College of Humanities

Researcher Presents in US on Ceramic Art in SA

School of Arts postdoctoral researcher Dr Mathodi Motsamayi delivered a presentation at a conference organized by the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) in the United States.

The conference, held at the Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati, promotes the ceramic arts through education, community-building, research, creative inspiration, programmes, events, and publications to support the field and communities.

The NCECA awarded Motsamayi an honorarium for his presentation, while he also received free registration to attend the 2023 conference, and a Standard Membership to NCECA for the 2023 calendar year.

In 2018 he was invited to give a lecture at the NCECA Annual Conference convened in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Motsamayi’s latest presentation examined indigenous African narratives and visual designs made by men and women in relation to their cultural representation. He examined Rorke’s Drift ceramics of the 1970s donated to UKZN by the Bernstein family. The historic collection of Rorke’s Drift ceramics is on display in the foyer of the Malherbe Library on UKZN’s Howard College campus.

Motsamayi incorporated documentary processes where ceramics have been photographed and conducted a physical inspection of the actual ceramic works to identify and determine key aspects of their material ceramic construction, clays, construction, firing, motifs and to deduce their stylistic attributes and iconographic features in comparison with available comparable studies.

Visits to the pottery workshop at Rorke’s Drift Art and Craft Centre provided him with a first-hand overview of this Pottery Workshop and historical site.

He said the Bernstein Collection comprised mainly cylindrical vessels with a plate as an exception. The indigenous vernacular forms and motifs on vessels were loaned from local traditions (Zulu and Sotho), domestic mats, beadwork, and basketry. Styles and genres at Rorke’s Drift were based on local and international cultural mediations, and hybridity formed by abstract motifs and patterns.

During his presentation, he revealed that ‘the Bernstein Collection may be seen as a form of cross-cultural expression that facilitates harmonies of visual expression within artistic communities. The display of Rorke’s Drift ceramic works in the UKZN Library shows local indigenous vernacular, myths, legends, idiomatic narratives, and Izinganekwane stories. The University platform has given artists visibility to our local academic community, in promoting awareness of their work and a continuing artistic legacy.’

Motsamayi recommended that ‘UKZN acknowledge its vast rich art heritage and significance of all undocumented works by methodically accessioning, fully researching and digitizing all collections in its custody to provide an updated inventory of historic collections. The electronic database of the University Collections should form part of collection management.’

He is hopeful that his presentation will advance scholarship about indigenous knowledge and material culture in public collections. He thanked the School of Arts for its financial support for travel expenses to attend the conference and his colleagues for their academic support.