Southern Guild presents a new collection of carved ceramics by Madoda Fani, titled iQweqwe. It’s on view in the gallery until 17 September, 2021.

The patterned incisions that have defined Fani’s work become an all-encompassing ‘skin’ in this series of 12 hand-coiled works. The show’s isiXhosa title can be translated as ‘crust’, but here refers to insect exoskeletons, a central fascination for the artist.

The iQweqwe collection features both functional and sculptural works in which Fani explores unusual new forms, including vessels with tall, conical lids; a bowl supported by a large, four-legged stand; a two-handled pot; and an oval canister. Their contours are articulated by concentric lines carved into the clay, finished with detailed markings and studded protrusions, whose repetition lends the surfaces a mesmerising rhythm.

Madoda Fani iQweqwe carved ceramics. Picture: Greg Beadle
Madoda Fani iQweqwe carved ceramics. Picture: Greg Beadle

Purity of form

Veering from his usual blackened finish, Fani has left three of the pieces in their original terracotta state, signifying a kind of “stripping back” and returning to one’s roots – much like an insect shedding its skin. This purity of form and earthy colour gives the works an ancient, artefact-like feel. Combined with their pronounced armour-like exteriors, they appear timeless and futuristic.

Growth and the natural progression of things are recurring themes in his work. He likens the creating of a piece to that of a pregnancy: a process of varied phases of development and change, before the birth of the final, fully-formed product that is then named. Fani rarely plans his pieces, beginning with a loose idea and then surrendering to the clay, allowing it to lead him: “I let my work take me where it wants to go,” he says.

Fani’s work is gaining significant international attention with a recent acquisition earlier this year by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the US.

His evolution as an artist has brought him full circle, seeing him return to one of his original inspirations – insects – only this time, instead of painting them, he is now moulding and carving them from clay. “The work that I’m doing now, is more of a revisiting of that old work, except now I’m using different materials,” he explains. The medium of ceramic yields other surprising characteristics: when gently tapped, the works produce a similar sound to that of a shell or exoskeleton being tapped.

BMW South Africa Madoda Fani collab
BMW South Africa Madoda Fani collab. Picture: Greg Beadle

Collaboration with BMW

The illusion of movement in Fani’s iQweqwe collection becomes a larger-than-life reality in a custom-designed car wrap the artist collaborated on with BMW South Africa.  He adapted his signature incised patterns into line drawings that have been applied as a two-layered wrap to the body of a BMW X7. The iridescent sheen of the car echoes that of an insect carapace, against which Fani’s intricate patterns come alive.

“It’s exciting to see my work take on a different form and to collaborate with such a recognised brand like BMW. The fact that the car is going to be driven around Cape Town means that people who are not familiar with my ceramics will now be able to see my work,” explains Fani.

Southern Guild has exhibited Madoda Fani’s work at Design Miami, at The Salon Art + Design in New York, and as part of the Christie’s London annual design auction. He has joined residency programmes in Argentina (2009) and France (2013), received first prize at the 2016 Ceramics Southern Africa Exhibition, as well as the Ndebele Milling & Mining Premier Award at the 2015 G&W Mineral Resources Ceramics SA Gauteng Regional Exhibition. In 2021, the Philadelphia Museum of Art acquired one of Fani’s functional ceramic pieces, iTafile III.

What: Madoda Fani iQweqwe carved ceramics
Where: Southern Guild Silo 5 Silo District V&A Waterfront Cape Town
When: Until 17 September 2021
Info: +27 21 461 2856,
Instagram: southernguildgallery