Glass Blog Series: African Glass Making

Published 07 September 2022 in Media Blogs

So far, we have discussed the year 2022 being dubbed the Year of Glass followed by the conversation on the hot, warm, and cold methods in creating glass works. This week, we’re having a look at African glass art!

The first appearance, or evidence of the appearance of glass was found as far back as 2500 BC, mainly in the Middle East and Mediterranean (and the area in between known as Levant). However, the most well-known and studied glass centre and archaeological discovery is the glass of the Ife-Ife (in Nigeria), dated as far back as a thousand years. And the type of glass made, HLHA (High Lime High Alumina) glass, is not known from anywhere else, in the world!

The glass made was most usually in the form of beads – for trade, decoration, and as prestige items. The methods and techniques of the Ife-Ife were independent from international or European and Asian ways, pioneering this form of glass, and chemical makeup with the use of only the materials around them. And so the products of Ife-Ife glass making are found throughout the African continent due to the demand for, and trading of, their prestigious glass beads.

So then, while glass has been made functional, practical, decorative, and into works of art in South Africa for…a while, it was only in 2004 that the SAGAS was established. The SAGAS, South African Glass Art Society was born for the appreciation of glass art in South Africa; and the initial board members included a man the South African art world knows well, Gordon Froud, and as coordinator, Lothar Böttcher (amongst others).

However, they had to disband in 2006 (funding can be a real drag!). Anyways, in 2016 a national glass exhibition was curated, and very successful. And these exhibitions and connecting within communities the likes of which SAGAS provided, allowed for the opportunity for artists, studios and educational institutions to connect. Such as TUT students getting to see David Reade work and studio – and it gets the student glass artists the opportunity to exhibit their works (especially with TUT being the only academic institution in Africa offering glass as a major in the Fine Arts Department).

And now I get to (re) introduce the TUT Next Generation Glass exhibition happening at The Viewing Room Art Gallery, opening on September 10th. This exhibition will showcase more than 150 glass artworks created by the students at the Tshwane University of Technology.


** Have a look at David Reade Glass Art, Lothar Böttcher’s work, Smelt Studios, Red Hot Glass, the TUT glass works, and Ngwenya Glass (from Eswatini).

- Cassandra Comins

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