Ceramic artist breaks mould

Mdantsane ceramic artist and model Siphenokuhle Runqu is an artist, anti-rape activist and entrepreneur.
Mdantsane ceramic artist and model Siphenokuhle Runqu is an artist, anti-rape activist and entrepreneur.
Image: Barbara Hollands

Mdantsane ceramic artist and model Siphenokuhle Runqu is an artist, anti-rape activist and entrepreneur.

Runqu, 22, who graduated from Walter Sisulu University with a BTech degree in ceramics in 2016, overcame an artistic mental block when she took her lecturer’s advice to dig deep for inspiration.

The result was a powerful collection of clay busts called “Broken Ones”, a guttural response to the physical and emotional brutality of rape. One piece has a gaping heart-shaped cavity, another is fractured into three pieces, then sewn back together, while a third features a straining zip pulling together a chest ripped in two.

“Rape breaks women and tears their lives apart, but you either fix yourself or remain a victim. I made 13 of these pieces that urge women to take back their power,” said Runqu who participated in the #rapemustfall protest two years ago by mounting a protest outside the East London Magistrate’s Court.

“One of our lecturers used to say that as an artist your aim is to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.”

Runqu’s first forays into art began as a teenager at Nyameko High School when she discovered she could draw by copying favourite cartoon characters.

“I was also good at biology diagrams and ended up drawing them for classmates who asked for help because they were hopeless. I would charge them R1 or R2 or a nice sandwich in exchange.”

But when her mother inadvertently burnt all her sketches, Runqu was so distressed that she banned herself from drawing until she made an impulsive decision to enrol for a diploma in fine art.

“And then I fell in love with ceramics,” she said. “I do runway modelling and have taken part in the East London Fashion Walk and Africa Eastern Cape Hair and Fashion Show. Art is my first love, although modelling is fun. When I create art I fill blank canvas or mould clay, but when I am a model I am the blank canvas. I am the clay.”

Her interest in art and fashion is combined in her yet-to-be named business in which she paints portraits of people or pets on items of clothing they want embellished this way.

“I like to dress creatively and so I took a denim jacket I thought was boring and painted a portrait of myself on the back and when people saw it they also wanted one.

“People order portraits of themselves on their T-shirts or jackets or they want their children or loved ones or pets on their clothes and so I paint them on. I guess I am an art entrepreneur.”

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