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JABU NALA HANDBUILT CERAMICS (article first published : 2008-06-14)

The African Art Centre is currently hosting an exhibition of handbuilt ceramics by Jabu Nala. the eldest daughter of the famous ceramic artist, Nesta Nala. Jabu Nala has been pushing boundaries for herself with her recent collections of pots, breaking away from traditional Zulu beer containers into more sculptured forms.

Born in 1969 in Oyaya, Eshowe, KZN, Jabu Nala has built a reputation for herself in the South African ceramic art world with her strong mastery of the uphiso form and an eye for a subtly flattened slope towards the mouth of izinkamba. Her creation of larger vessels, banded design work and improvisations using the inkanyezi, or star design have been a sold basis for her creativity.

Jabu has been creating clay beer pots in the traditional Zulu way. She was taught by her mother Nesta, who developed a world-wide reputation for her classical forms and finely finished beer pots.

The clay is hand-dug in two places near to Jabuís home - one is red and other grey. The clay is then ground using a traditional Zulu grinding-stone and then sieved through a sieve or a piece of net curtain. It is then dried and put into a ten gallon iron drum with 50% water. The clay is left to mature and then wedged and rolled into balls.

The pots are hand-coiled and then smoothed with a piece of calabash or old spoon. When leather-hard they are burnished with river pebbles and decorated with incised patterns or added "warts" of clay using an ancient design called "Amansumpa". Soft "warts" of clay are inserted on the surface with a clay slip and smoothed into the surface with a river pebble. The pots are then left to dry naturally.

Before firing, pieces of coal are put into the pots and warmed up to make sure that the pots are completely dry. They are then placed on their sides in a special pattern and covered over with dried grass, aloe leaves and stalks. The grass is then lit and then the aloe leaves catch fire - the firing lasts approximately three hours depending on weather conditions. A second firing takes place to smoke the pots black. The pots are placed on a metal tripod and turned with a stick over the flames to ensure an even smoking. When thoroughly blackened, the pots are then cooled. They are then rubbed with animal fat or oil and burnished to make them shine.

Jabu Nala has exhibited at the Kim Sacks Gallery, Johannesburg; 1998 Isidlo Simpilo - Soul Food African Art Centre, and the 1998 FNB Vita Crafts Exhibition, Cape Town. Commissions include stair tiles for the New Constitutional Court in Johannesburg (2002).

Jabu Nalaís exhibition opens at The African Art Centre, 94 Florida Road, Durban, on June 18 at 17h30 and then runs until July 4. More information on 031 312 3805.




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