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Art Versatile

Clay has been an integral part of Xhosa culture for centuries. When the people of the Eastern Cape were being absorbed into the wage economy of the new English overlords in the 19th and 20th centuries, those who had not enjoyed the privilege of formal school education were known as the abantu ababomvu (literally the “red people”) – a reference to the red clay which the women would smear on themselves.

The rich red clays of the Eastern Cape were not merely cosmetic; they were used for making pots and decorative items, and nowhere in South Africa was the colour of the clay quite the same.

Litha Ncokazi, 25, is one of the abantu abufundileyo - the opposite of the red people – one of those who has been to school. Litha grew up in a village called Cwecweni in the former, apartheid-era homeland of Transkei. At junior school, recalls Litha, he had no idea what an artist was “but everyone kept telling me that I was one”. A soccer fanatic, as were most of his friends, Litha used to draw sketches of Bafana Bafana stars for his friends. These were among his first commissions and, whether he liked it or not, Litha was becoming established as an artist.

His education continued at Border Technikon in East London. In 2003, Litha earned a national diploma in fine art. Later he studied a B. Tech fine arts degree at the Walter Sisulu University where, such was his academic and artistic excellence, that Litha was awarded the coveted vice-chancellor’s award.

At the Border Technikon, Litha was introduced to ceramics, a branch of the arts of which he previously knew nothing but which he “instantly fell in love with”. Litha loved the tactile medium and the fact that beautiful things could be created almost instantly out of the most natural of raw materials.

As a student, Litha was inspired to tell stories through ceramics; particularly the stories he had learnt from his grandmother, the woman who raised him and a large extended family. His “narrative” ceramics are symbolic of his grandmother’s struggles, her everyday life and challenges. “These women bore the brunt of so much both during apartheid and afterwards. For instance, in those days, women who were teachers, like my grandmother, had to resign from their jobs when they married. This was a huge sacrifice for them. They’d achieved something special but they had to make a terrible choice. It was very unfair.”

Litha’s narrative sculptures are evocative pieces which he leaves unglazed but to which he applies oxides of iron, copper and manganese to bring out the hidden beauty of the underlying clay. His functional ceramics include vases, bowls, jars and salad bowls. Inspired by traditional designs but all extremely chic, Litha’s jugs and bowls are things of contemporary beauty.

This inspired young artist is now based in East London. He sells his products to government departments and private companies and has big plans to market his wares on the Internet and to galleries and shops, not just in East London but around South Africa and, hopefully, internationally.

With no fixed studio or outlet, Litha is considering taking out a lease in a new upmarket mall in East London and is currently casting around for the required finance. “Every day I wake up and can’t wait to get out of bed and on my way, to carry on with my job, with my art. I love ceramics and I feel incredibly lucky to be doing what I am doing. I describe myself as an entrepreneur and I’m now determined to turn my creations and my dreams into a sustainable business.”

Litha says that as a youngster he appreciates he has a lot to learn about building and marketing his business. “TEP have done an absolutely wonderful job helping small businesses like mine to grow. They’ve helped me with training in business planning. I think that I’m on the verge of taking my business to the next level. With TEP on my side anything is possible.”

Contact Information for Art Versatile
Contact Person:Litha Ncokozi Website:www.artversatile.co.za
Telephone Number:(000) 000 0000
Address:4 Sahara Court
East London
GPS Co-Ordinates:Latitude:  0~0~0
Longitude:  0~0~0