Nesta Nala

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We have a small sample of 6 pots from Nesta Nala. The last two are not illustrated as they are in our home in South Africa. They were among the very last Nesta made before her much too early death. A big loss for art and traditions of the world.

Do please feel free to contact us for further information:


In recent times the humble black pot has been raised to a new status as it has become an important part of interior décor, being placed alongside masterpieces of western art. As with many Zulu artifacts, Zulu beer pots have for a long time been overlooked as pieces worth collecting - the reasons are partly political and partly historical.

The use of the Zulu beer pot is an integral part of Zulu culture since ritual beer drinking takes place in every aspect of the customary Zulu life. Beer is used to introduce a new child to the families ancestors, at pubity ceremonies, at all marriage ceremonies as well as burial ceremonies. The beer is also used as a medium to evoke the ancestors - it is served in a pot and left overnight in the back of the hut for the ancestor. Beer was used as a form of economic exchange. It is the essence of hospitality and communality. King Ceshwayo claimed that beer was 'the food of the Zulu's'.

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The beer is brewed and served in low-fired clay vessels. Three sizes are common: the large Imbiza, used for brewing, the Ukhamba, used for serving and the Umancishana. Pots are also used for cooking meat, storing water and grain and for drinking sour milk.

Most Zulu pots are blackened after the firing, this is largely for ritualistic purposes as the ancestors hide in dark, shady places. In time, through daily use, the pots develop a warm, brown, glossy patina characteristic of Zulu pots.

The patterns and decoration on the pots vary according to family and region. Usually one can distinguish two styles of decoration: incised decoration and raised decoration.

Our store also carries a selection of other ethnic pots and ceramics, which look fabulous in the home.

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Nala Family Pots
The Nala family have become world renowned through the many accolades bestowed on Nesta Nala. These finely crafted pieces are made in the remote part of KwaZulu-Natal, deep in the Thukela valley. At first glance, Nesta's work seems to be very similar to that of other local potters, yet closer inspection reveals remarkable innovations. Although the ware is shaped and blackened like traditional Zulu beer vessels, they differ in size, surface refinement and decoration.

The decoration on her work is said to be inspired by the motifs on iron-age pot shards shown to her by a local archeologist. She uses both incised and raised decoration on her pots displaying an artistic 'bravura' to her work. Often she uses figurative motifs (fish, shields, houses) seldom seen is Zulu ceramics. Thus the decoration on her work includes a combination of inherited and inventive motifs.

Nesta Nala began making pots at the age of twelve and was taught by her mother, Siphiwe, herself an acclaimed potter who made beer pots for local domestic use. From her mother Nesta learned how to hand coil, burnish and fire the clays which were dug in the surrounding area.

Nesta has in turn passed the pot-making tradition on to her daughters, Jabu, Thembi and Zanele. Each daughter also has her own particular style and the Nala's all sign their work - a feature which is foreign to Zulu potters. This indicates how the family have equated western values of art to their works. Further, western standards of… since Nesta was invited to represent South Africa on the Cairo International Biennial for Ceramics in 1994. She also won first prize on the 1995 FNB Vita Craft Competition and National Ceramics Biennial in 1996. Her work is represented in most South African Public Collections as well as many private collections.

Currently the Nala family are producing beautiful work which is becoming increasingly sought after by local and overseas collectors. Jabu has recently visited London and New York with her work.

A small range of Nala Pots can be found in store, below are just a few examples of their families work.


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