by Kathleen Bickford Berzock, Barbara E. Frank found in African
Arts, Spring, 2007 mit
press journals african arts
It has been nearly two decades since African Arts published the special issue on
African ceramic arts edited by Maria Berns (1989, vol. 22, no. 2). Since then,
there has been noteworthy collaborative research on ceramics in particular
regions, a number of important localized studies by individual scholars, and
several widely distributed catalogues published in conjunction with major
exhibitions surveying African ceramic arts. In parts of Africa where ceramic
vessels are pervasive some are clearly the focus of artistic elaboration,
whether they serve as objects of both utility and beauty in domestic settings or
carry symbolic import central to social identity, economic and political status,
ritual practice, and belief. Their study reveals the skill and invention of
their makers, who are, more often than not, women. (1) And yet, ceramics
continue to be underrepresented in Africanist art historical literature in
proportion to their importance as a form of expressive culture, and significant
gaps remain in our awareness and understanding of historic and contemporary
ceramic traditions across Africa.
This issue brings together the research of a number of scholars whose work
exemplifies some of what has been accomplished in the last two decades. (2) The
articles foreground important themes in the study of African ceramic arts, most
especially documentation and historical reconstruction, iconographic analysis,
the elucidation of ritual and social significance, and the celebration of
individual artistry. In this introduction we offer some reflections on our
experiences researching and writing about African ceramic arts and we signal
some of the limitations of the field's current state of knowledge in an effort
to spark interest in future research.
A CURATOR'S PERSPECTIVE
by Kathleen Bickford Berzock
Curators are often handed remarkable opportunities through the serendipity of
their careers. In 1995, when I began work at the Art Institute of Chicago, Keith
Achepohl was already committed to giving a large portion of his expansive
African pottery collection to the museum and in turn the museum was committed to
exhibiting and publishing a selection of works from the collection.
The pursuit and culmination of this project would occupy me for ten years and
in the exhibition and catalogue For
Hearth and Altar: African Ceramics from the Keith Achepohl
Collection (FIG. 1). During this time Achepohl continued to add to his
collection with purchases that broadened its representation for a public
audience and I made select acquisitions for the museum of pieces that
complemented Achepohl's. Because we were looking at the vessels individually and
considering nuances of form and embellishment, I wanted my research as closely
as possible to reflect each piece's uniqueness as well as where it fit within a
cultural tradition. This process made me aware of the wide gaps in the
literature for many of the kinds of ceramic vessels appearing on the market. It
also drew my focus more sharply to the transition that functional objects such
as pottery make when they enter the art market and how this has affected the way
pots are represented in private collections and museums.
African Ceramics from the Keith Achepohl Collection (FIG. 1). Photo Susan Huang
African ceramics have largely been brought to broad public
attention through a handful of publications developed in conjunction with major
exhibitions and these stand as important overviews of this field of collecting.
(3) They record the growing interest in vessels as art objects from the 1970s
through the present day as well as the decreasing amount of documentary
information that accompanies them. One of the earliest, Nigerian Pottery by
Sylvia Leith-Ross (1970), was the result of an ambitious effort to collect and
catalogue vessels from across the country for display in a permanent
installation at the National Museum in Jos. However, in her introduction Leith-Ross
bemoans the inconsistency of the information they were ultimately able to
provide for specific vessels, saying, "what information is given can only
be regarded as a pointer to what a fuller study of this well-nigh unknown field
might reveal. The Catalogue itself should be looked on as no more than a first
attempt at bringing to light the unexpected wealth and interest of Nigerian
Pottery" (Leith-Ross 1970:15; a more recent project of this type is
documented in Gallay et al. 1996). Roy Sieber's African Furniture and Household
Objects (1980), Arnulf Stossel's Afrikanische Keramik (1984), and Nigel Barley's
Smashing Pots: Works of Clay from Africa (1994) feature work drawn from museum
and private collections primarily in the United States and Europe. Working from
existing records, they are able to provide documentation for some of the vessels
they illustrate. Sieber introduces the pottery of Africa in a general way and
addresses the twenty-four illustrated vessels in brief captions. (4) Stossel
illustrates more than 400 pots primarily from European museum collections and
addresses a comprehensive slate of issues before presenting a geographical
survey-style catalogue of the works. Barley features vessels from the Museum of
Mankind in London organized around broad themes such as pottery's associations
with the earth or the human body, pots as containers for spirits, and the nature
of ceramic decoration. Karl-Ferdinand Schadler draws the approximately 300
vessels illustrated in Earth and Ore: 2500 Years of African Art in Terracotta
and Metal (1997), an exhibition presented at the Museum Villa Rot in Ulm,
Germany, from private collections in Europe and the United States though none
are accompanied with information about when, where, and by whom they were
It is clear that today the market for African ceramics is outpacing scholarship.
