Madoda Fani
Madoda Fani
Image: Hayden Phipps for Southern Guild

Cape Town-based ceramicist Madoda Fani presents Madoda: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a solo exhibition for Southern Guild Cape Town. The title is derived from the artist’s own name (meaning men) and the book by US writer James Agee and photographer Walker Evans about the lives of impoverished tenant farmers during the Great Depression.

With the exhibition Fani gives thanks and recognition to the men who shaped him. He re-images domestic objects in clay with attentive skill — using the primus stove as a central allegorical object to speak on black manhood and vulnerability — while challenging heteronormative narratives of township black men in SA. He speaks about the process of making the work and the conclusions drawn from it.

Our naming as abantu carries weight and meaning. Have you had to contemplate on the meaning of your name and how you embody it with this exhibition?

Absolutely, the significance of my name has always been a large part of my identity. As the eldest, I’ve had to play a pivotal role as a big brother. Since I was young, I lacked an older brother’s guidance. My one brother passed away. I met another brother from my father’s side when I was 15 but I only knew him for a week before he passed, and I was a caregiver to my other brother who was born with special needs.

I remember being in Mexico with Andile (Dyalvane), where a Shaman attempted to read our spirits and give us names. He quickly found Andile’s name, “Dancing Moon”, but he struggled with mine due to my reserved nature. He said he needed more time, that he needed to see my name is his dreams. The next morning, he told me that my name is “the one who walks with many men” without even knowing the meaning of Madoda. This revelation affirmed a part of me I've always felt — that I am not just one man, but I walk with the spirits and influences of many men.

In this exhibition, I embody this understanding through my work. Each piece reflects not only my personal experiences but also the collective journeys, struggles and strengths of the men who have walked before and alongside me. My art is a dialogue with these spirits, a testament to the weight and meaning my name carries, and a celebration of the community and brotherhood it signifies.

Madoda Fani's Madoda: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men 2024 installation
Madoda Fani's Madoda: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men 2024 installation
Image: Hayden Phipps for Southern Guild

What drew you to ceramic art and how does it appeal to you as an individual and artist?

My journey into ceramic art began somewhat unexpectedly. Initially, I was involved in graphic design and was asked to help out with painting some designs for a ceramicist who was in residence at my school (Sivuyile Technical College). I approached it with enthusiasm and even added some of my own touches to the designs. When my contributions were met with excitement and approval, it gave me the encouragement to continue exploring this art form.

Despite my interest in continuing with graphic design, I needed a job after completing my diploma. The first opportunity that came my way was working in ceramics. After just six months in the field, my boss encouraged me to enter my work into a major exhibition. Initially, I was hesitant, feeling that I wasn’t ready to exhibit professionally so soon. However, I took the leap and entered and this led to an incredible opportunity: I was invited to travel to Burkina Faso, marking my first experience travelling outside SA.

This experience solidified my passion for ceramics. The tactile nature of working with clay, the patience required, and the ability to infuse my unique designs into each piece resonated deeply with me. As an artist, ceramics allow me to connect with my cultural heritage and express my creativity.

You use the primus stove as a central allegorical object in the exhibition. What prompted that decision?

Growing up, we didn’t have an electric stove, so we relied on a Primus for our cooking. Like in many households, this stove was at the heart of our daily activities and family gatherings. I recall us all sitting around it while my mother prepared meals.

The Primus stove represents more than just a cooking appliance — it was a gathering point where stories were told, creativity blossomed and bonds were formed. To me, this stove embodies the themes of community, protection and the everyday challenges and joys of life.

Madoda Fani, Primus Stove, 2024
Madoda Fani, Primus Stove, 2024
Image: Hayden Phipps for Southern Guild

The works are named after places and people. How do the pieces capture the character of their namesake?

There’s a piece called Cofimvaba, and if you look at the shape of the vessel, it resembles the rondavel houses from that area.

The piece called Masoka is inspired by my grandfather and reflects elements of his home and life. He used to sell iskopo (sheep head), and so you can see a suggestion of the three-legged stove he used for cooking incorporated into the design. It also borrows from the shape of the accordion pump that is used to fan an open flame — the sharp edge of the vessel signifying the shape of the flame.

A piece dedicated to my father features elements reminiscent of his workbench at home. He often worked with metal and wood, and the design includes slabs and horns symbolising his craftsmanship. This piece serves as a tribute to his hard-working spirit and the various materials he skillfully manipulated.

The Primus stove, central in many of my pieces, symbolises the heart of our home. Its form and the incorporated pot inside signify its role in bringing the family together. Each work tells a story and embodies the spirit of the people and places that have deeply influenced my life.

What conclusions have you drawn from the making and completion of this exhibition?

As an artist, there’s always a feeling that you could push your boundaries further, never quite feeling like you’ve done your absolute best. This exhibition, in particular, was a profound learning experience. I experimented with creating larger, more complex pieces by joining two or three parts together, something I hadn’t attempted on such a scale before. There was a real risk of these pieces breaking or cracking, so I had to be meticulous in my technique to ensure they held together.

One of the most significant realisations came from successfully completing a particularly challenging piece. The form and solidity of this piece has set a new standard for my work. I’ve learnt how to better plan for the finishing touches, ensuring that every part of the piece is accessible and can be properly polished. This exhibition feels like a starting point because it has unlocked a new level of ambition and visualisation in my art.

I want my art to move people and provoke thought and dialogue. 

Madoda: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is on at Southern Guild Cape Town until August 22. 

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