Name: Caroline Mita Khakula
Occupation: Ceramicist at House of Nubia – Painting, design & ceramics
Bio: House of Nubia
House of Nubia designs authentic traditional and contemporary crockery and decor from stoneware, earthenware and porcelain clays. Our work is inspired by the dynamic African culture, nature and trends.
The name ‘House of Nubia’ is drawn from one of Africa’s oldest civilisations that was the centre for culture – Ancient Nubia.
Years before my parents ever thought I would be born, my father and a business partner registered a company ‘FireClay’. Even though they never saw the vision though, they were looking to produce ceramic products. Years later I am a ceramic artist building up her own business, ‘House of Nubia’.
I was born on a country farm, in western Kenya. My parent’s farm rolled down to a river that became my love in many ways. I was a book worm and fed on fairy tales growing up. One that resonated strongly with me was ‘The Railway Children’. This is because a railway line went through our farm land. Anyway, my siblings and I loved picnics adorned with swimming and fishing at the river. We also got clay from the same river and modelled things.
In addition to their professions as a teacher and a lawyer, my parents were entrepreneurs. They farmed as well as made and supplied bricks and roofing tiles. Whenever there would be a brick firing, I would throw in my little earthenware pots to bake as well.
When I applied to University, I had no idea that Ceramics was offered as one of the study units. So you can imagine my joy upon arrival at Kenyatta University, and finding an entire department dedicated to ceramics! My majors became Ceramics, Painting and Graphic Design.
After university, I taught Art at a local college. However, being multi talented, I started East Africa’s premier girl e-zine ‘Simply Blak’. Then I got the traveller’s bug and spent about five years in Asia, Africa and Europe working with an International Organization in the area of trust building and leadership development. It was one of the richest periods of my life that exposed me to different cultures and ways of thinking. Throughout though, I hoped that it would ultimately feed my artistic sense. And it did.
It was then that my artistic vision was formed. I met many change makers answering needs and addressing issues in their societies using who they are and what they had. It made me think of how I could make a substantial contribution to my society as the artist I was. Thus the dream to start a ceramic art centre was hatched.
While in Norway, I was introduced to a Ceramic Artist who took me in as her personal assistant and mentored me. For the first time I was able to do my art, in addition to my regular work. It made a big difference to my energy levels to be doing that which I loved.
In 2012, I returned home and started mapping out the way a head for me as an artist. A ceramics workshop can be an expensive venture depending on the angle you want to take. I have had to import most equipment, tools and raw materials. My vision has also been inspired by the fact that every year, Kenyatta University and University of Nairobi releases graduates in ceramics into the job market who end up in a different art field or totally unrelated career field because there aren’t many opportunities for them as Ceramicists, and also because it is a very expensive venture.
Through ‘House of Nubia’, (the name is inspired by ancient Nubia that was the centre of Culture in Africa), I hope to answer some of these needs and build a business. I am setting it up to exist as a community house for ceramicists and social enterprise.
So far, I have sourced out another ceramicist, who has been trying to find her way. She has done the whole running around in circles thing; worked in banking, run unrelated businesses and is burning out! Through House of Nubia, she is now making a comeback as a clay artist and doing what she is passionate about. She brings energy and life on board. We are excitedly working towards our dream!
How fascinating that most of the clay we use in the studio is dug up from the river on my parent’s land and sent to Nairobi. It’s unbelievably superb clay. The river has since dried up, but look what it brought into my/our life! I’ve never been happier doing what I love.
We each have a role to play, and a story to tell that adds up to the bigger picture. I have found mine. What’s yours?
18 MONTH PLAN
1. December, January, February
• Build workshop outside the house. Am currently working inside the house which tends to be a rather messy affair.
• Find product outlets (Gift shops, hotels & Gallery spaces)
2. March, April, May
• Two solo exhibitions
• Product outlets (Gift shops & Hotels)
3. June, July, August
• Employ a sales and marketing manager
• Product outlets (Gift shops and Hotels)
• Organise a local East African Ceramics workshop
4.September, October, November
• Buy a test kiln and second wheel
• Travel to ISCAEE (International Symposium for Ceramic Art Education and Exchange) in Turkey.
5. December, January, February
• Bring one more artist on board
• Supply to supermarkets.