moon-white 3D- printed tools to cast enigmatic markings which he presses into the sand. He then pours clay slip into this well and watches as it rushes into the furrows of sand, pressing tenderly into the edges of the imprint, winding its way into remembered forms. When the artist wrests his clay bodies from the womb of the crumbling, crusted cast, the object bears the record of sand. After being fired at 1000 degrees Celsius, Mqeku’s clayworks are ready to acquire their metallic skins. The surface morphs in the heat, metallic patina applications effervesce. Against clay, copper, chrome, red iron oxide, rutile dioxides transcend their material bounds, becoming more than metal. The artist speaks of sand, metal, clay as a Holy Trinity, the most essential compounds of the earth itself.
Born in Tlokoeng in the Estern Cape (1987), Zanoxolo Sylvester Mqeku obtained several qualifications from Nelson Mandela University in Gqeberha as well as a BTech in Fine Art from the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria. In 2018, Mqeku participated in an artist residency in Vallauris (France) and was commissioned as part of the Goethe-Institut Project Space (GPS) in Johannesburg. Working with innovative sand-casting techniques, Mqeku experiments with the many states of earth materials – liquid, solid, crumbling, hardening, excavated, buried. His series The Birth of the Alter-Natural was Africa’s first sand-cast ceramics exhibition.
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Africa’s first sand-cast ceramics
"Mqeku's recent work, a chrome oxide and copper green glazed sand-cast form called 452b Horizon (2022), references the planet Kepler- 452b, a super-Earth beyond our solar system orbiting the inner rim of the habitable zone of a sun-like star.* This corpus, like a meteorite hunk from a distant Earth, dreams of a home far away."- Extract from CLAY FORMES
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