Ceramic designer is crafting a bright future with clay

Ceramic artist and entrepreneur Chuma Maweni is putting final touches to one of his grand creations.
Ceramic artist and entrepreneur Chuma Maweni is putting final touches to one of his grand creations.

From making clay bulls and cows as a young boy while heading cattle in the old Transkei, today entrepreneur Chuma Maweni is one of the most prominent hand-thrown ceramic artist in the country, with his works exhibited at top art galleries.

Maweni, who is now based in Cape Town, fell in love with working with clay as a youngster, but it was not after completing matric in Port Elizabeth when his brother Mkhululi reminded him he could make a career out of his artistry with clay.

It was also not before his father took him back to the land of his forefathers at KwaPayne village, in Mthatha, to focus on his schooling because of the upheavals of the 1980s school boycott that his passion was ignited.

"I regard myself as a ceramic designer and artist. I was employed for more than 10 years by a company here in Cape Town that specialises in clay pottery and ceramic art works."

"While employed I registered my entity CM Maweni Ceramics as a sole proprietor in 2014 and became self-employed two years later.

"Basically, I work with functional ware, decorative products, ceramic vessels and sculptures. Everything I make is design-oriented," explains the 42-year-old.

Maweni's distinctive approach combines contemporary hand-coiled shapes marked with precisely patterned incisions. He makes exquisitely crafted ceramic vessels and furniture, the latter finding their largest form to date in his sought-after Imbizo (gathering) series of tables, side-tables and chairs.

"Some of my works are conceptualised straight from the head and others I sit down to sketch them in a book. Most designs are done on the wheel but sculptures by hand."

The ceramicist said what is interesting there are no difference between the works sketched in a book and those from his head because his thinking and clay type dictate the outcome of the piece.

His interest in art stems from his boyhood. He enjoyed cartoons at primary school and at high school he drew for fun. After completing his matric, he was undecided which career path to pursue and his brother reminded him of his brilliance as an artist.

"I wanted to be a pilot. But then I went to study for a diploma in graphic design at the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, specialising in ceramic design because it stood out for me from all the other subjects," he said.

"Thereafter I did a BTech degree in ceramic design and graduated in 2002.

"I left my home town PE because a company in Cape Town was looking for clay and ceramic artists. I worked there from 2006 to 2016, teaching my fellow workers designing, sculpturing and glazing."

Maweni said he gained a lot of experience while working but felt after 10 years with no prospects of going further, he had reached the ceiling, and yearned to be an entrepreneur.

Today he shares a workshop-cum-studio, working equipment and expertise with fellow artists Madoda and Siyabonga Fani in Woodstock, in Cape Town.

Maweni said he makes money but sometimes, it is irregular. His clients are ordinary Mzansi citizens, gallery visitors and mostly interior designers.

He has a good working relationship with top interior designers Cecile & Boyd, who commission his work, and he exhibits with Southern Guild.

Maweni was selected for A New Wave, Southern Guild's exhibition that showcased emerging designers in 2016. He was at the Christie's Design Auction, at The Salon Art Plus Design in New York City and at Design Miami.

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