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Sand-cast sculptures to push the boundaries of the weird and wonderful

Artist Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku is testing the limit of what sand can do with creating sculptures that offer a visceral experience to an alternate world

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By Yashna Balwanth | September 21, 2022 | Art

Having recently won the StateoftheART Gallery Award 2021, Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku has been hard at work preparing for his upcoming solo exhibition titled, ‘Birth of the Alter Natural’ which will run from 19 November until 03 December 2022 at the StateoftheART Gallery in Cape Town.

Sylvester’s sculptural work explores visceral, visual responses of the possibilities of an altered or extinct natural world and currently stands as the only artist in Africa who uses the technique of sand cast ceramics. His sculptures are highly detailed and offer the perfect combination of traditional and modern in the most unique way possible. His research is an attempt to marry the ancient traditional craft technique of ceramics with 4th industrial scientific methods - including laser cutting, 3D Printing and 3D Photogrammetry modelling. Artworks made using this process, often resemble objects dug up from another planet, tectonic life forms that appear fossilized or frozen in some post-biotic condition.

A close up detail of 'Manganese Particles’ by Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku, Photograph: Courtesy of StateoftheART Gallery

He explains the process as a ‘demonstration of an artistic practice which is highly innovative and promotes the use of 100% recyclable material. Negative shapes are carved out of damp fine sand and liquid clay is cast inside them, after a few days the dried clay is dug out of the sand revealing an incredibly textured vessel form. The exterior surfaces are coarse and entirely defined by the texture of sand, any mark or imprint that was made is now tangible and seemingly aged or weathered.’

Sylvester passionately creates these sculptures and makes mention that, ‘The work I create using this process astonishes me exceedingly because every excavated artefact is unique and impossible to replicate. The sculptural formation is then decorated with assorted metal oxides and ceramic glazes.’ His approach to the sculptures he creates are nothing short of awe-inspiring, slightly weird but oh-so-wonderful and pushes our imagination to question these objects with their form and shape.

As a quick background, Sylvester hails from the Eastern Cape and graduated with a diploma in Ceramic design from NMU back in 2013. He then moved over to Bloemfontein and began work at the Oliewenhuis Art Museum, later graduating with a B-Tech in Fine Art in 2016 at TUT Pretoria. Sylvester is currently completing his Master’s Dissertation at the Central University of Technology in Bloemfontein and was commissioned as part of the Goethe Project Space (GPS) to host the first ever public workshop on sand-cast ceramics at the University. With this process he has also taken part in international artist residencies including the ceramic artist residency in Vallauris, France and the inaugural Black Rock Senegal in Dakar in early 2020.

The upcoming exhibition details are below:

‘Birth of the Alter Natural’ by Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku

Exhibition dates: 19.11.2022 - 03.12.2022

Venue: StateoftheART Gallery, 50 Buitenkant Street, Cape Town

Sculptures on show at the 2021 StateoftheART Gallery Award Finalists Exhibition in October 2021, Photograph: Courtesy of StateoftheART Gallery