Having initially started with native Namibians as a cultural practice to allow for easier coping of life with tools such as plates and cups, the practice went on to grow among generations of artisans who each come up with various additions to what they pick up from their fore-runners. Todays’ generation of indigenous ceramic artists can gladly boast of tapping from a large well of experience and knowledge on the ‘how’s and what’s’ of this practice.
It would as such be no surprise that other people have taken up the beauty that is associated with being able to create something from scratch and decorate it in a manner that one pleases, and begun to practice this art on a large scale. Currently, the practice of ceramic artisanship remains a very niche industry with most people not completely relating with the original cultural attributes from which it was founded. This has inevitably created a growing need for there to be a connection between what artists put together on both utilitarian and local terms, to connect with the Namibian origin of things.
Most of the practitioners today are not of Namibian origin, a large part is South African while many are from Europe. “Because this is an art, the cultures and backgrounds of the artist do speak volumes on the levels and style of their creativity” says Franke Stegmann, the Head of Visual Arts and Ceramics Studies lecturer at the University of Namibia.
Stegmann noted that in ancient African practices for instance, “the pieces that where made where decorated with a sense of what was. Upon seeing a ceramic design one would be able to deduce the livelihood with which the crafter associates them self, a feature that is quite scarce in modern day ceramics.”
According to her, one factor that has negatively affected the pottery sector is the association of cultures, one with another. This mixing of cultures that took place many years ago affected practices of peoples such as the Khoi-Sun and even other groups of the Walvis Bay area where these practices where largely wide scale. “Northern Namibia continues to exhibit traces of pottery, normally having been passed on from generation to generation and maintaining a simplistic approach.”
The sector faces challenges with commercializing in a society where it is either natively practiced or others are not familiar with its significance. This poses great difficulties to reintroduce it to locals. The market is thus largely limited to tourists and guest houses who seek to embrace an Afrocentric feel to themselves.
For students of the art, the willingness to experiment is very large with most students attempting various designs the more they are exposed to the studios. One must always however, keep in mind that of most significance is what use their craft has when put in a utilitarian perspective, more than its decoration.
Therefore, giving students a feel of the ancient and local practices making them indulge in that part of their imagination and also familiarizing them with more modern approaches makes for an almost perfect artisanship.
The desire to go largely public is obscured by financial and technical factors; Actofel Ilovu says “we don’t have the equipment that we would need to come up with better and more interesting pottery. Despite the fact that we have the ideas, we can only really do much when we work with larger institutions, this is a major problem for smaller studios.”
“For most people, this is more of a career just like any other. If you go to Europe, you realize that art is respected as a career, even when compared to other careers. This is so much the case that it is part of some syllabi from a very tender age. This is probably why most of it is dominated by individuals of this native origin.”
He emphasizes on the need for more exposure into the economic benefits that the industry largely possesses. Ilovu called on other sectors of society to be willing to support the growth of artisanship so as to enhance a home grown craft thus supporting things Namibian.
Currently there exists the Potter’s Association of Namibia that looks into affairs of artists in this sector. Most practitioners in the utilitarian sector of this industry are members of the association whose responsibility is to “encourage the development, recognition, appreciation of pottery and ceramics; we hold exhibitions, publish regular newsletters, and distribute related magazines. Furthermore, by providing practical workshops, technical, skills development, arranging and encouraging social interaction, we support the interest of like-minded persons.”
So whether seeking for a career that allows for free spiritedness or desiring to spread ones wings in personal expression. The pottery and ceramics sector provides a spring-board for such enthusiasts giving them an opportunity to indulge themselves in their hearts desires, take the chance.