Photography in Githan’s Studio: Paul Cocks

Githan Coopoo, the self-taught ceramic jewellery designer and ceramist. It is so interesting to see you evolving your craft. You seem to have such a wonderful drive to create, curate, and just keep on making things. What keeps this creative fire burning?
I love this intro – it feels so grand though. I don’t know if I am this grand, but thank you. I do find I need to make things. I’ve always been curious about the natural world. My first dream profession was to be a marine biologist. As I’ve gotten older my fascination shifted from nature to people (same thing?) – specifically the way we live our lives, how we impact one another and the stories we tell in doing so. I like the idea of contributing to a history of people who have been, and people who have yet to be. History generally is so interesting – often so wrong! Also, the fire burns out all the time.

You have a mini-series called “Love and Sex” available at Proto A4. What inspired this collection of ceramic artworks?
This was my first foray into object making – by this I mean I didn’t create accessories. Rather, this series is made up of palm sized tiles that are decorated with various images of posed men and text. The men are predominantly nude or semi nude and come from the internet. Some images are of and from men I know, some are not. Most allude to a phone or phone camera. At the time I was in love with a guy I’d met online. We’d been speaking for months and with only an internet presence, he existed as an emotional space amongst all this porn and sex. I found this interesting. So the series is just about that – Love and Sex. The text is usually unrelated – musings, thoughts, things friends have said that I’ve taken solace in. My work is becoming a big riff on Hylton Hel. As a gay South African ceramicist and someone whose work I admire, he’s become a distinctive frame of reference, at times more overt than others.

When we met up with you, you had just watched the Loewe Runway show and you teared up at the incorporation of ceramics into their garments. It is amazing that you were watching something of that calibre and getting teary-eyed despite your work also being displayed at that level. What was it like collaborating with LVMH prize winner Thebe Magugu for his Fall 2020 collection which showed at Paris Fashion Week?
Loewe by Jonathan Anderson is generally just worth getting teary eyed over. That show was so beautiful to me because he so artfully incorporated Japanese artisan Takuro Kuwata’s ceramics into the ready to wear accessories. Giant bulky ceramics hanging from slouched suede clutch bags and big robust bell like pendants? I felt seen.

It was a great privilege to work with Thebe – I like the way he thinks. He sees fashion as more than clothing and he uses it to highlight and frame narratives. He had such an amazing team – to have my work styled by Ibrahim Kamara is on its own such a thrill, but I suppose the whole thing was quite surreal. A truly gratifying opportunity.

There is a lot of vulnerability in your work, from your chosen medium right through to the subject matter. Is this, to some degree, insight into you and your temperament? Does your mood and state of self-confidence flow through into your work?
Pretty much, yes. I first made jewellery for myself out of clay at a time when I was pretty unhappy about being unhappy. I didn’t want to embrace being sensitive. Things break in my studio all the time and I always seem to learn something from it – compromise, peace, sadness etc. It’s harder when things break in the real world, or when you break, but practicing and learning on a smaller more manageable scale was helpful then and it’s still really helpful to me now, both in and out of my practice.

Things break in my studio all the time and I always seem to learn something from it…

What is your relationship with fast fashion? Can we also just talk about the blue and white check t-shirt that you and your granny made together?
Like most gals who want the look for less, I buy my heels from Zara. I don’t engage with the clothing side of things as much – I don’t shop for looks. I generally wear my dad’s clothes mixed with basics and local designers. On this idea I enjoy making objects that challenge the rate at which we consume – often my pieces require dedication to wear. Between their weight and fragility there is something that is asked of the wearer – an agreement, sometimes a compromise. Its performative, and I like the subtle intensity of that performance.

Ah! One of my prized possessions. My gran was a master seamstress – she was a teacher by profession – and could make anything. We picked out that gingham together at fabric city and made the top and matching tote bag. Ideally I prefer to have my clothes made – it’s a richer experience.

As a teenager, what did you imagine your life to be like at the age you are now and if you could tell your teenage self anything, what would that be?
Oef, I’ll be honest with you – I didn’t. I was pretty miserable then – closeted throughout school and gay as the day is long. Being an adult didn’t have much appeal – I knew I loved fashion. If I could I would tell myself I had reason to be excited about my future. I think that’s what I needed to hear most.

What event big or small has changed the way you see things and produce work?
Not single, but rather multiple, and not events but rather men. I have most greatly been moved and changed by love and romance and sex.

Do you think that “playing” is as important as working?
I do yes. I think the notion of play presents itself in more structured ways than we realise. I have constructed my jewellery around play – performing, decorating, adorning. In 2018 I was working too hard in a different profession and playing even harder as a means to cope – the result was a bipolar and HIV diagnosis. What I’ve learnt is that both an excessive and insufficient amount of either is detrimental. I think we need to seek balance – it’s an adage as old as time but maybe it’s that way for a reason, no?

Creative ‘blocks’ are something that so many artists, regardless of medium, go through. What is some advice you would give someone who is stuck and struggling to produce work? 
Find someone whose taste and opinion you admire – share your ideas. You’re either going to like or dislike what they say, and that’s somewhere to start

How has Covid-19 affected the way you are going to do things going forward?
I want to help people with my brand, which is something I didn’t think of in the past. I’ve always worked from home so little has to change – a minor tweak here and there. I think the biggest change is that I have to call up my friends now to get those juicy one liners that punctuate my pieces, rather than them being shouted over tables and dancefloors on drunken nights out.