CUT student develops first sand-cast ceramic art in Africa

A Master’s in Studio Art and Design student at the Central University of Technology (CUT) in Free State, Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku, will showcase his award-winning sand-cast ceramic art at his upcoming solo exhibition titled Birth of the Alter Natural.

The exhibition will be held at the StateoftheART Gallery in Cape Town from December 3-17, and will feature all the new pieces he spent weeks creating.

“My excitement and anxiety combined into the ‘I need to show these people who I am through my art’,” Mqeku shared.

“The past few weeks, I’ve been fully entrenched in my work. I want South Africa to see the very first sand-cast ceramics in Africa in style.”

Mqeku recently won the StateoftheART Gallery Award and is currently completing his master’s dissertation. He was also chosen to be a part of the Geothe Project Space to host the first ever public workshop on sand-cast ceramics at CUT.

He discovered sand casting while reading encyclopedias and through research, and he knew then that he wanted to try it. His first success was in 2013 while in his third year of study and learning more about bell casting.

“When I saw that process, I told myself that if sand is strong enough to hold hot-molten metal, then surely I can put liquid clay inside and cast it, and make all those nice textures.

“And then I discovered that there is someone already doing it from the Arizona desert, known as Arcosanti. His name is Christopher Gryder, and there was nothing about him on Google, but when he joined Pinterest around 2016, I e-mailed him and he responded, and the sharing of knowledge and research followed.”

While exploring his sand-casting journey, Mqeku entrenched himself into the Bloemfontein art community, working at the National Museum and the Oliewenhuis Art Museum.

He has taken part in various international artist residencies including the inaugural Black Rock Senegal in Dakar in early 2020, and has had a ceramic artist residency in Vallauris, France.

He said the CUT has given him a golden step that allows further innovation.

“When you’ve done things the way I have, you have to be appreciative of places such as CUT. I know a lot of artists that would appreciate the opportunity to be a student, because that’s all I needed, to be let in through the gate and encouraged to explore,” he added.


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