The Poetics of Clay

The Poetics of Clay

Ranti Bamgbala was born in Lagos and raised in London. She received an MA from The Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design, and was accepted onto the renowned City Lit ceramics diploma course just 2 years after graduating. Bamgbala loves working with clay in its natural unreinforced state, embellishing the surface with colours and textures, inspired by her travels. She has maintained a consistent and dedicated studio practice since graduating in 2015.

Please tell us about Ranti Bamgbala.

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Biographically, I was born in Nigeria and grew up largely in the UK. Geographically I am based in London. Creatively, I refer to myself as a ceramicist.

Each of your works is uniquely different. Does each hold personal experiences or stories for you?

The most personal of the works that I have so far created is Ego. This is because it came directly out of an exploration of the idea of my body as a vessel. So I was making visible things my body contained – metaphysically, by way of influences and inspirations, and literally, by way of textiles and textures that I adorned myself with. Otherwise, presently my work is largely motivated by the exploration of the extraordinary material that is clay.

Lassa, 2015, white stoneware, 28x18cm

Lassa, 2015, white stoneware, 28x18cm

You describe your work as “abstract vessels, made by creating form through collage”. Please take us though your techniques and process, as well as what goes through your mind while conceptualizing and the post creation of works like Lassa, 2014 with such detailed collage.

I make my work through a combination of throwing and hand building. I work intuitively, collaging freely cut slabs of embellished clay around a thrown base. The embellishment is done through painting onto the clay with coloured slips. Slip, for the uninitiated, is simply coloured liquid clay.

The colours and textures I paint on are inspired by my journeys through the day and faraway. It could be the colour of a door, which I find particularly fascinating that then leads me to wonder about the nature of the people who might live in the attached house. I make notes; I get back to the studio and I starting collating colours, images, prints that capture those impressions for me. Sometimes I take these ideas in Photoshop and further abstract them.

I am very inspired by materiality. I draw a lot of inspiration from wood, metal and fabric. I am also inspired by our African sensibility of infusing work with ease, simplicity and light-heartedness and the acceptance of aesthetic ‘imperfections’, for lack of a better word, that are natural to the spirit of working with intuition and playfulness.

I am also very fascinated by the human psyche, what makes people do what they do, the idea of nature vs. nurture, by metaphors, mythology and symbology, which all naturally lead to astrology. I like the poetry of astrology though. I do not take it as a science.

The name Lassa derives from the Greek word for sea and the piece was directly inspired by a poem I wrote called The Sea. For the last 10 years, I’ve spent every summer on a Greek island. So with Lassa, the colours, hues, the form, comes from that place of sitting on the beach staring longingly, languidly and lovingly at the sea.

Ceramic art is an object of aesthetic, or domestic utility, with its symbolic import often central to social identity, economic and political status, ritual practice, and belief. However, it continues to be under represented in African art regarding its significance as an expressive culture. What are your thoughts?

I also don’t think the use of earth or mud is underrepresented in African art. This material has been and continues to be utilised in many artworks made on the continent.

Elu, 2016, Black Clay, 26x12cm

Elu, 2016, Black Clay, 26x12cm

As an underrepresented art form, what are the challenges that artists working in your genre encounter?

Again I don’t think ceramics is an underrepresented art form, an undervalued one, maybe. Most collectors are just beginning to pay attention to it in terms of the art market. It is highly lauded and valued in South Africa, where there are amazing ceramic artists working at the moment. In the UK, ceramics is also having a huge resurgence. At the big art fairs now you see many galleries with ceramics featuring as part of their booth. Also, more fine artists are using clay as an additional medium to their mixed media practices to communicative particular narratives.

Personally, I don’t think the challenge lies in the medium an artist uses. It’s in the type of work they make, and whether what they make reaches an audience. With ceramics, the challenges could be one of space. A painter could make work in their bathroom. However for ceramics, you need a well-ventilated studio, a kiln and a wheel; it takes sizeable amount money to set up.

Are, 2016, Black Clay, 21x9cm

Are, 2016, Black Clay, 21x9cm

Many believe that ceramic art is more associated with women. Are you of the same view?

Traditional, functional ceramics is very much associated with women and with Africa. However, men largely helm contemporary studio ceramics over in the UK and in Japan. And that’s not me speaking from my perspective. It is objective.

Yika, 2016, Black Clay, 27x12cm

Yika, 2016, Black Clay, 27x12cm

Please tell us about your first exhibition and what the experience was like for you?

It was probably my graduation exhibition. It was a great, fun experience. My work stood out, literally because it was aesthetically loud–bright, full of texture and movement. I sold most of my work on the opening night.

Do you make limited editions or mass produce them to reach broader audiences?

Each of my pieces is unique.

Where are the major distribution points for your work?

At the moment, I sell mainly through showcases I have had, word of mouth and my website. However, I am in talks with a couple of galleries about representation for next year. So watch this space.


Oliver Enwonwu is founder and Editor-in-Chief of Omenka magazine, Director, Omenka Gallery and Chief Executive, Revilo. He holds a first degree in Biochemistry, advanced diploma in Exploration Geophysics (distinction), Post Graduate Diplomas in Applied Geophysics and Visual Art (distinction) and a Masters in Art History, all from the University of Lagos. He is the founder, Executive Director, and trustee of The Ben Enwonwu Foundation. He also sits on the board of several organizations including the National Gallery of Art, Nigeria and the Reproduction Rights Society of Nigeria. Enwonwu is also president of both the Society of Nigerian Artists and the Alliance of Nigerian Art Galleries.

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