Published research on African ceramics is highly idiosyncratic and uneven in
depth and cultural representation. Only a few traditions have been the focus of
in-depth study by multiple researchers offering complementary perspectives, (5)
More commonly one or two studies must suffice to represent an entire cultural
practice. (6) And there are many traditions for which no studies have been
published. This means that quite often there is no published source documenting
the kinds of vessels that are being introduced on the market. Adding to the
sparseness of information on vessels offered for sale, those purchased in towns
and villages for resale are rarely accompanied by documentary information. In
parts of West Africa this work is dominated by traders who generally have no
attachment to the cultural value of these objects and who have little incentive
to record where and by whom a pot was made, how old it is, who owned it, and how
it was used. (7) This is true even of contemporary wares that take traditional
forms. It came as a welcome surprise to me when Silvia Forni identified a
pitcher in the Achepohl collection (FIG. 2), which had arrived in the United
States unattributed, as the work of an innovative contemporary Nsei potter named
Martin Fombah. Fombah was among the potters with whom Forni worked during field
research in 2000-200l. She has written about him in her dissertation, but beyond
that he has not received international attention (Forni 2000-2001:167-8). (8)
2 ceramic Pitcher for Palm Wine
Photo: Robert Lifson, Art institute of Chicago
Where older wares are concerned, the lack of information is also
in part because their local histories may be fading or long forgotten. Douglas
Dawson, the most prolific dealer of African pottery in the United States, has
remarked that vessels often arrive "encrusted with a patina of neglect not
use" (2005:5). Certainly it is easy to find instances of pottery supplanted
by mass-produced plastic, aluminum, or enamel containers that are cheaper,
lighter weight, less vulnerable to breakage, or more fashionable. Vessels for
uses that were once widespread have also lost their relevance because of changes
in cultural and religious practices or increasing access to modern conveniences.
These changes feed the market, for as the emotional and cultural value of an
object wanes, owners become more open to the potential economic value of their
Still, whether old or new, vessels often are stripped prematurely of important
aspects of their unique identities when they enter the market. A case in point:
In 2003 Douglas Dawson purchased a group of large, asymmetrical vessels
embellished with appliqued imagery, one of which was acquired by the Art
Institute of Chicago (FIG. 3; Berzock 2005:102-104, fig. 54). Dawson reported
that these vessels "are probably from the Ewe region of Kpando [Ghana].
According to elderly women there, the pots are no longer made or used, but
formerly were placed on altars with each vessel having a very specific symbolic
meaning" (Dawson 2003:42-5; for two other such pots see Dawson 2005:36-9).
My subsequent research on Ewe pottery revealed little by way of published
literature. I located two related, but smaller and less elaborate jars, in the
collection of the Linden-Museum, Stuttgart, that were collected in the early
twentieth century. Like the Art Institutes vessel, they had small cups attached
around their shoulders and one was embellished with an appliqued snake (Berzock
2005:104 and 196 n. 4). The Ghanaian art historian Nii Quarcoopome confirmed
that pots with similar miniature cups are made for a snake cult that is found
across southeast Ghana, Togo, and Republic of Benin (Berzock 2005:196 n. 5). A
Dutch exhibition catalogue on Vodun arts in West Africa also illustrated pots
that appeared to be related and that bore appliqued imagery (Hubner 1996:130-4,
figs. 1, 3, 10, 11, 20, 26, 27). However, I was able to locate no source that
illustrated shrine pots of this stature or inventiveness of form. As major
shrine vessels, in all likelihood they were too important, too sacred, and too
private in nature to be openly discussed in and around Kpando. I wonder how and
why this changed, when the shrine stopped being maintained and protected, and
who initially sold these spectacular vessels. Equally, I wonder about the gifted
potters who made them and what motivated their fantastic forms. It may still be
possible through field research to learn something about them. Lisa Aronson's
Research Note in this issue suggests the richness of Ewe pottery practice in
Ghana today, though she also records the increasingly wide influences that are
prompting innovations by potters.
