INTERVIEWED BY Michaela Stehr
We chat to Joburg-based multifaceted artist Amy-Leigh Braaf aka Hakopike about her latest journey into the world of ceramics and clay under the name Madu Ibu.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
My background is something that inspires every art series I work on and every new platform I create. I was raised by my mother Carol who provided a world of creative tools for me to channel all of my energy and ideas into – it started from getting me my own child-friendly pottery wheel when I was a child, driving me to drama and dancing lessons and never questioning any avenue of life that I wanted to lose myself in. She ensured that every Christmas was surrounded with love and warmth, painting and playing guitar with my uncle and learning how to sew and make hand-made artworks with my grandmother. After studying at UCT and completely my B.A in Film Production I missed my graduation and took my degree with me to South Korea where I stayed and worked for two years in total. I then backpacked by myself to Indonesia, Japan, The Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and every small town in between – me and my camera and any art supply I could get my hands on.
You’re quite a jack-of-all-trades. How do you give equal attention to all your skills?
This is something that a lot of artists sometimes dread hearing – but I love the idea that knowledge is infinite. My ceramic journey has been one attached to therapy and internalising my thoughts even deeper – to spaces I never realised existed. I’m not an extremely organised person but somehow my artforms give me structure. If I wake up I am immediately drawn to something whether it’s a gold leaf acrylic painting, a concept for a photo series, a digital illustration commission or a ridiculous idea of a ceramic piece. I don’t control what I make – it controls me – I’m simply the vessel. I also tend to “temporarily retire” from artform to make sure that I spend a year on one medium at a time. This year has been pottery and reflecting on my heritage and the women who came before me.
How did you get involved in ceramics?
It started with my mom years ago when I would sit on our veranda and lose myself in the clay – I had an unusual amount of energy and still do but, for some reason, this was the only art form that could keep me still. I revisited pottery with an opportunity to create alongside my mother. We started making polymer earrings under the name “Madu Ibu” which means “Honey Mother” in Indonesian. It was a way of thanking my mother for providing the most loving and sweet space for a child who could never quite keep her feet on the ground. After Madu Ibu, we explored pottery together and eventually, I ended up going into the studio sometimes twice a week to create an immense amount of pieces. I’ve come up for air now – and I sometimes can’t believe all the pieces I have to show for it.
What are your favourite things about working with clay?
I could talk about clay for days – but one of the most captivating elements of working with clay is centring it on the wheel. With my elbows locked into myself, my hands held in position and my eyes over the centre of the wheel I can turn a block of hard clay into a cone and then whatever it wants to be followed after. Cleaning the wheel is something I’ll never enjoy simply because I never want to stop. The moment the clay softens and becomes liquid-like it crawls up your arms and resides on your skin. It becomes a part of you and a part of what you’ve made. Every piece I make takes hours to finish and takes over three weeks to complete sometimes – every time it comes out of the kiln I am amazed by something I didn’t realise my hands made weeks before.
What does a day in the studio look like for you?
I work as a freelancer and sometimes it’s weeks of chaos and days of quiet. I normally go into the studio in the morning and come out 3 hours later. I start with no preconceived idea of what will come out but rather the surprise by what shows face. I started working on hand-made pieces like pinch pots and abstract cups but once I got pulled back to the wheel I couldn’t stop. Now it’s a case of breaking the rules of what I’ve learnt and adding in my own artistic style – squashed bowls that were once perfect, upside-down handles and an array of tray sets for artists and coffee lovers.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I often turn to surrealism in everything I do. I enjoy things that don’t fit in and never make sense in spaces. Perhaps it’s my own experience with ambiguity in life and never staying in one place for long. I enjoy creating pieces that reflect that feeling of another world. Chasing the universe so many artists lose themselves in – I sometimes secretly hope we all end up in the space – far away from this world and on a mutual though process where we connect with one another without words – and all slowly decent back down to earth – hours after losing ourselves.
How do you keep things fresh?
Learning. I never feel like I have gotten to the end of an artform or mastered it. If I rotate between mediums the feeling of returning feels like the first time every time. That keeps things fresh. The moment an artist feels as if they have mastered their form is the moment they lose their ability to learn. I avoid that thought as much as possible because I love learning.
Do you have a preferred method of creating?
Each art form gives me different forms of understanding. Pottery gives me a sense of balance. Photography gives me a sense of magic. Illustrating gives me a sense of transcending. Filmmaking encapsulates all of these things.
Any local creators to keep on our radar?
I am always in awe of artists around me and all of their artforms, Amy Ayanda’s paintings are incredibly beautiful, Karabo Poppy’s illustrations are vibrant and captivating and Jade Paton’s ceramic pieces are playful and unique.
Any tips and tricks for beginners?
The best thing to do is learn all of the steps, all of the rules, all of the processes to get a result you want – after you’ve done that: rebel against it.