South African visual artist Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku

Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku

South Africa | 6 artworks for sale

  • Blushing Nebulae III - Sand Cast Ceramic by Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku Blushing Nebulae III
    Sand Cast Ceramic / 14 x 14 cm
    R8 000
  • Nuclear Winter (diptych) - Sand Cast Ceramic by Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku Nuclear Winter (diptych)
    Sand Cast Ceramic / 30 x 15 cm
    R15 000
  • Gypsum And Gold I - Sand Cast Ceramic by Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku Gypsum And Gold I
    Sand Cast Ceramic / 28 x 14 cm
    R11 000
  • Blushing Nebulae I - Sand Cast Ceramic by Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku Blushing Nebulae I
    Sand Cast Ceramic / 29 x 15 cm
    R13 000
  • Oberon Glaciate II - Sand Cast Ceramic by Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku Oberon Glaciate II
    Sand Cast Ceramic / 28 x 16 cm
    R9 000
  • Triassic Pollen II - Sand Cast Ceramic by Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku Triassic Pollen II
    Sand Cast Ceramic / 28 x 16 cm
    R11 000
  • The Winter Strain I - Sand Cast Ceramic by Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku
    The Winter Strain I
    Sand Cast Ceramic / 29 x 15 cm
  • Mask #6 - Sculpture by Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku
    Mask #6
    Sculpture / 13 x 20 cm
  • Mask #1 - Sculpture by Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku
    Mask #1
    Sculpture / 13 x 21 cm
  • Mask #7 - Sculpture by Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku
    Mask #7
    Sculpture / 12 x 21 cm
  • Black Matter 2 (diptych) - Sand Cast Ceramic by Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku
    Black Matter 2 (diptych)
    Sand Cast Ceramic / 30 x 15 cm
  • Triassic Pollen III - Sand Cast Ceramic by Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku
    Triassic Pollen III
    Sand Cast Ceramic / 27 x 13 cm
  • Blue Nebulae I - Sand Cast Ceramic by Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku
    Blue Nebulae I
    Sand Cast Ceramic / 15 x 15 cm
  • Blushing Nebulae II - Sand Cast Ceramic by Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku
    Blushing Nebulae II
    Sand Cast Ceramic / 14 x 14 cm
  • The Winter Strain II - Sand Cast Ceramic by Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku
    The Winter Strain II
    Sand Cast Ceramic / 28 x 15 cm
  • Manganese Particles (diptych) - Sand-Cast Ceramic by Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku
    Manganese Particles (diptych)
    Sand-Cast Ceramic / 18 x 15 cm
My process is a demonstration of an artistic practice which is highly innovative and promotes the use of 100% recyclable material (Sand). Much like playing at the beach sand as a natural material lends itself to expression, connecting the maker’s mind and body to the earth, its ability to withstand endless cycles of being shaped, formed and crumbled many times over.

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.
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. 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.

Mqeku was born 1987  in Mount Fletcher, a small town on the edges of the Eastern Cape province of South Africa the hills that scatter along the Drakensberg mountains, later he moved to Umtata a larger town where he graduated from High school. He began his tertiary education at the Nelson Mandela University Port Elizabeth south Africa, studying for a foundation certificate in art moving on to study Architectural Technology the following year. After two years of architectural design work Mqeku discontinued and went back to the school of art and design. In 2009 he completed two years of introductory art and design studies, his qualification comprised of Painting, Graphic Design, Photography, Sculpture, Ceramic Design, Drawing and Art Theory.

In April 2013, after graduating with a diploma in Ceramic Design, he moved once again to a different province, the city of Bloemfontein and began volunteer work at the historical Oliewenhuis Art Museum. In the next few months Mqeku would be granted a temporary contract of internship a partnership between Oliewenhuis Art Museum and The Visual Arts Network of South Africa (VANSA) and by May of 2014 Mqeku was permanently employed at Oliewenhuis Art Museum. In early 2016, Mqeku was enrolled at the Tshwane University of Technology Pretoria South Africa, completing a B-Tech in Fine Art with a major in Drawing and introducing the investigation of sand cast ceramics.

