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TRIBUTE TO NESTA NALA (article first published : 2005-09-24)

The craft and visual arts world were saddened to hear of the death of Nesta Nala on July 9. She was one of KwaZulu-Natal’s – and indeed, South Africa’s – finest crafters.

I first met Nesta more than ten years ago when I was working as a freelance television producer for SABC’s arts programme Collage and later Arts Unlimited as well as Goodmorning South Africa, focusing on arts news from KZN.

Gallery owner Sue Greenberg suggested that I accompany her with a camera team to Nesta’s home in Tugela – deep in the rural area – to do a programme on her. I agreed readily because this humble potter who worked in the traditional Zulu method was beginning to arouse interest on the national and international arts and crafts scene.

“We’ll have to go in my vehicle,” announced Sue, “you can only reach her home in a 4x4.” As we drove deeper into a valley along what was nothing more than an eroded pathway, I marvelled at the fact that Nesta had to navigate this route on foot up the steep hill to the main road. There she would take a bus that would transport her into Durban to sell her work at the various outlets such as the African Art Centre. She was usually accompanied by a youngster who would help her carry her pots.

Born in 1940 in the Tugela district of Northern Zululand, Nesta Nala learned how to make traditional Zulu beer pots, ukhambas, at an early age. Her tutor was her mother, Simphiwe, who was instructed in the skill by her mother-in-law.

Nesta won the FNB Craft Now 1995 award, astounding the judges with the quality of her work. The following year she won the APSA award and her work was accepted into The Museum of African Art in New York while the Smithsonian Institute sponsored her visit to the Institute in Washington.

Before long, her pots were sought-after collectors’ items and accolade followed accolade. Fortunately, her skills live on as her daughters Bongi, Jabu, Thembe, Zanele and Nonhlanhla are carrying on her work. While they still work and fire in Nesta’s time-honoured traditional way, they are now adding their own individual stamps to their work.

Well-known ceramist Clive Sithole considers Nesta Natal his mentor and dedicated his recent solo exhibition at the Bat Centre to her. The Durban Art Gallery has mounted a small exhibition of her work which will run for an indefinite period. – Caroline Smart




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