Born in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, Alex Shabalala showed signs of his immense artistic talents from a young age, often spending time drawing animals and plants in the dirt with sticks.
Immersed in a lush landscape and with an abundance of nature to inspire him, his talents were soon recognised and at 13 his school headmaster enrolled him to help teach art classes to fellow students.
Later, Alex spent time training in various artistic media before finally concentrating on his main passion ceramics. Once advanced, Alex moved to Egoli (the Zulu word for Johannesburg, “the place of gold”) where he looked to establish himself as an accomplished artist.
In 2015 he established SHABALALA DESIGNS with the desire to create and run a high-quality ceramic studio that would reflect his love of the flora and fauna of South Africa. This would aim to incorporate the intricate colours and designs found in the natural environment of his birth nation. Initially, the studio resided in his residence in the densely populated township of Diepsloot in Gauteng.
Diepsloot Township, Gauteng
The small studio, in this severely disadvantaged community in Johannesburg, thrived under his guidance and he soon managed to create exceptional works and steadily expand the portfolio of high quality products. However, its cramped space, limited protection from the elements and the inability to upgrade both equipment and processes meant that a new location was urgently needed.
The Diepsloot Studio - Open to the Elements
Diepsloot Studio - cramped interior
In December 2020, SHABALALA DESIGNS joined the CAPITALWORKS FOUNDATION as a pilot project and in doing so, Alex found a partner with the same instilled values of creativity, patience and discipline to provide the business support to grow and develop. This allowed him to move to a spacious new studio in the Riversands Incubation Hub. Here, the increased space, protection from the elements, a safe and secure work environment and the capability for both safe storage and expansion have all contributed to an increase in quality and output. The new location also allows greater scope to experiment and test processes and procedures to enhance and improve the quality and artistry of each piece.
Most importantly, this move has allowed for the full-time employment of three other artists that work with Alex and have allowed all their talents to flourish under his guidance.
The artists, all from similar disadvantaged communities and mentored by Alex, specialise in their unique fields such as throwing a piece of work on a potter’s wheel, sculpting animals and flowers from clay or painting the intricate designs and colours onto unique pieces.
The artists at work in the Riversands Studio
Workshops and seminars run in the local communities. A chance to both teach and show the skills needed and to identify the next artists for the studio.
The SHABALALA DESIGNS studio resonates with an abundance of creativity. There is tremendous pride in each and every piece as the artists showcase all that the natural world has to offer. The pieces, all unique and to the highest quality, will grow in value as the collections develop and are distributed around the world.
The online store is the next step in fostering a relationship with the art collector that recognises quality and artistry while being conscious of the significant impact that their purchase makes not only to the artist but also to the community which they support.
Visitors to the studio are welcome and appointments can be made by contacting us. Special commissions and projects can also be considered.
Who are the artisans?
Xolile Hadebe is a very talented painter with an eye for detail. She loves flowers and plants and her patterns and choice of colours reflect the grace and elegance she sees in nature. She is intrigued by the different nuances and rhythms found in nature and thrives on the beauty of wild animals but does not enjoy being too close to them, preferring to admire from a distance.
Milo Dlamini is a highly skilled painter with a deep feeling for painting both the Nguni and Ankole cattle. Milo has tremendous patience when she paints and loves the ability to be creative. Her favourite colour is blue because it reminds her of open skies on a hot African day. She enjoys painting simple yet sophisticated pieces.
Nkanyiso Dlamini is a dedicated sculptor. He loves creating sculptures of wild animals, elephants being his favourite. He is ruthless in his attention to detail and focus on capturing the expressions of the animal he sees in his mind, gaining inspiration from his surroundings and nature.