Madoda Fani is a South African ceramic artist showing his art with Cape Town’s Southern Guild at Design Miami (in Miami Beach), December 1 to 5, 2021. Fani creates pieces using traditional techniques, but on top of these, he creates his own traditions, his own adaptations. While he uses the hand-coiled, smoke-fired methods of the past, he goes beyond mere duplication of what went before.
"I use traditional techniques such as burnishing and smoke-firing, but with the smoke-firing, for example, instead of using a large fire pit where cow dung or wood is used as the fuel, I use a metal can and newspaper. With this, the firing process is much quicker (versus a pit firing which can last for hours)," says Fani. "The way I carve and create patterns, I would say, is unique. Everything works together with a kind of synergy - the old and the new – coming together and complementing each other to bring something beautiful to life."
Fani grew up in Gugulethu Township in Cape Town and contrary to the perception of many Westerners, even under oppression and hardship, people find ways to be happy, to live their lives.
"It was an exciting but also scary place to grow up. During the 80s, it was particularly interesting because of the rioting that took place. We often went to school and were then told we had to go home because there was unrest. I never used to go home though. I used to go and watch all the activity. I think I wanted to feel part of the course. I was also chased a few times by the police just for walking around...It was tough at times,but we were happy. We used to play with all the kids in the neighborhood and I even managed to be involved in some mural painting in the community. Life was a mix of excitement and fear, but I had a great childhood."
The philosophy behind his work is directly related to his life and his background.
"I want to capture and showcase that distinctly African spirit through my work, by creating pieces that are immediately recognizable as being African. Exploring the ideas of movement, breathing and flow are also central to my approach." he says.
There is something that seems nearly alive when you glance at Fani's pieces; the work seems like it is about to move, as if it could spring to life at any moment.
"It is definitely a large part of my intentions when creating my pieces: I strive to produce work that moves while being still, pieces move and flow when you move around them," he says. "My aim is always to create work that makes you feel, think, discuss and interpret. Sparking dialogue between viewers is an important by-product of the creation process, and one I quite enjoy over hearing when possible."
Ceramics is an art form that can also be utilitarian. We all have pots and items we use every day. But ceramics are also fine art. Where is the line? Is there a line?
"For me, the line has become more and more blurred over time – we are seeing how ceramic pieces don’t have to be one or the other, and can in fact, be both at the same time. Sometimes my work is functional (such as my furniture pieces), but that doesn’t mean that that comes at the cost of its aesthetic beauty ('fine art')," says Fani "Some of my pieces while not necessarily being 'utilitarian', are inspired by traditional, functional objects (such as beer pots and other vessels), so the final pieces have that essence within them, even though they may not be seen as 'functional'."
"Having iTafile III in a museum like The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a great honour – it’s the kind of thing you only dream of achieving one day," says Fani. "It not only represents me as an African artist, but it also represents the continent of Africa as a whole, as well as my entire family."
iTafile consists of three pieces of ceramic furniture and are Fani's second venture into furniture. The first was a piece called Soze Isitulo Sodaka (Mud Chair) for a group show with Southern Guild.
"All of these were a new kind of ceramic exploration for me and an opportunity to incorporate a more functional application into my work. It was also about accepting a new challenge and pushing myself out of my comfort zone," he says. "Even the firing process was tricky because I had to ensure the tables were straight and this presented some challenges to my usual way of firing. Whilst the ceramic furniture pieces were new territory, the pieces still embodied my signature patterning, protrusions, and incisions."
"I think it’s the same for most artists and designers, especially those from African countries: fairs like Miami provide an international platform on which to show their work and gain more exposure," says Fani. "My hopes are to delight attendees with my authentically African pieces, and to offer them something they haven’t seen before. I want people not to be able to stop thinking about them – to the point where they simply have to have them. I’m hopeful that I may get a few commissions as well."
Fani has nothing but praise for his collaboration with Southern Guild.
"It’s a very collaborative relationship with Southern Guild, in that Julian (McGowan) and I discuss the work and look at how it can be stronger or better. You’re always being pushed to extend yourself, but you’re fully supported along the way and your vision isn’t compromised," says Fani. "The relationship has definitely helped me grow as an artist and to develop in many ways, particularly scale-wise. Also, artists can create work but then they don’t know where it will go – Southern Guild has opened many doors for me with regards to platforms and reaching people both locally and overseas."
After Design Miami 2021 Fani will finish a large-scale piece, one he refers to as his "favorite piece ever." It will be shown at the Investec Cape Town Art Fair in February 2022.