When a vessel arrives on the market divorced from its function
and its places of origin, it is given a new, more generalized identity--Bamana,
Pare, Yoruba; water container, storage container, ritual vessel. It is at this
juncture that the lack of comparative studies among interrelated pottery
traditions leads to misattribution, with one ethnic label becoming a catch-all
for pots exhibiting similar traits. This has been true, for instance, of
pottery-rich west-central Cameroon, home to the Grassfields chiefdoms and to
numerous smaller, more decentralized ethnicities to their west. While we have
two excellent studies focusing on the thriving pottery centers of Nsei and
Bamessing in the Grassfields (Argenti 1999, Forni 2000-2001), there is little
documentation of other pottery traditions in the region, which are quite
distinct from community to community. (9) The Achepohl collection includes a
beautiful and austere vessel that had been misidentified as coming from the
Grassfields based on its shape. When I sent photographs of it to scholars who
had studied Grassfields pottery, they were certain that it was not from the
towns where they had conducted research, but they could not tell me where it was
from. I was put in contact with Father Hermann Gufler, a long-time missionary in
the region, and his colleague Genesis Ghasi. They thought the vessel was
probably from the Mambila village of Lip and were able to confirm this by making
a visit there (Berzock 2005:144, fig. 88). The fact that knowledgeable dealers,
collectors, curators, and scholars did not recognize this vessel as Mambila
speaks directly to the limited understanding we have of the scope and breadth of
Mambila pottery. These limitations can only be redressed through better
documentation when vessels are collected and through research in the field.
In some ways the problem that I have outlined exists across the field of African
art. All too often works of art in collections are accompanied by little or no
specific information about their origins and functions. However, it is worth
asking why ceramics in particular have not been the focus of more attention from
art historians even in areas where research on other art forms is richly nuanced.
Perhaps the most telling example of this oversight is among the Yoruba, a
subfield of Africanist studies with an unparalleled depth and breadth of
literature across disciplines, including art history. The origins of Yoruba
pottery stretch back to the exquisite vessels and sculptures of ancient Ife. The
modern Yoruba are prolific potters, with a stunning array of vessels that run
the gamut from daily household to strictly ritual uses, with many of the most
spectacular made specifically to be placed on shrines (FIG. 4). Robert E
Thompson's seminal 1969 article on the Egbado-Yoruba potter Abatan remains the
most in-depth study of an exceptional potter's work and the meaning and
significance of a particular kind of shrine vessel. In 1972 Maude Wahlman
published a valuable comparative study of pottery techniques in two Yoruba
regions. This was followed in the 1980s and 1990s with multiple publications
(including Beier 1980, Ojo 1982, Isaacs 1988, Fatunsin 1992, Ibigbami 1982 and
1992, and Allsworth-Jones 1996) which survey various techniques and uses for
pots; however, none of these studies approach the depth of critical inquiry
presented in Thompson's work. Likewise, the captions for the four shrine vessels
illustrated in the catalogue of the landmark exhibition Yoruba: Nine Centuries
of African Art and Thought reveal intriguing details that remain unexplored in
larger studies (Drewal et al. 1989:161, fig. 177, and 226, figs. 2679). We are
told for instance, that the shape of one lidded pot is found most often on
Erinle shrines, but its iconography is usually associated with Sango (ibid.,
160-61). Another describes "a ritual vessel possibly for Yemoja, goddess of
the river Ogun ... transformed into a woman's body whose breasts sustain life in
feeding a child" (ibid., p. 226). These tantalizing descriptions suggest
the great, untapped potential of Yoruba pottery as an area of research, just as
the remarkably varied vessels in the Achepohl collection hint at the artistry
that can be found in pottery from many other parts of Africa.
4 a,b Osun shrine ceramic Osogbo Yoruba photo, 59 cm 23"
FIELD RESEARCH AND MAKING OBJECTS SPEAK
by Barbara E. Frank
If we wish to understand better the social and spiritual meanings of individual
pots, then we need to know something of the women and men who made them and the
social, economic, and spiritual contexts within which they were conceived,
created, and used. As already suggested, all too often objects enter museum and
private collections with their unique histories silent. Making objects speak
requires the concerted and collaborative efforts of art historians,
anthropologists, and other scholars from a wide range of disciplines.