On a quest to develop research into the innovative studio practice of sand cast ceramics, Mqeku was commissioned as part of the Goethe Project Space (GPS) by the Goethe Institute Johannesburg, and between September and October 2018 Sylvester hosted the first ever public workshop on sand-cast ceramics at the central University of Technology, Bloemfontein.

In 2018, Mqeku was selected to participate in an exclusive ceramic artist residency in Vallauris, France and in 2020, Mqeku spent two months in Dakar, Senegal at the newly opened Black Rock Senegal Artist residency, founded by Kehinde Wiley. As one of 16 international artists selected for the inaugural class, Mqeku engaged with Senegalese culture and art, developing cross borders conversations, workshops, language and drawing. Mqeku is due to graduate with his masters in design and studio art, which he spent researching the use of sand casting as a ceramic studio technique and how it adapts to public creative practice and multiple fabrication technologies.

In 2021, Mqeku was announced the winner of the StateoftheART Gallery Award 2021 and presented his solo exhibition in December 2022.



Selected Exhibitions:

2024 - The Shipping Forecast - group exhibition at StateoftheART Gallery2022 - 'Birth of the Alter Natural' - StateoftheART Gallery (solo exhibition)
2022 -  'Black Rock 40' - DAK'ART Biennale, Dakar, Senegal
2021 -  '2021 StateoftheART Gallery Award Finalists Exhibition' - StateoftheART Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa
2021 -  'SculptX' - Melrose Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa
2019 -  'A.I.R. Vallauris artist residency' - The National Arts Council of South Africa (NAC), Vallauris, France
2017 -  'Nirox Winter outdoor sculpture fair' - Nirox Sculpture Park, Rustenburg, South Africa.
2017 -  'Blessing Ngobeni Studio Art Award' - Room Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa
2014 -  First Prize Winner "New Season a Ceramics Exhibition" - Gallery on Leviseur, Bloemfontein, South Africa.
2012 -  'In Praise of Vessels' - Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, Port Elizabeth, South Africa


Art Bank of South Africa


Clay Formes, Contemporary Clay from South Africa (2023)

Which artists, books or music have inspired your work?
In my undergraduate years, I was encouraged by seeing publications on the works of Andile Dyalvane, by that time he was alumni of the former NMMU School of Music Art and Design in Gqebherha, other international Ceramic artists include Margaret Odundo, Paul Soldner, Christopher Gryder and Peter Voulkos. And the greatest composition of all time is Alex Bouguereau`s painting The Oreads.
Books that have inspired me for all time include Charles Darwin`s Origin of species, James Mahu`s Collected Works of the Wingmakers Volume I, Zakes Mda The sculptors of Mapungubwe, Judith Mason The Mind's Eye: An Introduction to Making Images, and then a longer list of books still waiting for me to read them.
Although sometimes I will work in complete silence. Music is an intrinsic part of my studio presence and I’ve spent years collecting (Fela Kuti, Massive Attack, Thandiswa, Juluka, Bonobo, Mozart, Drum n Bass, Meshuggah, All them withches, the list goes on).

Which South African deceased artist do you most admire and why?
There are many but I can say I admire Judith Mason for her philosophical contribution in her book The Mind's Eye, it’s a timeless philosophical work that opened my eyes.

If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be?
It would be one of the gold foil artefacts found in Mapungubwe, particularly the rhino

Pick three artists who you would be honored to exhibit with – and why
Madoda Fani – His ceramic pots are enigmatic technical masterpieces
Nikesha Breeze – Her contact with clay transcends the physical connections and processes of making, and this results in the work being truly iconic to present and future.
Jo Roets – Because my interpretation of her work has been shifting in very interesting ways ever since I saw it, I feel it has something in common with mine as it manifests from a seemingly intuitive automation of the abstract, it’s interesting to anticipate what is next.

