School of Arts

Fine Arts PhD Student Receives Prestigious Research Award

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Ms May Okafor
Ms May Okafor

The award supports African doctoral students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences enrolled at South African universities.

Okafor’s research for her project: Firing: Exploring the Ceramic Process as Rite of Passage will include work with Zulu potters in South Africa and Ushafa potters in Nigeria as well as her own creative ceramic work.

‘It feels great to get the award,’ said Okafor. ‘I am particularly excited because, beyond monetary benefits, the award launches one into an international intellectual community that continuously engages the recipient. The award is a “pat” on the back that helps students push through the rigors of research. It gives one earnest hope that the entire study is already being appreciated by a wider community of researchers outside one’s immediate discipline, institution and country. The research is therefore worthwhile and, for me, adventurous.’

Okafor’s interest in the processes of pottery making among indigenous potters led her to go beyond the finished product to reconsider the performative ‘art’ and ‘act’ of creating potteries. ‘In several native cultures the process of creating pottery is likened to childbirth – it can also suggest a people’s state of being. Pottery wares are seen as having humanoid qualities,’ she said.

Combining her practice as a ceramic artist and research with Zulu potters in South Africa and Ushafa potters in Nigeria – both of whom also practice initiation rites – the study will explore possible parallels between pottery/ceramics and rites of passage with a focus on their transitional phases of firing and liminality.

Data collection will be done through contextual and documentary reviews, fieldwork, and studio experiments. Deploying rites of passage theories, Firing: Exploring the Ceramic Process as Rite of Passage will bring fresh perspectives to the ways in which ceramics practice can be viewed, re-interpreted, and also present broader narratives for self-expressions.

The project will result in both a written dissertation as well as an exhibition and catalogue of visual art works.

She had this advice for students: ‘Engage in research more passionately, believe in what you are doing, and never be afraid to take bold steps with your research ideas. If you encounter obstacles along the way, then you have discovered what route not to follow. And when your steps lead you to unearth new ideas in your study, Eureka – you have discovered a path! You will be recognised and appreciated.’

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