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Ceramics and the Digital Age with Djakou Nathalie : Can Ancient Traditions Thrive in a Virtual World?

“Perhaps I may be missing out on something, but digital art appears fragile and lacking the soul and energy that we, as human beings, infuse into our work every minute we spend shaping our materials. Handcrafted pieces are more than just objects, they embody our sweat, the energy we invest every day, our fingerprints, and sometimes even traces of blood. These imperfections make them truly unique.” Djakou Nathalie elucidates the intersection between Ceramic Art and the Digital Age.


 

From time out of mind, the creation and mastery of ceramic arts have been an independent practice deeply ingrained in almost all cultures across the globe. To hammer it home, the ancient Nok people of Africa boast a rich culture of ceramic art practices that dates back over 3,000 years. 


However, in an era where digital innovation is often synonymous with speed, efficiency, and virtual experiences, one may question the relevance and viability of these esteemed, time-honored ceramic practices. Can the artistry, tactile nature, and cultural heritage of ceramics find a place to thrive with the rapid digital advancements that pose a contention? 


To sift through this quandary, I had the privilege of engaging Djakou Kassi Nathalie, a Cameroonian ceramic artist based in Lagos, renowned for her exquisitely adorned ceramics that eloquently convey poignant narratives, ranging from combating domestic violence to celebrating the divine essence of womanhood. Through her distinctive perspective, Nathalie sheds light on the intersection between ceramic art and the Digital Age, and what the future holds for the duo. 



Djakou Kassie Nathalie | Courtesy of Djakou Kassie Nathalie
Djakou Kassi Nathalie | Courtesy of Djakou Kassi Nathalie

Art Report Africa: You have honed your craft in ceramics since 1992, and your works often feature mosaic patterns of mask-like faces and ornate lines that you hand carve into clay. Could you share with us the inspiration behind these designs and explain why you have chosen ceramics as your preferred medium for creative expression?


Djakou Kassi Nathalie: My love for ceramics began in my childhood when my parents used to purchase porcelain wares, and I would also admire them in magazines. Eventually, when I had the opportunity to choose a medium in school, I naturally gravitated towards ceramics. The inspiration behind my unique designs gradually developed from my deep interest in African art during my school years. Additionally, I was influenced by my ceramic teachers from Congo, who had a passion for working with African sculptures and masks. Along the way, I started designing my own collection of masks with various shapes and emotions, which I can employ in diverse thematic contexts. I adore working with clay because of the endless possibilities it offers me to express shapes, forms, and emotions through its malleability and plasticity.


ARA: Your work often bridges traditional craftsmanship with modern aesthetics. How do you balance these elements to create pieces that resonate with both past and present?


I consider myself fortunate to have studied in a well-equipped school with exceptional teachers, and this has greatly influenced my ability to blend tradition and modernity in my work. My foremost objective is to produce high-quality, meticulously finished pieces. I dedicate time to pertinent details and continually strive to create new shapes. My goal is for my work to meet the standards set by infamous ceramicists while maintaining its originality and uniqueness.



Courtesy of Djakou Kassie Nathalie
Courtesy of Djakou Kassi Nathalie


ARA: Ceramics is an ancient art form with a rich history. With the rise of digital art forms like NFTs, how do you see the digital age impacting traditional ceramic practices?


To be honest, digital art doesn't particularly attract me. I hold great respect for all art forms and artists, but I personally do not feel drawn to many of the current trends in digital art. While there has been interest from people wanting to purchase my work as NFTs or convert my pieces into digital formats, I haven't found genuine interest in pursuing those avenues. Perhaps I may be missing out on something, but digital art appears fragile and lacking the soul and energy that we, as human beings, infuse into our work every minute we spend shaping our materials.


ARA:Can digital tools like 3D printing or online design platforms enhance or potentially diminish the value of handcrafted ceramics?


