Ronnie Watt: Reading a negotiation and expression of identity in South African Ceramics

The North-West Ceramics Foundation is pleased to present our next installment in our free, public Speaker Series. Unfortunately, conditions do not yet allow us to meet in person, but, like millions of others, we have been mastering the art of Zoom. We will present our next speaker, Dr. Ronnie Watt, via that platform on Sunday, February 27, 2022, at 11 am, Pacific Time. This daytime presentation will allow interested parties from Europe and Africa to attend. All are welcome, but registration is required. Please see here or below to register for this exciting talk.

Kalahari Ware Studio, plate, stoneware, hand-illustrated, 36.7 cm, Collection William Raats, South Africa. ©Christo Giles.

Dr. Ronnie Watt is a collector and specialist researcher of South African studio pottery and studio ceramic art. He is a graduate and postgraduate of the University of South Africa. He wrote his Master’s dissertation (completed in 2017) on South African studio pottery of the later twentieth century and its Anglo-Oriental label. The focus of his PhD (awarded in 2021) was a contextual history of South African ceramics of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in which he positioned cultural and socio-political influences in the development of oeuvres and genres. He has published numerous articles on South African studio pottery. After retiring from his career as journalist and producer of television programmes, He emigrated from South Africa to Canada in 2015 and is now resident in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island where he continues his research and writing.

Elizabeth Mbatha (ELC Art and Crafts Centre at Rorke’s Drift), double-handled and triple-necked bird-form vessel (1982), stoneware, coiled and altered, decorative detail and painted glazes, 23.5 x 18 cm. ©Ronnie Watt.

Dr. Watt’s lecture, “Reading a negotiation and expression of identity in South African Ceramics” will address the expression of identity within a multi-cultural society, which has been a distinctive feature of South African ceramic art. This can be tracked in the earlier blatant appropriation of Indigenous culture during the apartheid era to the later considered blending of Western and African ceramic traditions in the years prior to and following the achievement of democracy. In the post-1994 society that was constitutionally stripped of discriminatory privilege and prejudice, ceramists had a stronger incentive to accommodate, mediate or even reject cultural prescripts to communicate their fit in a space of collective heritage and identity. Contemporary ceramics produced by both white and black ceramists reveal the practice of cultural referencing to be a conscious engagement with issues of identities, values and meanings which are expressed as complex symbolism and metaphor in the visual vocabulary. This post-colonial introspection of culture, tradition and identity will be discussed and illustrated by referring to works by 20th and 21st century South African ceramists such as Maggie Mikula, Andile Dyalvane, S’bonelo Thau Luthuli and Michelle Legg.

Andile Dyalvane, uTyityilizi (2018), stoneware, coiled, altered, bisqued, smoke-fired and polished with beeswax, 25 x 40 x 34 cm. ©Sandisile Poswa, Imiso Ceramics.

This is an exciting and unique opportunity to learn about contemporary South African ceramics from a researcher who has studied this era extensively. To register for this talk, please click here.

To contact Dr. Watt, please email:

To view this talk on YouTube, please see here.