21 Jan Xanthe Somers on Ceramic Sculpture, Postcolonial Studies and Contemporary African Art
10and5 had the opportunity to hear from Zimbabwe-born ceramic sculptor Xanthe Somers. In a Q&A, Somers expressed the value of contemporary African art, postcolonial studies and her perseverance as an emerging artist during this time. Her artworks transcend everyday domestic objects by reimagining their size, colour and functionality. She’s working to disrupt our ideas of what is ‘normal’.
As a ceramic sculptor, tell us a bit about yourself, and what led you to exploring postcolonial culture?
I grew up in Zimbabwe which has greatly influenced my need to look back and come to terms with my own colonial history and the role I play in its legacy. I was at UCT at the time of the Rhodes Must Fall movement and I lost my confidence as an artist — it was a much needed time of reflection for me to consider my position and my voice as an artist — or if I should have a voice at all. Because of this I wanted to educate myself further, which led me to do a Masters in Postcolonial Culture and Global Policy. My thesis was called ‘Hello white Zimbabwe, can you see yet’, which explored the visible and invisible remnants of colonial conquest within Zimbabwe and how they have become naturalised.
You speak around the subject of memory (both collective and individual) in your artwork. How do you go about communicating that through your medium?
My work is situated around probing oppressive colonial narratives, with an aim to excavate the colonial ghosts and systematic repressions still apparent in society. I have always found urgency in making work that surrounds memory discourse; looking at new ways that memory is commoditised and the haunting that afflicts a society dominated by imperial debris.
My sculptural ceramic forms aim to bring to life the slippage that occurs in the spaces between the material and the imaginary, to fracture the habit and convention that dictates how we understand the everyday.
My aim is to create satirical large-scale ceramic sculptures of domestic objects, such as mirrors, lamps and vessels, and re-empower their meaning, their scale and their functionality — to obscure normality. I look at how everyday objects have become mutable formations that carry erasure within them and develop colonial aphasia, the wreckage of which I have witnessed personally in Zimbabwe.
What, or who, have been some of your motivators over the past year, given all the strangeness the world has been experiencing?
The latest resurgence of Black Lives Matter has been a huge motivator. This last year has shown that the removal of monuments does not alone bring about the reformation being called for. It is significant to address systemic racism in public spaces but I would say it is just as crucial, if not more so, that we address the suppression created by colonial legacies that have been rendered invisible within the everyday, which haunt through their commonplace and their naturalisation.
What are some of your favorite things about contemporary African art, and who would you say are some key players worthy of celebrating?
I am such a fan of contemporary African art, I really believe it is leading the charge for innovative and unprecedented artwork. I work as a contributor and social editor for a global media brand and magazine called Nataal which celebrates contemporary African culture — and I have managed to meet many inspiring artists that I admire such as Kiluanji Kia Henda. Many of my contemporaries are doing phenomenal and hugely important work such as Micheala Younge, Simphiwe Ndzube, Bronwyn Katz… to name a few.
What exciting projects are you working on at the moment?
Ceramic is an incredible medium with endless possibilities — I am currently working on a way to weave the clay into tapestry type pieces.
Could you share with us something you believe to be important or valuable to keep in mind as a creative?
I think perseverance is the main thing for me — to remain uncompromising in my vision. I hope to keep making weird and hopefully wonderful ceramic sculptures that help us to look at the everyday differently.
Follow Somers on Instagram.
Images supplied by Somers.