New Durban Art Gallery exhibition celebrates the pottery of Thembi Nala

WP_20160510_030uDiyo – an exhibition of ceramics by Thembi Nala is being staged at the Durban Art Gallery in the Durban City Hall complex. It is her first solo exhibitions.

The exhibition was opened on May 12 by Mandla Mlotshwa, a lecturer and practicing artist teaching at the University of Zululand in Empangeni. Mlotshwa was one of Thembi’s lecturers at the university.

The exhibition is also a first for a member of the Nala family despite the fact that they have displayed extensively as a group and in group exhibitions, and their works have been widely collected both in private and public spaces.

Nesta Nala, the matriarch of the family, passed on the skills of pottery to her daughters, in the same manner that she was taught by her own mother, Siphiwe Nala and grandmother Ntombi Khumalo. The Nala sisters are continuing with this tradition as Thembi is currently teaching her daughter and the child of her late sister, Jabu, to make ceramics.

“I want [my daughter] to learn how to make pots because it’s good to learn how to do something with your hands,” said Thembi.

The exhibition, which also features works by Thembi’s protégés and a pot by Nesta Nala, derives its title from another name for ukhamba – the common term for this vessel.

WP_20160510_044As a verb Udiyo refers to being detailed, immaculate and cautious when it comes to cutting patterns for traditional attires or in making craft objects. The artist has made references to both descriptions to describe her exhibition: to look at the details in the objects and traditional references of ukhamba.

The exhibition is an illustration on how Thembi is combining her traditional training and her academic acumen and suggests she is viewing her art as a business rather than a hobby: “My mother was from a rural area, she didn’t know how to go to Joburg to look for galleries, or who to consult in order to help her sell her work. She was not a business person, she was an artist.”

Thembi Nala’s pots are hand coiled and pit-fired using available materials – duration of the pot’s stay in the fire will determine its colour. As with her mother the decoration combines both incised lines and amasumpa (bumps on the edges to allow for grip) on the pots when carrying water or traditional beer and avoid from breakages. The edges are then burnished ad animal fat is rubbed around to achieve the glossy looks. Her works are signed at the bottom.

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