Fine artist and ceramicist, Daniël Janse van Vuuren, has long been fascinated by typography – a love born from his immersion in graphic design for more than three decades. Yet he was aware that the origins of writing and their characters predate Sumerian script or even ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Seduced by the richness of symbolism, and as a child of Africa, Danie has therefore embarked on a project whose research and execution marries his design acumen and fine art sensibilities.
The background of early ideograms
Pictographs and petroglyphs, as painted onto cave walls or engraved on rocks by hunters or shamans, were some of the earliest forms of ‘writing’. Ideograms – the next step in the evolution of writing – Danie noted, simply condense pictographs and their meaning.
Where an eye, for example, represents the concept of seeing, an eye plus a tear conveys the idea of sadness. It became clear to him that the ideograms of our distant ancestors are indeed very similar to airport signage or the infographic icons and emoticons of our digital age. It seems we have gone full circle in encapsulating big bites of information with such powerful simplicity.
In pre-alphabetic societies, communities relied on oral communication to bring successive generations up to speed with accumulated knowledge. The miracle of writing, therefore, was that speech became visible, and permanent, to societies who up till then had relied on oral
tradition for the transfer of information, mythologies and history.
Where the technology, look and feel of alphabet systems has engrained a mindset of linearity and sequential or logical thinking, rock-art symbols – the precursors of writing – tease us to understand on a multiplicity of levels at once.
African symbolism offers inspiration
About ten years ago, Danie became aware of the body of work of revered Zulu shaman and ethnographer, Credo Mutwa. Baba Mutwa, who is now in his nineties, explains that sangomas or medicine men, like himself, created symbols that were only understood by fellow practitioners. It is from these African symbols that Danie has drawn his inspiration.
Danie’s passion for the distillation of multi-layered symbolism into one object has been focused into the creation of three-dimensional cupped ceramic medallions (breast or shield-like in shape) – each with a specific ancient African symbol.
Clay is the perfect medium for this exhibition
Clay appealed specifically to Danie as the chosen art medium for this project. It is a gift from the earth. It was sourced from the mother continent. The medium lends itself to crafting in such a way as to be at once rough and textured as well as smooth and refined. Colour glazes resonate with the symbolism inherent in each piece and each piece is kiln-fired fired for longevity.
Having played with form, texture, colour and scale, Danie will be exhibiting his completed project in an installation that clusters sixty medallions, each with a unique archetypal symbol, including a key word to help unlock and ponder its deeper significance. A limited edition of individual pieces will also be cast in bronze.
Danie’s latest body of ceramic work invites you to immerse yourself in the simple beauty of archetypes – each a world of its own, reflecting and cross-referencing the wisdom of our African roots.