Some of the most intense, sustained, and interdisciplinary research on ceramics
in Africa has been in the Inland Niger Delta region of Mali, where pottery
production remains a major industry (FIGS. 5-6). Following a number of important
individual studies (Gardi 1985, LaViolette 1987, 2000) and in close
collaboration with the Musee National du Mali and the Institut des Sciences
Humaines, Allan Gallay led a team of archaeologists on a series of
ethnoarchaeological projects in the Inland Niger Delta region between 1988 and
1994, in an effort to link styles of technology and object styles and types with
demographic information about gender, family heritage, and ethnicity (Gallay and
Huysecom 1989; Gallay, Huysecom, and Mayor 1998; Gallay et al. 1996, 1998). In
these studies careful recording of individual artist by patronym as well as
artisan class, ethnic affiliation, and location provides evidence of the
structured coherence of different social systems, as well as revealing instances
of the variability of identity and status (see LaViolette 1995). They have
identified distinct technologies used to form pots and located them within
specific regional and ethnic contexts (10) and documented the range and depth
of ceramic assemblages. Similarly, art historian Christopher Roy (1975, 1989,
2000a, 2000b, 2003) has focused much of his research defining different forming
technologies and identifying them with particular ethnic contexts in Burkina
Faso. His recent DVD African Pottery Techniques (2003) offers nine distinct
forming and firing sequences, remarkable for the skill and dexterity of the
artists who make what they do seem effortless. What emerges from these studies
is not only insight into the archaeological record, but also an unusually rich
picture of the relationship between ethnic diversity, craft specialization, and
the technology of production. (11)
photo: Adria Laviolette 1983
Mali Somono terracotta
photo: Robert Lifson
This approach has been especially influential for my own
research. Like my earlier work on Bamana and Maninka potters, my current project
examines the historical links among ceramic traditions by mapping social
identity, ceramic technology, and objects in a comparative regional framework.
In my essay here, I focus on a group of women potters in southeastern Mali who
do not fit the blacksmith-potter paradigm so prevalent among Mande peoples
elsewhere. Instead I look to the south and east, adopting a broad geographical
flame of reference that has provided me with important clues to the origins of
these women and their ceramic technology.
The association of blacksmiths and potters is part of what led the sculptor
Janet Goldner to the community of Kalabougou, Mali. Although she was interested
in learning about how they made pots, she also wanted to understand something of
the context of their lives. Her photo essay documents aspects of their practice
at the same time as it provides a personal and intimate perspective on the lived
experience of these women as artists, craftswomen, mothers, and wives.
My research has made me realize how important it is to begin with careful
documentation of all aspects of ceramic production, including the tools and
processes of production as well as the range and variation in ceramic
assemblage. Marla Berns' research note provides just such a description of
pottery making processes by Mo women in Bonakire, Ghana, at a particular moment
in time. In her subsequent research in the Benue valley of northern Nigeria
(1986, 1989b, 1990, 2000) Berns combines an art historical attention to the
style and iconography of ceramic forms with contemporary linguistic and
anthropological data on ritual practice and meanings. She argues that ceramic
arts in this region are conceptualized as active participants in maintaining and
legitimating social relationships not just in this world, but between the living
and the ancestral dead. There is no easy division between sacred and profane,
thus the symbolism of figurative vessels embedded in ritual contexts is
inseparable from the material symbols of daily life.
Iconographic analysis is also central to Christopher Slogar's research. His
contribution to this issue examines contemporary Calabar visual culture in order
to interpret the corpus of recently recovered archaeological ceramics from the
region. What he finds is a close correspondence between the ostensibly abstract
decoration on many of the archaeological vessels with the ideographic script
known as nsibidi. His research offers the possibility of a much greater time
depth for this visual language, if not its symbolic associations.
While there may be many places in Africa where changes in religious beliefs and
practices has led to the abandonment of some pottery forms, there are other
places where the ritual significance of pots seems to endure. Judith Sterner,
Nicholas David, Gavua Kodzo, and Scott MacEachern (David 1992; David et al.
1991; MacEachern 1994; Sterner 1989, 1995) have documented the central role of
ceramics in all aspects of ritual and social life in the Mandara mountain region
of northern Cameroon. Their research explores the strong and vital association
between pots, people and the spirit world.
