“The journey is never easy, pitfalls are sure,” says 33 year old ceramicist, Majolandile (Andile) Dyalvane. This innovative artist/designer has been on a long difficult road to become a successful entrepreneur in the South African art and design sector. This is his story.
Andile Dyalvane meticulously paints his unique designs onto the scarified clay bowl he has just finished. It’s 09:00am in Cape Town. In his studio on Albert Road in Woodstock, he sits hunched over his latest creation bathed in early morning sunlight. Once completed, the bowl will be placed into the hot kiln to be fired. The bowl is then transported to the Imiso Ceramics Gallery and retail space at the trendy Old Biscuit Mill where it will either be exhibited and sold locally or abroad.
Andile works with three elements of life – water, air and fire – to transform the earthy clay into a range of beautiful ceramic masterpieces. Each of Andile’s creations tells a story of his Xhosa heritage: “My current inspirations are drawn from my immediate environment, inner city urban life and it’s relation to where I come from.” He stays true to his roots by creatively re-interpreting his cultural heritage into his ceramic pieces. The traditional Xhosa practice of ukuqatshulwa, or body scarification, influences his unique design style.
What is truly remarkable about his ceramic pieces, and what has undoubtedly contributed to his ever-growing profile as an artist/designer to watch, is that he works with original surface treatments where ‘clay flesh’ is artistically cut open to resemble body scarification. “I reinterpret my cultural experiences and current surroundings, bringing the traditional and modern together to create my signature classics that suit a modern, contemporary taste.”
According to Andile, “colour usage is symbolic of various aspects of Xhosa tradition. Imiso Ceramics’ scarified range touches on tradition through colour usage that is contemporary, with very clean designs highlighted mainly by reds.”
“Reds are symbolic of traditional ceremonies and rituals,” while “whites are symbolic of new beginnings, spiritual refreshment and purity,” he explains.
Andile has come a long way from his small hometown of Qobo-Qobo, in Ngobozana village in the Eastern Cape and is now one of the Creative Directors and co-owner of Imiso Ceramics based in Woodstock, Cape Town.
His partner in the business, and co-creative director is the talented ceramicist and textile designer Zizipho Poswa, who’s range of unique pinch pots is garnering a growing following amongst collectors and those who appreciate original, quirky and asymmetrical designs.
“The business of design is not highlighted enough in areas such as the rural Eastern Cape, much less the opportunity to become a successful entrepreneur from one’s talents,” says Andile. “However, for me this was a calling. I could never see myself doing anything else,” he adds.
Andile is quick to acknowledge that it has been a difficult process to become a successful entrepreneur in the South African art and design sector. “The journey is never easy and pitfalls are sure,” says Andile. “It has not been easy at all. With limited knowledge of starting and running a successful business, we have experienced challenges along the way,” concurs partner Zizipho. “Being able to balance the business thinking cap with the creative side is tricky at times,” says Andile. “There are those who are used to growth as an artist and businessman and those who are not, to know the difference is a practice in itself.”
There are many challenges to running a design, production and retail business derived from passion. According to Andile, these challenges include managing business growth and the large role that the financial side of things plays in handling growth opportunities as well as redefining business infrastructure. Additional challenges he mentions include getting started with all the right tools and knowing that your creative product has a lifespan.
“In truth, unless one is just as focused on the business side of things, all the creative talent in the world will come to nothing. We realised that we were very strong on the creative side, but that the business knowledge in-house was lacking and we needed some help here,” he says. The ETU SMME Accelerator Programme came along at the right time, and according to the team at Imiso is providing many solutions to Imiso Ceramic’s business challenges.
‘ETU’, a Finnish word meaning ‘benefit’, is a business development initiative funded by the Embassy of Finland and implemented by Cape Town-based enterprise development agency, Fetola. As part of the funded programme, Fetola provides training and consulting services to boost a range of specially selected emerging entrepreneurs, chosen for their business potential and readiness for growth. Support includes workshops, e-learning, market access opportunities and mentoring.
“It has been trial and error up to now which can be costly at times, but with the help of an institution like Fetola we are starting to overcome many of these challenges,” says a positive Zizipho. “I have learnt that business is about taking risks but most importantly they have to be calculated risks. I am very passionate and driven about what I do and can proudly say this has played a big part in our success,” she says.
Both Andile and Zizipho’s challenging creative journeys have been filled with many hardships along the way. Rapid expansion almost cost them dearly when they were compelled to close their second retail outlet in the Cape Quarter due to slow sales and an underperforming location, coupled with the global economic recession.
“In most cases art [and design] is viewed as luxury items and in times like this and people think twice before buying; unfortunately art [and design] becomes the last thing on one’s mind. We are grateful we are still in business when many of our contemporaries have been forced to close up shop,” Zizipo says.
Imiso Ceramic’s main store, established in July 2006, is still open in Woodstock and does a healthy trade with locals and tourists alike. Despite the challenges Andile remains positive and recently returned from a successful exhibition in New York. Andile took part in a collective ceramic exhibition entitled, Conversations 2 years ago, and a follow up exhibition in May 2011 held at the renowned Amaridian Art Gallery in the USA, entitled, Silent Earth.
Andile was also selected as one of the Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans in the Arts category.
In January 2011, he participated in a solo exhibition at the upmarket Winchester Mansions in Bantry Bay, Cape Town. The subject matter included some of his exclusive limited edition vessels in photograph print. Andile collaborated with Ngwenya Glass of Swaziland for an exhibition at the annual Design Indaba Expo.
Andile has won many prestigious accolades over the past 13 years. Through his creativity and individuality he is in high demand, travelling both nationally and overseas, and with the support of the ETU programme he is confident that the accolades will start translating into financial success for the business.
So, what’s next for the talented artist and his equally talented partner Zizipho? Andile is currently translating his artworks into a new leather medium thereby taking his Africasso collection to new heights. The commission is for an American businessman for his private yacht.
Zizipho meanwhile participated in the Top Drawer exhibition in London in September 2011 with the help of the Cape Craft and Design Institute.
Imiso Ceramic’s latest exhibition meanwhile was held at the Kalk Bay Modern Gallery and an impending design collaboration with West Elm in America is also currently on the cards.
Whatever Andile and Zizipho do, they are both sure to become successful artists and creative entrepreneurs that South Africa can be proud of.
Images courtesy of Imiso Ceramics.