Breaking new grounds in ceramics

By Michael Tambo
December 2011/January 2012
His name may not ring a bell amongst Namibia’s celebrities‘ list but John Nampala is one of the few Namibian men who have managed to soldier on in the unexploited territory of ceramics in Namibia.

Ceramics, which involves manufacturing products out of clay that are permanently hardened by heat, has provided great services to mankind. It is one of the oldest crafts from ancient times to modern age, which plays a dominant role in our everyday life. In fact, pottery is the measure of a country’s civilisation. Furthermore, the invention of clay ceramics was an important concept in the history of human civilisation. It was the first time that man used natural materials to create a completely new thing just as he visualised it in his imagination.

Nampala was amongst exhibitors present at the recent Windhoek Arts Exhibition held at the Zoo Park and funded by the Windhoek City Council, where he had a stand furnished with natural and fundamental ceramic products comprising of cups, plates, mugs and decorational products like sculptures and vases.

Nampala is the owner of Ndilipane Ceramics Production and Clay Manufacturing Training; a small-scale company, which manufactures and sells ceramic products. He set up his business in 2002 when he was still a student. Realising that he had no money to buy ready-made clay from the formal dealers, he used his creativity to produce his own clay from what he got from the riverbed and other ingredients. As a result of his great invention, he was the runner-up in the category “Manufacturer of Clay” in the Sam Nujoma Innovative Entrepreneurship Programme.

To date, Nampala has trained more than 100 students in ceramics but is concerned with the fact that most of these graduates are not able to start their own small businesses, because of lack of resources such as moulding machines and proper workshops to operate their businesses from.

He says: “The greatest impediment within the pottery industry in the country is lack of facilities, which is crippling the industry, especially for local small-scale potters. Most of the graduates from our local Arts colleges do not have the necessary resources to start their own businesses. Thus, they end up not using their learnt skills, hence adding to the country’s unemployment rate.”

He further asserts that pottery facilities are mostly found and owned by institutions and this makes it difficult for local graduates to rise within the industry. However, according to him, there are more opportunities within the ceramic industry as about 95% of the pottery products found in Namibia come from outside countries.

Born in the year 1978, in Onekondlelo village at Uukwiyuushona, Nampala attended primary education at Uukwiyuushona Combined School, then proceeded to Oluno Senior Secondary School where he completed his studies in 2000.

In 2001, he enrolled at the John Muafengejo Art Centre in Katutura Community Centre where he studied for a Certificate in Arts, which he completed in 2003. A year later, Nampala got a job as a part-time lecturer in Ceramics and Glass at the same institution where he was honoured with the 2005 “Lecturer of the Year” award.

The inspiration to open up a business for Nampala came from his college lecturers and this has provided him with enough know-how to rise through the ceramic industry.

For one to become a potter, Nampala says, they have to have drawing skills and must be able to observe nature and bring that into design.

He says, “You must have the skill and ability to draw and observe. Pottery is visual arts, which require a person to observe and draw a picture from their observation before putting it into design.”

He further says: “I am inspired by nature - how people use natural resources to come up with good home-made products and by modern styles where people use techniques of moulding as well as firework, which enables them to craft more products.”

Armed with 10 years’ experience in ceramics, he has also showcased his wares at various trade expos like SME forums, The Youth Expo and the National Art Gallery. In 2008, Nampala received the “Judges’ Honourable Mention” award at the Bank Windhoek Triennale; an award, which inspired him to enrol at Unam for a Diploma in visual arts.

He has also taken part in the Standard Bank Biennale, the NAGN HIV/AIDS exhibition, the “Come Together” group exhibition in France, the Ae// Garns cultural festival, the Ongwediva Trade Fair as well as the National Ceramics Biennale exhibition where he has always been the overall winner.

To date, Nampala has groomed and employed two people who will be standing in for him whilst he attends his pottery lectures at Unam. His business falls under the niche market as he targets tourists and individuals for household products.

Nampala is currently operating from a home studio in Hakahana where he uses natural clay, paint and glaze for his ceramic products.

“I see myself growing to run a big workshop with support from Government and stakeholders” concludes Nampala. PF