How did you get started? Did you always want to be an artist?
Since I can remember I’ve always been drawing on anything I could find, in my village as kids we played endlessly with different types of river clay, sculpting animals’ figurines and vehicles, immersing ourselves in imaginary roads, landscapes and territories. In high school I'd sell my drawings from R5 to R10 for A3. Since back then nothing in the community substantiated art as a career, after attending rigid career briefings from my mother and boring presentations and career expos in school, I only understood that I’ll need a career that involves drawing all day and getting paid the salary of a doctor, so at tertiary level the plan was to be an architect - buy my points were too low and the only way in was to do a foundation certificate in art and design at the NMMU school of Music Art and Design, at the time headed by Mary Duker.
Incidentally this became the very first time I encountered art on an academic level, meeting people like me who were even better at drawing, a vast holy universe of art and human history took me in as a prodigal child, I passed this course with three distinctions, Drawing, Art theory and Photography. The next year I qualified to study Architectural technology in the same institution, I studied for two years even working as intern in an architectural firm in 2007, but eventually I found my way back to the school of Music Art and Design where in 2011, I conducted my first experiments with sand cast ceramics.

What are some of the key themes you explore in your work?
Although not too obvious, the most prominent theme in my sand cast ceramics is the current notions between human intelligence and artificial intelligence. I like to bring this across through understanding that my work is fashioned using an unpredictable array of physical tools deployed in a highly unique and intuitive way. Even though I can design an A.I. that can collect quantitative data or to even digitize and archive my technical procedures, my work is evidence that artificial intelligence cannot function to the depths of intuition, pure psychic automation using memory, imagination and the nerve endings at your fingertips.
Fired clay is a recording device that can survive time longer than the hardest metals. In our modern anthropogenic discourse if we can remember this, we can also speculate that in our modern age where all information has been computerized and almost all human experience digitized, this means that all human history and knowledge can be wiped out in an instant by things softer than time.

What should people know about your art that they can’t tell from looking at it?
Every piece is made from a once off sand mold and is impossible to replicate, the closest thing to creating a copy is a combination of photogrammetry modelling and 3-D printing.

What are the most essential items in your studio and why?
My clay, sand and tools are highly essential, the clay is specially prepared to suit the needs of the process, the sand is also a special mixture that is taylor made for my process, the tools are a crucial part of the making process, they are what creates he unique motif found in my sculptural vessels, they are combination of handmade, digitally fabricated and found objects, which total about 1500 individual units and counting.

Tell us more about your creative process.
As I’ve mentioned before My process is highly unique, the first of its kind in Africa, there is ample opportunity for anyone to learn it and coin their own motifs and visual laws within it as long as they understand the most favorable tactile conditions of both sand and clay. For this purpose, I’m looking forward to establishing my own studio and begin producing larger work and collaborating with technology and design researchers to finally make substance of the questions of creativity as an aspect of both human cognition and artificial intelligence.
Do you believe an artist should use their platform to influence society? Why?
Yes, I believe they should, but only after critically recognizing what is to be influenced in the first place. I believe artists learn something new after every new artwork, constantly there is opportunities to share what they have learnt speaking out loud and using words, speaking about experiences that are otherwise nonphysical, French writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once noted that it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eyes, with this in mind I believe art has a way of substantiating that which is everything heartfelt.
Do you have a favourite or most meaningful work?
Whenever I identify one, another more favorable more meaningful work emerges, so I think the more I keep making is the more intricate the pattern will be, the pattern of how these artworks come about.

What is your greatest achievement as an artist to date?
From being chosen in 2019 for the Vallauris Ceramic artist in residence in France, a great moment which unfolded a series of ripple effects, the following year I was selected into the Blackrock Senegal artist residency and then 2021 winning the State of the Art Gallery Award, that series of fortunate events set off a realization about the potential for my work to be a source of great experience, for me and anyone within its gravity.

What are your aspirations for the future?
My aspirations are to strengthen my understanding of this process, this will be possible if I can find a large safe space that I can my own sand casting studio. Since this is entirely new work, there is high potential for millions of possibilities in shape and form in my works technique, there is still billions of possibilities in the combinations and variations of color, form, size and even the complexities of the motif that makes up the unique appearance of my work.
I still have aspirations to build collaborations all over the world with Engineers of Artificial Intelligence, I believe there is plenty more to learn using my existing masters research and the endless process of making.
I have to mount this studio in a couple of places around the world, already there is potential here in Cape Town, Dakar, Senegal, New York USA, Abuja Nigeria and Accra Ghana, but only time will tell how I put such plans to action.