Djakou Kassi Nathalie
“—beyond mugs and pots”
Djakou Kassi Nathalie
“Clay pottery is not just utilitarian,” says Djakou Kassi Nathalie. “In my environment, it’ll take time for it to be considered more than a craft. I’m trying my best to infuse content into pottery and show that it is art. I want people to see beyond mugs and pots. I hope the ideas I put forward touch people.”
They do. A raised fist made of rusty-red laterite clay, “Speak Out” is Djakou Kassi’s latest artwork currently on display in Los Angeles, in Signature African Art gallery. It is a symbol of power and support for marginalized communities. African masks cover the larger-than-life clenched fist and the messages carved into the clay cry out against racism and discrimination.
“Love”, “No to Hate”, “We are all Human”, and “I can’t Breath” is a direct reference to the struggle faced by people of color everywhere especially African Americans in the United States and the Black Lives Matter movement. The details of masks proudly portray African tradition juxtaposed with the response to the rise of fascist right wing extremism. It is a remarkable piece of art.
Virtual travel and exciting discoveries
If you are wondering what I am doing in Nigeria, you must not have read my previous post – the one in which I obsess about Baobab trees in Africa. But today it’s not about trees. I want to focus exclusively on the ceramic artist, Djakou Kassi Nathalie.
Tentatively stepping out of my comfort zone
I’ve spent the better part of the day clicking on every link I come across about Djakou Kassi Nathalie. I discover that she is originally from Cameroon. She first worked as an art instructor, then as the chief manager of the ceramic studio at the Centre d’Art Appliqué of Mbalmayo in Cameroon. I know her work has been exhibited in many venues in Africa, Europe, and the USA — SMO Contemporary Art (SMO) , Signature African Art gallery, to name a couple. I also know that Djakou Kassie currently lives in Nigeria, and is a member of the Society of Nigerian Artists.
But, I want to know more than what I could find on a CV or a LinkedIn account. I want to know what motivates Djakou Kassi as an artist. I want to have a glimpse of the person who creates these detailed ceramic pieces. Desire has a way of pushing timidity aside, so I send her a message on Instagram asking her to share a something about herself —and to my great surprise, she responds.
The person within the artist
Djakou Kassi Nathalie’s strongest childhood memory is caring for her late grandmother, Djakou Elisabeth. She used to comb her hair, trim her nails, and help her with basic needs. I find myself captivated by this tender scene of a little girl taking care of her elderly grandmother. So, it doesn’t surprise me at all when she adds that her art reflects themes like friendship, humanity, traditions, women, and knowledge.
I also remember my own late grandmother having her hair combed. I wish it had been by me, but it wasn’t. I do, however, remember gathering jasmine flowers early in the morning when they were still damp with dew and making bracelets for her. My grandmother loved the fragrance of fresh jasmine. I thank Djakou Kassi for bringing this memory back.
Djakou Kassi, the artist, or as she defines herself on Instagram: “Clay addict since 1992”
Nature and our capricious relationship with the environment is a recurring theme in Djakou Kassi’s pottery. We, the human race, have arrived so recently on the scene, yet our impact on this planet has been, for the most part, disastrous. Our inability to find moderation is reflected in a Bamileke proverb in French:
“Le seul Gros ventre qu’on felicite est celui de LA femme enceinte.”
“The only big belly that is congratulated is that of the pregnant woman.”
Her artistic message in her pottery is a reminder to appreciate the majesty of nature with care.
Another recurring theme is domestic violence. It is for this reason, Djakou Kassi emphasizes the need for women to be independent, not just financially but in a way that they can act on their own initiative with confidence. She, herself, is an example of this message which she shapes into her art. Her dream is to set up her own fully equipped studio where she can guide ceramic artists of the future.
“Let’s see what the future holds” she concludes with a contemplative smile.
With ceramic artists like Djakou Kassi Nathalie in the world, I have no doubt that the future is bright.
If you are interested in contacting Djakou Kassi Nathalie, you can contact her via: