With an unlimited source of inspiration, Cape Town-based ceramicist Madoda Fani mixes traditional techniques with modern designs to exquisite effect. He explains how his body contributes towards creating and crafting his work.
legs and feet
When I work, I sit at a table with my pieces placed on top under sponges because they are so fragile. There’s always music playing in my studio, and sometimes I dance while I’m sculpting, but because I can’t risk nudging my pots, my legs and feet will do the moves while I’m sitting down.
Since I was a child, I’ve loved art, and when I was 10 years old, I painted a mural in a Cape Town township for the ‘Keep the Cape in Shape’ campaign of the 1980s. It stayed on that wall for more than 20 years, and every time I walked past it, it told me I was capable of being an artist if I wanted to be.
I smoke-fire my pots and the aroma of smoke transports me back to traditional African ceremonies, which always involve a lot of fire. The scent reminds me of where I come from. It’s the same when I hear certain songs: I smell what was cooking at the time that the song was first playing in our family kitchen.
For me, my inspiration is not limited. The shapes of my sculptures are mostly based on traditional beer pots, but I also look at different things. For example, I got the idea for one of my works from an axe that my father made by welding together scrap metal that he found during his time as a construction worker. When it comes to my carvings, I often draw from nature, so there are depictions of cows and insects on some of my works.
Music plays a big role in my life and I couldn’t work without it. I consider it one of my tools and I like listening to jazz and reggae while I sculpt. Bob James and Bob Marley are two of my favourite artists.
I like to watch movies, and the body armour I see influences my designs. The Last Samurai is a huge source of inspiration, and recently I’ve turned to Black Panther for my latest range.
If I could give my ceramics a voice, I’d like them to remind people to preserve their heritage and culture while still keeping up with the times. I make my sculptures using traditional techniques such as coiling, burnishing and carving, but I adorn them with contemporary designs. So I combine both in my work and am trying to show that ceramics can be seen as an art form instead of as just a craft.
They’re essential to what I do, especially my right hand, which I use for the majority of my work. First I’ll create the perfect shape, and then I’ll sketch on a piece using tools instead of drawing on paper beforehand. I’ve always liked to change things and not do them the way they were created before, so I’ve discovered new ways of carving, which took me a few years to learn. But I also use old methods such as burnishing, instead of glazing, which was originally used on beer pots to seal the surface and prevent leaks.