Sculpting Ancestral Dreamscapes

Andile Dyalvane, iThongo, Southern Guild gallery,

Cape Town-based ceramacist Andile Dyalvane grew up in a village, roaming the surrounding hills, herding livestock and digging in the rich clay soil lining its riverside ravines.
It is a place that moulded him, where he first heard the whispers of his calling as an artist and custodian of his Xhosa heritage.
He has since travelled the globe for residencies, workshops and exhibitions, but his village is where he feels most at home.

‘iThongo’ means “ancestral dreamscape” in Xhosa – one of South Africa’s 11 languages. 
It’s a series of sculptural seats hand-coiled in terracotta clay, each standing at almost a metre tall.
The design of each backrest is based on a symbol from an extensive lexicon that Andile has devised for important words in Xhosa life. 

The title of this collection refers to the medium through which messages are transmitted from the ancestors (a central idea in Andile’s process and personal beliefs). It describes an energetic link between the past, the present and the future.

From his dreamscape, Andile plucks symbols, visual tools employed to impart meaning more effectively. These symbols are stamped throughout the iThongo series of sculptural ceramic seatings,  emerging from, and dissolving into, the clay surfaces.

The intricate form of each object is based on a single pictogram or glyph from a series of nearly 200 symbols that Andile has created to denote important words in Xhosa life. 

This body of work recently traveled to Andile’s rural homestead in Ngobozana, Eastern Cape, where his family and extended community had the opportunity to view it.

‘What these stools are carrying for me is a way of home, a way of restoring what was lost from my community. I’m the only one in my community creating such work, but I’m not the only one capable of doing it. It’s only because I’ve been exposed, I’ve answered to the call, and been privileged enough to be able to learn. My bringing them back home is to say — remember who you are, remember what you have lost.’

Watch what Trevyn Mc Gowan of Southern Guild in Cape Town says about it, or catch it at Friedman Benda in New York from April 29, 2021 – which will be Andile’s second solo exhibition with this gallery and its second collaboration with Southern Guild. 

iThongo is at once arresting. But, it’s only once you’ve spent time contemplating the work that its layers – and depth – are fully revealed.

Andile has created this accompanying document to explain the significance of each symbol, which ranges from depictions of herbs and trees to drums and cattle.


Acknowledgment: Southern Guild, Design Boom

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