I’ve gotten to know Shupiwe through friends and bumping into each other constantly, we seem to be operating in the same orbit. Recently I had the pleasure of visiting her amazing heritage home, covered in several different wallpapers, and complete with a sprawling garden that frames her work space and workshop area. I’ve enjoyed reading about her connection to land here and afar, Shupiwe wrote these words from Dubai airport on the way to a nourishing month in Zambia with influential father and extended family.
If you’re feeling uninspired, how do you transform your energy?
I have a few processes that help me when I’m feeling uninspired. I find a lot of inspiration from the shapes in nature. I’m lucky enough to live and work near the beach and river in Walyalup/Fremantle so when I feel uninspired, I’ll usually go for a swim. I have always found large bodies of water and the geological formations that surround them extremely calming.
As my work is a mixture of functional and non-functional forms, I find going back to basics really helps me break through a creative block. This usually means throwing mugs and bowls on the wheel. The process of making the same shapes in large quantities is very repetitive so provides me with an opportunity to zone out, it’s almost meditative.
Moving my body also helps me clear my mind. If I’m struggling with anything mentally, I’ll go for a run or surf or ride my motorbike along the river. Sometimes a little adrenaline kick is all it takes to transform my energy.
What rituals do you have in place to take care of yourself?
My most important ritual is giving myself time each day to step away from work and technology. This is usually found in the morning when I go for a swim at the beach or make myself a cup of coffee before starting work. Often, I’m too busy to leave the studio so will find calm in simple tasks like standing in the sun and hanging my aprons and towels out on the line to dry. I am very protective of my solitude, and I’ve realised it’s important for me to have this time alone. I find I always have a lot of thoughts going on in my head and unless I have the time to mull them over, my mind ends up feeling really cluttered.
Who has been an expansive influence to your career so far?
This is an easy question for me because the answer is without a doubt my father Njalikwa Chongwe. My father is a Zambian-Australian ceramicist based in Walyalup. He’s been making incredible ceramic pieces from his home studio since the 1980s. His work is heavily inspired by both Zambia and Australia which is seen through his highly decorative work. He has a real eye for colour, something which I am yet to develop and am constantly in awe of. It took a lot of hassling to get my father to teach me ceramics, maybe because he knew how physically and mentally exhausting it is to run a ceramics business. Eventually he enrolled me in a wheel work course in which he was the teacher, and he hasn’t been able to get rid of me since!
As a child I never considered how unusual it was living in house with a ceramics studio and gallery attached. Now at 28 I look back and feel so fortunate to have been surrounded by such creativity and love as a child. My mother works as a teacher but was previously and interior designer, so my childhood home is a work of art in itself. Every time I visit, I feel instantly relaxed, despite the fact that I usually will have at least a few of my sisters’ children hanging off me.
How do you successfully get out the door on time?
I am very fortunate to have a studio attached to my home, so it’s easy for me to get stuck into work. I also absolutely love my work and feel incredibly privileged to be working as a ceramicist each day. That being said, I do procrastinate leaving the house to do work related errands; responding to emails, going to buy supplies or ship orders takes a lot of will power.
I love living and creating under the same roof even though it does pose some challenges. I am trying to get better at creating boundaries between work and rest. This can be difficult as both activities are done in the same place.
How do you manage boundaries with your phone or computer?
I am finding this quite challenging at the moment as I am receiving more emails and enquiries about my work and workshops that I teach. I have always been terrible at responding to messages, even before having a business so I am trying to train myself to be better. I find email and social media a real distraction from my creative practice however unfortunately they are both fundamental elements to having a business in our day and age. I deleted my personal Instagram a couple of years ago which has eliminated the social distraction to a degree although those pottery reels do still lure me in!
As I am a one-woman business, I find I am constantly busy. I try to manage people’s expectations around email replies or commissioned work, so I don’t overwhelm myself. These days I am trying to only respond to emails twice a week instead of fitting them into random moments when I’m not creating. It’s a good reminder to not let our phones and computers own us, especially when it distracts from the creative process.
How do you overcome feeling anxious, uncertain, or nervous?
I am quite an emotionally driven person, so these feelings do surface for me often. Physical exercise has always helped me to clear my head and overcome anxiety. I talk to my partner a lot as well; he’s much more rationally minded and can often help steer me back on the right track. Writing has always been a good therapeutic outlet for me in which I can put my thoughts down on to a page which almost liberates me from them.
I work as a nurse part-time and when I was younger it was a really good lesson in resilience. Nursing is an incredibly demanding and exhausting profession so it’s important to be able compartmentalise to some extent. As well as this, it’s a good reminder for me to put things in perspective and not let the small insignificant things build up and overwhelm me.
What are your rituals for sparking creativity?
I love the little rituals in my life. At the moment most of them revolve around my connection to the space around me, being my home and studio. I live with my partner and our dog in a big old house in Walyalup. Our house is sadly due for demolition, but I think we’ve done a good job at making it feel loved and alive. Taking time each day to sit and admire this space is a ritual of late; looking at the way the vines creep across the house exterior, the shadows dancing across the 1970’s wallpaper and my pottery lining the shelves in our kitchen.
My morning rituals are important to me. I go to the beach every morning with my dog sometimes followed by a coffee with my partner or family. On the cold winter mornings, I’ll stay home and make coffee and sit on the veranda or make a little fire in the wood burning stove before I get to work in the studio. When I can afford to have a slow start to the day these are my favourite things to do.
Shupiwe Chongwe’s work including everyday ceramics and hosting workshops, can be found here: