by Sonwabiso Ngcai

“Iyozala nkomoni na?” is an IsiXhosa phrase which loosely translates as “how will it turn out?”

A ceramic artist sits permanently on the edge of unpredictability. It is this uncertainty that propels material exploration and reflection. Clay will always be a platform for enquiry and discovery, for anticipation and mistakes. The phrase “Iyozala nkomoni na?” is never far from a ceramicist’s thoughts.

A deep familiarity is revisited in this body of work. Born and raised in rural Ngqeleni near Mthatha, the surrounding landscape was our playground. We knew all its variations, from valleys and stones to hills and big rock formations. Returning to these landscapes as an older person evokes memories of childhood: sorting through rocks and stones for the foundation of a new home, passing the same rocks every day on the way to school, and the dipping of cattle in the place where I sourced raw clay.

I see these rocks in a more sculptural way now, as simple, abstract shapes of landscape history. Seam lines on the rocks embody the well-trodden pathways we traversed as children. Indentations invoke paths from home to school, the weekly cattle dips and gathering of clay. Surfaces are left natural and raw. Nkomoni na? reinforces my present view of these spaces through the manipulation of clay, employing a combination of techniques and materials, namely imprinting, mould-making, screen-printing and crackling. The artworks trigger spatial awareness, landscape familiarity and childhood ramblings.


Udaka has a double meaning in isiXhosa. It means ‘mud’ but can also mean ‘clay’. This installation revisits the dipping site where the charcoal-coloured soil has traces of clay properties, giving it a similar look and feel. The fossil-like human and animal footprint refers to the cattle dipping process, acknowledging the transitions of the material qualities of the clay gathered from the same place. This work does not only make reflections but appreciates raw clay as “a malleable, plastic material that becomes hard and resistant with interaction of heat and time, which itself is a microscopic echo of geological progression” (Catherine Pagani, 2019).

Luwile ucingo

Concerned with the dereliction of familiar places, this artwork embarks on a practice-led approach, rigorously experimenting with various surface treatments and finishing techniques. Screen-printing, in tandem with a crackling technique, is used to express the problematic condition of childhood spaces that were once places of hope. The work speaks to the malleable, rawness and natural substance of clay. Infused with organic materials, it also embodies the language of materiality.

Ilitye lomhambi

Returning to and traversing the landscape, this work appreciates the ‘objectness’ of an object while interfering with its original place and state. The process of removing an object from its original function and context is an act of ‘freeing it’ to become a ‘pure’ thing. Only then, through this process, can the object truly belong to the individual (Lee Ann Thomas, 2009). The seamline on the rocks is a metaphor for mapping and landscaping our routes. The multiple clay pieces, meeting and sealed, hold the memories of childhood freedoms. The use of dripping oxide suggests the life of wild habitats.