Similarly, Silvia Forni's work with potters in several communities in Cameroon
(2000-2001) is based on close observation of all aspects of pottery production
and marketing, but is also informed by an anthropological focus on the meaning
and significance of pottery within the social and spiritual lives of her
informants. The focus of her article is on pottery production and use in the
Grassfields kingdom of Babessi, where she argues that from birth to death and
beyond, pots are important agents in social life. Their role shifts from humble
to official, from male to female, from individual to communitarian according to
the specific setting and occasion in which they are placed in the center of
Laurel Aguilar was conducting research on Chewa men's initiation practices when
she became aware of the parallel mythic and symbolic significance of women's
pottery production. She describes some of the metaphorical associations embedded
in the making of pottery and reflects on how these illustrate Chewa social
Similarly, Lisa Aronson went to Ghana to do research on Ewe vodun body arts,
only to find that pottery production provided a useful entree to understanding
vodun practice. She documented the unusual technique the Anlo-Ewe of Ghana
employ for building their everyday and ritual (Vodun) pots, which can be
understood as a visualization of the spiritual world, especially when seen in
concert with the iconographic embellishment of the vessels. As she suggests,
this domain offers a great deal of potential for further research.
While as researchers we may be drawn to a particular potter whose abilities seem
to rise above the level of the others, most of the concern of art historians has
been on understanding the larger cultural tradition within which they operate.
There have been very few studies that focus on individual potters recognized for
their exceptional artistry. When the British potter Michael Cardew first
encountered the work of Ladi Kwali, a Gwari potter of Northern Nigeria, he was
impressed by her skills manipulating clay:
To watch Ladi Kwali building her pots by hand is an enlightenting
experience, quite as stimulating as one's first sight of a good
thrower at work. You realize with surprise that it is not necessary
to have a potter's wheel in order to achieve pots which have the
appearance of perfect symmetry. One also experiences ... the
exhilaration of watching a craftsman who seems to be doing the
impossible and to be always on the brink of disaster, yet is
entirely unafraid, and entirely confident with the confidence that
comes from a lifetime of devotion to the craft. Crowning all this,
her personal charm irradiates all her art and everything she does
and seems to be the epitome of the deep-seated culture of Africa
Ultimately, Cardew taught Kwali how to throw on a potters' wheel (FIG. 7). Her
glazed stoneware pots now in museum and private collections stand as an odd
hybrid of African creativity and European intervention.
Potter, Abudja Nigeria photo: Michael Conner 1978
The role of creativity within the traditional context of an
individual artist's work was the focus of Robert Farris Thompson's eloquent
study of the Yoruba potter Abatan Odefunke Ayinke Ija. He writes:
I hope to demonstrate that two aspects of art, tradition and
innovation, normally held to be antithetical, form in her works a
dynamic unity, that is, her art is embedded in culture and yet is
autonomous. The problem of the expression of her individuality is
perceived in time. Artistic development happens when an individual,
after the mastery of the skills of his metier, surmounts this basic
competence with continuous self criticism and change. In a world of
non literate conservative bent, these innovations are perforce
discreet, so as not to disturb a necessary illusion of the
continuity of ethical truths in their abstract purity (1969:121-2).
The existence of multiple examples of Abatan's work along with pieces created by
other potters within the same context allows Thompson the unusual opportunity to
assess the creative range of the artist's work and change over time within her
oeuvre. As he himself notes, however, "artistic biography depends on more
than a few isolated samples just as a film cannot be considered where but two or
three frames of the print survives" (ibid., p. 123).
Artistic biography is the focus of Barbara Thompson's essay. She was engaged in
doctoral research on Tanzanian healing practices when she encountered the potter
Namsifueli Nyeki and her work in the market. In her essay, she describes how she
became aware of the innovative way in which Nyeki adopted and transformed
various traditional pottery forms, and how her friendship with this
extraordinary woman ultimately came full circle to connect with her research on
Our solicitation of Gary Van Wyk's interview with South African potter, Clive
Sithole, for this volume reflects our concern for how scant information is on
contemporary ceramic artists from Africa. (12) The interview opens a window into
a particular artist's inspiration, his curiosity and passion for the medium of
clay, and his self-conscious respect for both tradition and innovation.
In sum, the essays included in this issue bring attention to a field of study
that is rich with potential, offering a range of approaches as models for future
research. We end our introduction not with answers, but with questions. What as
yet unknown relationships might be realized through the documenting and mapping
of existing ceramic traditions? To what extent can we reconstruct the histories
of vessels and of the potters who made them? Where do pots fit within changing
symbolic systems of belief? Do they continue to embody myths and metaphors of
the past? Do they remain no more or less important than their predecessors, do
they take on a greater role in embodying memory in the decline or absence of
figurative sculpture (on shrines, for example), or have their ritual
associations become obsolete? In a given cultural context, what is the nature of
the relationship between ceramic arts and other expressive art forms such as
body ornamentation, performance, and displays of status within the home? Where
do the ceramic arts fit within the broader visual culture of contemporary life
in Africa? What might we learn from knowing more of the life histories of
individual potters, of variations in apprenticeship and learning patterns, of
attitudes towards creativity and innovation? Within differing cultural systems
what motivates exceptional potters? How is their artistry received within their
own community? How might we better understand the intersection of ceramics with
global markets today? When and how do vessels enter these markets and with what
agency do potters engage with them?
