Given how much a part of everyday South African life Zulu pots are – and how strikingly beautiful they are – it’s a wonder that we don’t hear more about the artists responsible for these wonderful pots that are used for everything from pot plants, to pieces of sculpture, to vessels for beer – the original use of the ukhamba pot. Granted there are a few celebrated artists, the Nala family being perhaps the most famous amongst them, but there are surely countless other women whose names we should be familiar with? While the number of people producing traditional clay pots is on the decline (a lack of skills transfer, and the proliferation of cheap plastic and enamel alternatives are some of the reasons cited) there still exists a large number of women living in rural areas producing these pieces of living culture.
Mncane Zinindeli Nzuza, a 67 year old woman living in the valley of the Tugela River in Zululand, is one such woman. Until recently unknown, Nzuza has been producing clay pots for the past fifty years, having learned the craft from her grandmother at the age of seventeen. Nearly a decade ago, David Roberts spotted one of Nzuza’s pots, which he deemed to be exceptional, and set about trying to trace its maker. Having established that Mncane Nzuza was the artist responsible Roberts spent the next ten years travelling the province collecting Nzuza’s pots, most of which were still in use in rural homes.
The now celebrated works of Nzuza have been exhibited as far afield as Chicago, with critics claiming her vessels to be some of the finest they’ve ever seen. What’s unusual about these exhibitions is that the artworks on display are practical items that until recently were being used by people in their everyday lives.
You have to wonder how many more Mncane Nzuza’s are out there. Spectacularly talented artists whose names we’ve never heard, and whose skills are in danger of being lost forever.
Click here to see a selection of works by Mncane Nzuza