In my opinion, I cannot envision printing my work. Everyone has their own perspective on this matter, and while some may appreciate it, others may not. Personally, I believe that 3D printing diminishes the value of handcrafted ceramics because handcrafted pieces are more than just objects. They embody our sweat, the energy we invest every day, our fingerprints, and sometimes even traces of blood. These imperfections make them truly unique.


ARA: In your creative process, do you see a potential for incorporating digital elements alongside traditional ceramic techniques? If so, how?


I can never say never. However, at present, I am deeply in love with my handcrafted process. Perhaps one day, the idea of incorporating digital techniques may tempt me, but for now, I find immense fulfillment in the traditional approach.


ARA: The internet has created a global marketplace for art. How can established ceramic artists like yourself leverage the digital world to reach new audiences and collectors?


The internet has proven to be a valuable tool for showcasing my work to a wider audience, connecting with galleries, new collectors, and fellow artists worldwide. It has allowed me to share experiences, learn from others, and discover what artists around the world are creating. However, it's important to acknowledge that these digital platforms also present challenges such as plagiarism concerns and counterfeiting.


ARA: Do you think there's a risk of losing the appreciation for the skill and time invested in traditional ceramics in a world obsessed with instant gratification and digital experiences?


There is indeed a genuine risk of losing appreciation for the skill and time invested in traditional ceramics in a world that craves instant gratification and digital experiences. People often rush for new and inexpensive things. Nonetheless, there are still individuals who value craftsmanship, originality, and quality in not only ceramics but also in various other art forms. I hope we can uphold the tradition of creating handmade works and preserve their value.


ARA: On the other hand, can digital terrene create a renewed interest in traditional art forms like ceramics by making them more accessible and visible to a wider audience?


It is difficult to determine whether the digital space will create a renewed interest in traditional art forms like ceramics and make them more accessible to a wider audience. Prior to the digital era, traditional art forms were often fragile and practiced primarily in rural areas. With urbanization and the influence of modernism, many young individuals lost interest in traditional techniques, opting instead for what globalization and civilization brought to their surroundings. In some regions, certain traditional art forms and techniques are disappearing or are being practiced solely by older generations. Although efforts are being made to revive these art forms and encourage young people to engage in handcraft, the outer-verse is that traditional art is relatively becoming more expensive.



Courtesy of Djakou Kassie Nathalie
Courtesy of Djakou Kassi Nathalie


ARA: As we look ahead, how might traditional ceramics merge with digital advancements to forge new artistic expressions? What innovative transformations do you predict for the future of physical, handcrafted art pieces like ceramics?


It is challenging to predict the future in today's fast-growing society. I earnestly hope that the digital dispensation will bring safe, innovative, and clean experiences to our handcrafted art without compromising its essence. I aspire for physical art pieces to withstand the allure of technology and continue to enrich our daily lives, bringing joy to our spaces. I hope that many people will desire to touch and feel traditional art, experiencing its textures, scents, and the human touch embedded within them. I also hope these pieces become cherished heirlooms, passed down through generations, recording our history and nurturing our collective cultural heritage.



 

ABOUT DJAKOU KASSI NATHALIE


Djakou Kassi Nathalie studied ceramics for three years at the 'Institut Samba Superieur' on a full scholarship. She has been creating ceramics since 1992 and started her own practice soon after graduating from University. Nathalie’s work is characterised by a mosaic pattern of mask-like faces and ornate lines hand-carved into the surfaces of the clay. Faces that adorn large sculptural vases, vessels, cubes, plates, and stylized human figures.


Her works have been featured in numerous exhibitions in Cameroon, Europe, and the United States. She won the first Africa Prize at the International Fair of Ouagadougou (SIAO) in 2012. She moved to Nigeria in 2015, and has been an active member of the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA). She has taken part in numerous exhibitions in Nigeria with SMO Contemporary Art (2018), the Society of Nigerian Artists (2015, 2016, 2018), Moorehouse Hotel (2016) and with Quintessence (2018). She was one of the winners of the Union Bank Art Competition for their 100th Year Anniversary in 2017. Her works are inspired by nature and man's volatile interaction with her environment.


Interview by Fredrick Favour

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