99FM – Your Inspiration Station

From Dust to Dish, the Artist Who Saw the Potential

Have you ever imagined the potential of the soil around us? One Namibian did, Risto Iita who is one the this years University of Namibia (UNAM) Visual Arts Graduates, chose to collect soil samples from all over Namibia to see what pottery and ceramic could be made from our soil.

Inspired by his teacher, who told 99FM’s MYD Art about some of the fascinating traditional Namibian ceramic history that gets taught to the UNAM Visual Arts Ceramics Studies students. Lecturer at UNAM, Frauke Stegmann says “there is a 2000 year old tradition of making clay pots in Africa, a practice that unifies Africa through pottery. We teach this African identity in the ceramics course. In Namibia that practice has been in existence in the North for 2000 years and there is a tiny Khoisan pot that was made using pottery methods coming from East Africa 2000 years ago that might have been used for ritual purposes and not utilitarian purposes.”

“In ceramics you often only think about the utilitarian aspect; bowls; things you use in the kitchen for example. Our Ceramics Studies graduates developed very conceptual and more installation based items. Which is very interesting.” Says Frauke.

img_2469Risto Iita, one of the 2016 graduates, demonstrates his thought process and his plan for the future in his exhibition.

“I grew up in the Northern part of Namibia, in Ruacana in the in Omusati Region, I moved from there to Oshakati and then to Windhoek to study Art. For me art is in me, it’s my life.” Says Risto

“For my project, I had been interested in soils because I was reading a book by Mr. Paul van Schalkwyk, the Namibian photographer that took aerial shots of the dunes meeting the ocean, the rivers meeting the sea, Etosha and other beautiful parts of Namibia. The colours were amazing. Earth, where we live is the best place in the solar system and it’ s where we belong. Then I thought to take Namibian soil and try to use it to make clay.”

“I collected the soil from the Omusati region around the Otapi area, Okahao area, then Oshakati and also 5km outside Oshakati in an village where almost every house has women making clay pots. I even collected from Gobabis and I got some from a riverbed and from termite heaps.”

img_2465Risto took his soil samples and made them into clay, which he then made into various ceramic items. Some with varnish some without, to test what would happen. The results are amazing, to see them make a visit to the National Art Gallery of Namibia for the UNAM Visual Arts Graduates Exhibition 2016, which runs until the 7th of December 2016.

“An amazing thing about soil from the North, is that its’ very light sensitive and while you are making it, it needs to be stored in total darkness. When I interviewed women up there they said that the soil does not need light because it’s alive. It is very sensitive. So I thought wow, I’d like to see for myself and they were right.”

Now that’s he’s tested with success, Risto has a dream “Imagine if one day I’m supplying UNAM with clay? The clay they buy currently is from South Africa, and it’s a refined clay so it would be smart to produce our own clay here. Our soil is good for clay and the colours are amazing”