The work of Jabulile Nala
The work of Jabulile Nala
Image: Supplied

Art Formes is a new art publishing and gallery business based in Cape Town, with an unusual and niched focus on SA ceramics, and work in clay in particular.

Founded in 2021 by Paris-trained art historian Olivia Barrell, its first endeavour was a groundbreaking book publication in 2023, entitled Clay Formes, which showcased 30 SA fine artists working in the medium. The book shows the amazing diversity and creative invention possible in what is perhaps better known throughout Africa as a functional craft rather than a fine art.

Art Formes undertakes to change that perception, highlighting the diversity and beauty of sculptural clay. Their work on exhibition and discussed in the book ranges from the painted and highly wrought ceramic vessels of Hylton Nel to the celebration of clay in its natural earthen forms in the work of Andile Dyalvane and Belinda Blignaut, or the more sophisticated and conceptual work of Frances Goodman.

The book is the first of its kind to be produced in Africa and presents a sense of the previously unexplored richness of sculptural clay in SA. Art Formes the gallery is similarly unique in being SA’s only gallery focused exclusively on clay as a medium. Making its debut at the 2024 Investec Cape Town Art Fair, where they sold out of exhibited work by artists Siyabonga Fani and Jabulile Nala.

Unsurprisingly then, both these sculptors were once again showcased at the recent RMB Latitudes Art Fair in Johannesburg.

Fani, who was born in Cape Town in 1981, uses pit-firing and hand-pulling techniques in his sculptured vessels. He works out of the studio he founded in Woodstock, Cape Town, Siyabonga Ceramics, in 2013, while a student at Sivuyile College (now the College of Cape Town).

The works recall his split heritage of his ancestry in the pastoral riverbeds and landscapes of the Eastern Cape, and his Xhosa heritage. But the works are also dynamic and urban, reflecting his upbringing in Gugulethu. Fani’s work can be read as a new voice in SA ceramics, working through the conflicting identities within his culture. 

Zulu tradition

Fani hand-coils his pieces, working intuitively, drawing forms from the bodies of trees, the rivers and the human beings who make lives from the earth. His work is animated by the joy and estrangement of the township imaginary. His works can be found in private and public collections, both in SA and the US.

Jabulile Nala emerges from a long line of the ancient Zulu ceramic tradition. Her mother, Nesta Nala, was the first Zulu woman whose izinkamba reached the gallery space as she infused her cosmologically rooted vessels with personalised motifs and subtle formal restructuring. Nala continues her mother’s work, fusing ancient tradition with innovative personal stylisation, marking her work as unique in the SA art landscape.

Each of her vessels is a distinctive body, often capped with a short protruding neck, or raised amasumpa, or banded design work.

Nala digs for red and grey clays from two sites near her home. This nurturing of her material from harvest to finished work is a profound contribution to the lineage of clay and the obscured archives of the women who came before her.

Nala has participated in numerous exhibitions in SA and abroad and her work is represented in national and international private and public collections.

Find out more at, where you can also order copies of Clay Formes.

© Wanted 2024 - If you would like to reproduce this article please email us.