The audio file for this article was produced by the Ceramic Arts Network staff and not read by the author.
For nearly two decades, the members of Imiso Ceramics have adapted, shifted, and reshaped their South African studio alongside thriving solo careers. Imiso, the isiXhosa word for tomorrow, is part of a lexicon of terms that sets the studio’s intentions. Artistically, economically, personally—Andile Dyalvane and Zizipho Poswa, Imiso’s co-founders—are focused on calibrating the scale of success for themselves, their business, and their community.
Dyalvane and Poswa reached a milestone in 2021, when each had works acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in conjunction with the Afro-Futurist period room, “Before Yesterday We Could Fly” (www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2021/afrofuturist-period-room). This re-envisioning of potential Black futures presents these works alongside ceramics by Roberto Lugo and Magdalene Odundo, commissioned wallpaper by Njideka Akunyili Crosby, and a panoply of photography, sculpture, and interior-design objects by established and emerging international Black artists. These contemporary works are contextualized alongside historical holdings from the Met, including the salt-glazed wares of early-19th century New York ceramic artist Thomas W. Commeraw, a free Black entrepreneur. The period room’s melding of contemporary and ancestral inspiration is a perfect fit for Dyalvane and Poswa, who, while based in the heart of Cape Town’s art world, are consistently connecting with their ancestral roots and reflecting upon their impact in global contexts.
A lexicon of pictograms developed by Dyalvane symbolize Xhosa concepts that are frequently discussed by Imiso members. This group shares a delight in the nuances of language, with meanings that are never quite captured in translation. In mid-October of 2022, sitting on several of Dyalvane’s ceramic chairs and on woven mats, I was privileged to speak with Dyalvane; Poswa; Nkuthazo Alexis Dyalvane (writer, artist, and Andile’s partner); Sandisile Poswa (ceramic artist and relative of Zizipho); Ludwe Mgolombane (ceramic sculptor); and Thembinkosi Nkukwana (master thrower). Our conversation spanned the philosophical to the nitty-gritty and traced the shifting scales and sites of Imiso’s success.
Zizipho Poswa’s solo show “uBuhle boKhokho (Beauty of Our Ancestors),” a sign of Poswa’s personal expansion, ran from November 17, 2022 to February 3, 2023, at Southern Guild, a high-end gallery focused on design and functional art in Cape Town. This show also points out how the differentiation between the two entities, Imiso Ceramics and Southern Guild, is tied to the question of scale and Imiso studio’s dynamic business model. Several of the duo’s vessel-oriented collections remain the purview of the Imiso Ceramics Gallery, while Southern Guild provides a conduit to international art exhibitions and fairs for the artists’ individual artistic explorations. Southern Guild has also helped expand the scale of Dyalvane’s and Poswa’s ambitions, physically and conceptually. The professional staff at Southern Guild foster the studio’s ability to think big, underwriting physical facilities when necessary and allowing the artists to put down some burdens of installations and promotions, work that Poswa in particular spearheaded when the Imiso team exhibited on their own abroad, utilizing South Africa national-arts funding.
Southern Guild, positioned in the Silo District, the harbor area just next to the Zeitz-MOCCA, South Africa’s most prestigious contemporary art museum, provides a venue for a cohort of Cape Town ceramic artists and designers. Their multimedia connections were integral to Imiso’s recent expansion into bronze sculptural integrations with the studio’s ceramics practice. Showing at many international fairs such as Design Miami, the gallery’s artists include Dyalvane, Poswa, Madoda Fani, and Chuma Maweni, who will all be hosted by the Academy of Ceramics in Gmunden, Austria, in the summer of 2023. Nkuthazo Alexis Dyalvane underscored that all of these ceramic artists share resources, one another’s kilns, and conversations. No less important are the network of traditional healers, textile designers, and musicians Imiso welcomes into its spaces.
