Search this site...

Contemporary African Pottery


Contemporary African pottery is characterized by an eloquence of form and a finesse of finish that one does not generally expect in a vessel of utility. This is precisely the point, since very few of these pots will ever be used for anything other than contemplation of their virtues. 

But one cannot separate their modernity from their past, their very existence is based upon the survival of centuries of production, experimentation and refinement of their craft.


There are many practicing ceramic artists and the following are but a mere sample of the breadth and depth of contemporary potters practicing their craft on the continent.

Magdalene Odundo

Drawn to her innovative use of one of the oldest materials on earth, one can only admire the compelling work of this Kenyan-born, ceramic sculptor.

Born in 1950 in Kenya, she was educated there and in India and currently resides in Britain.

odundo 2Odundo 'untitled'

Her prowess as a potter who consistently breaks new ground is uncontested. Her pieces may resemble containers, but none is meant to be used as such.

Her vessels take on their own fluid appearance, they appear to have slipped and slid and it feels their shape is not totally within Odundo's control.

The decoration, however, and the technical processes are tightly controlled by the artist who uses traditional coiling techniques and a series of oxidised and low-oxidised firing atmospheres to achieve different effects.

Her work reflects a unique insight into the trans cultural roles a pot can play and the meaning, both secular and scared, that a vessel can hold. In much of Africa, ceramic craft is associated with female creativity and the anthromorphic references to the female body in her pieces reflect that ritual.

While we can specifically recognize this in her work, she has studied many other indigenous pottery techniques in other environments making her art uniquely contemporary and worldly.


Andile Dyalvane

Born in 1978 in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, Majolandile graduated Cum Laude in Ceramic Design in 2003 at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. He stays true to his roots in using scarification as a technique just like the Xhosa cultural practice of ukuqatshulwa - body scarification.

His work is elemental and his colour usage often symbolic, also reflecting his cultural traditions. 

bulb potAndile Dyalvane, Stoneware coiled vase; scarified bulb shape


This ceramic artist has not looked back since, making waves as far afield as Denmark, Taipei, California, France and New York City. 


His vessels here seem to have a brutish quality that is reminiscent of Picasso.                               He has moved beyond surface decoration to capturing the 3D form and angular, jagged contours of the Master in his own outsized, sculptural vessels.


Ian Garrett

Garrett was born in the Eastern Cape, South Africa and his work is influenced by a fascination with both the  pre-historic vessels from Europe and India and from the deep cultural heritage of the place of his birth.     



He uses a pinch and coil technique and has a highly burnished finish to his vessels. Sometimes he uses a shell with a serrated edge to create textures on his vessels.

His imagery has either botanical or geometric and abstract references or reflect the age old black-on-terracotta firing effects. 


Clive Sithole

Sithole, born in 1971 is a South African studio potter who has examined his Zulu heritage and contemporized it by adding features to his essentially traditional pots like zoomorphic and anthropological emblems on top of the lids.  

He studied under Nesta Nala, an established and master potter who comes from a family of ceramic artists.


Particularly endearing are the references in his work to the practice of Zulu boys making bovine sculptures from river clay.



Clive Sithole, 'Uphiso', 2007, burnished ceramic





His large vessels, be they round or long necked pots or open bowls, are burnished and textured and beautiful to look at, containing a purity of form that makes them highly collectable items.


Nala Family


This unique and talented family has four generations of female potters whose finely crafted pieces are made in the Thukela Valley of Kwazulu-Natal.                           


jabu nalaJabu Nala

Great-grandmother Ntombi and grandmother Simphiwe passed on their skills to daughter Nesta, who in turn taught her own daughters, Jabu, Ntombi, Bongi and Zanele.

Magwaza Family

Another South African family has 18 practicing potters amongst them.                        

The Magwaza Family has a rich tradition of making Zulu pots and they have perfected the art of designing with amasumpa, the little pellets that mark out the design on the pot.

magwaza potMagwaza family, earthenware pot with 'amasumpas', Tatham Gallery, Pietersmaritzburg

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.