Andile Dyalvane grew up on a farm, looking after his father’s cattle in the Eastern Cape. Today he is an artist whose primary medium is derived from the earth. The Cape Town–based ceramist, a co-founder of Imiso Ceramics, has become known as South Africa’s master of clay. His intricate ceramic pieces, shaped by a profound spiritual connection to his Xhosa ancestors, hold and share narratives. Since his first solo international show, in 2016, Dyalvane has continuously sought to preserve his language, identity, and cultural traditions. His new body of work, on show at Cape Town’s Southern Guild gallery, is no exception.

The exhibition, “iThongo,” pays tribute to Dyalvane’s ancestors with a collection of 18 hand-coiled ceramic seats. These clay stools, chairs, and benches are distinguished by a close proximity to the earth, which makes them a gateway to communication with the ancestors. Their curved shapes mimic rondavels (round huts) and kraals, traditionally used to enclose livestock.

Dyalvane’s clay seats, based on symbols drawn from the Xhosa way of life.

iThongo, a Xhosa word that translates as “ancestral dreamscape,” is key to understanding Dyalvane’s ongoing conversation around symbols. The seats are based on pictograms or glyphs from almost 200 symbols created by Dyalvane and drawn from Xhosa life, iconography such as igubu (drum) and umalusi (herdsman). “Each stool is based on a symbol,” he says, “so the symbols are a certain language, a way of writing or communicating.”

Dyalvane has also created his own alphabet. “For each symbol there is an energy and story that comes with it,” he says. Dyalvane sees symbols as “visual tools harnessed to more effectively impart meanings within messages—codes, if you will—that aid stories.” He believes his “language of dreams” contains messages from ancestral spirits.

Ahead of the launch of the show, which next summer will travel to Friedman Benda gallery, in New York, Dyalvane visited his home village of Ngobozana and showed his collection. It was essential to share this narrative with his community. “In all humbleness, I wanted to help those at home to see themselves—how worthy and great they all truly are,” he says. “When we gather together to remember our origins and join together in song and celebration, we reconnect to our deepest dreams and proud truths.” —Mary Holland