Growth and Expression
Imiso’s lofted space, with a one-story drying room at its center, is a hub for production and community events. Positioned next to a microbrewery and not far from The Old Biscuit Mill, a designer sales complex, Imiso is in a quickly gentrifying zone. But their success is not based on the proliferation of beers and lattes. Established between 2005 and 2006, Imiso Ceramics has weathered several business-model transitions. Dyalvane finished his degree at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (previously Port Elizabeth Technikon) in 2003, the same institution where Zizipho later finished a degree in textile design technology. Speaking of the team’s ambitions, Poswa summarized that, “There was no other plan B . . . By the time we met in Cape Town, we spoke the same language in terms of wanting to do our own thing.” Dyalvane and Poswa initially worked for other designers, in ceramics and textile design, but as Dyalvane noted, “There are limitations as to how you can express yourself” when working for someone else. Thus, Imiso was formed, a collaborative venture that could be grounded in Xhosa principles and cultural expression.
During its earlier phases, Imiso promoted Dyalvane’s work through venues such as the Cape Town Design Indaba, a prestigious design fair that named him a 2005 Emerging Creative. Soon after, Poswa’s pinch pots caught the eye of international design distributor Anthropologie. For a time, Imiso worked on a differentiated business model. Production assistants worked alongside Poswa on a scaled-up production model meeting the exacting standards of international supply chains, while other team members collaborated with Dyalvane on designs inspired by everything from the Cape Town harbor to the work of Pablo Picasso. Business was booming.
But, the 2008 international downturn shifted Imiso’s scales of production. Though West Elm sourced Imiso’s work as part of a South Africa–focused design initiative in 2012 and Dyalvane continued to travel abroad, the exigencies of the market gave the team pause. Imiso Ceramics scaled back for a time, with both sales and production taking place solely from The Old Biscuit Mill. Expansion and contraction brought valuable lessons in branding and quality control, as well as business management and creative practice. For instance, Poswa’s business-management skills were honed during their more intensive production-ceramics phase, but by recently scaling up her work and focusing on a solo show, she has revitalized her creative practice. Dyalvane, building upon residency work already undertaken at the Yingge Ceramic Museum in Taipei, Taiwan (2014), the Palo Alto Art Center in California (2015), Clay Gulgong in Australia (2018), and the Bernard Leach Pottery in St. Ives, England (2019), has inspired his cohort’s upcoming time in Austria, but he is also eager to bring international artists for residencies amongst the rich facilities and social environment in Cape Town.
Challenges and Exploration
Dyalvane’s and Poswa’s attentions on the importance of their Xhosa roots have been strengthened by their international experiences and the challenges of the last few years. They saw how Cape Town’s 2018 drought, which threatened access to clean water for millions, and the losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are tied to global climactic change and human impacts. These ties between the global and the local have focused the Imiso team on creating a nonprofit foundation to more efficiently support community efforts, particularly near Dyalvane’s family home in Ngobozana in the Eastern Cape province. Speaking of the past few years he stated that, “Now you have a voice, people recognize you as well. You have a statement and you’re maturing in terms of what it is you want to express.” Both Dyalvane and Poswa are now digging into explorations of language, symbolic healing, and the importance of community. When Dyalvane completed his iThongo chair works, he and the team took them to Ngobozana, where the importance of ancestral connections and supporting community were reinforced through his family’s interaction with these human-scaled works.
Dyalvane, Poswa, and their full set of collaborators in Cape Town are committed to strengthening the local bonds that have brought them through the past two decades and to the ancestral sources that keep them inspired. The metaphorical
weight balanced on the heads of Poswa’s most recent ceramic and bronze pieces remind viewers of the ancestors who have borne similar loads. The pictograms that Andile continues to refine speak to the ways that community is strengthened
when we reflect on deeper cultural concepts. Uyalezo, the messages from ancestral spirits, alongside knowledge of global change inform the Imiso Ceramics community. It is also inspiring to know that, as a jurist for the 2023 Loewe
Foundation Craft Prize, Dyalvane will bring his grounded knowledge of ceramic practice to guide the next generation of professionals worldwide.
the author Dr. Elizabeth Perrill is a professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, an independent curator, and a research fellow with the University of South Africa (2022–2024). Her most recent book, Burnished: Zulu Ceramics Between Rural and Urban South Africa (2022), won a Millard Meiss Publication Award from the College Art Association. https://vpa.uncg.edu/home/directory/bio-elizabethperrill.