References cited and related terracotta
books and pottery:
Allsworth-Jones, P. 1996. "Continuity and Change in Yoruba Pottery."
Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 59 (2):312-22.
Anderson Gallery. 1996. Earthen Vessels: Central and West African Works of Fired
Clay. Des Moines: Drake University.
Argenti, Nicolas. 1999. Is
This How I Looked When I First Got Here? Pottery and Practice in
the Cameroon Grassfields. Occasional Papers no. 132. London: British Museum.
Barley, Nigel. 1994. Smashing
Pots: Works of Clay from Africa. Washington, DC: Smithsonian
Beier, Georgina. 1980. "Yoruba Pottery." African Arts 13 (3):48-53,
Berns, Maria C. 1986. Art and History in the Lower Gongola Valley, Northeastern
Nigeria. PhD diss. UCLA.
--. 1989a. "Ceramic Arts in Africa" African Arts 22 (2):32-7, 101-102.
--. 1989b. "Ceramic Clues: Art History in the Gongola Valley." African
Arts 2 (2):48-59, 102-103.
--. 1990. "Pots as People: Yungur Ancestral Portraits." African Arts
23 (3):50-60, 102.
--. 1993. "Art, History, and Gender: Women and Clay in West Africa."
African Archaeological Review 11:33-53.
--. 1995. Ceramic
Gestures: New Vessels by Magdalene Odundo. Santa Barbara:
University Art Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara.
Berzock, Kathleen Bickford. 2005. For
Hearth and Altar: African Ceramics from the Keith Achepohl
Collection. Chicago and New Haven: Art Institute of Chicago and Yale University
Cardew, Michael. 1972. "Ladi Kwale? Craft Horizons 32 (2):34-7.
Darish, Patricia. 1990. Fired
Brilliance: Ceramic Vessels from Zaire. Kansas City: University of
Missouri, Kansas City Gallery of Art.
David, Nicholas. 1992. "The Archaeology of Ideology: Mortuary Practices in
the Central Mandara Highlands, Northern Cameroon" In African Commitment:
Papers in Honour of Peter Lewis Shinnie, eds. Judy Sterner and Nicholas David,
pp. 181-210. Calgary: University of Calgary Press.
--. 1998. "The Mandara Archaeological Project 1994-1998." Mega-Tchad
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--. 1989. "Mandara Archaeological Project, 1988-89." Nyame Akuma 32
David, Nicholas, Gavua Kodzo, Scott MacEachern, and Judy Sterner. 1991.
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(1988-1993). Mainz: P. von Zabern.
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of Archaeological Method and Theory 7 (3):187-217.
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We would like to thank Lisa Aronson, Douglas Dawson, Kate Ezra, Adria LaViolette,
and Jessica Levin Martinez for their constructive criticism in preparing this
(1) With some exceptions, women dominate the craft of pottery production across
Africa in historically known periods. The gender of potters and of the makers of
figurative sculpture in the archaeological past is not known; however, both
Berns (1993) and Frank (2002) have suggested that we should at least recognize
the possibility that women may have played a role in the production of
(2) The impetus behind this special issue was the symposium "For Hearth and
Altar: Artistry and Action in African Ceramics," held February 4, 2006, at
the Art Institute of Chicago in con)unction with the exhibition "For Hearth
and Altar: African Ceramics from the Keith Achepohl Collection" Organized
by Kathleen Bickford Berzock, Maria Berns, and Barbara E. Frank, the symposium
had two foci, one on individual artists and the other on ritual as a locus of
meaning and memory. The participants were Lisa Aronson, Marla Berns, Kathleen
Bickford Berzock, Silvia Forni, Barbara Frank, Barbara Thompson, and Gary Van
Wyk. The exhibition was on view at the Art Institute of Chicago Dec. 3,
2005-February 20, 2006.
(3) There have been other exhibitions of African ceramics of varying scope,
among them: "The Potter's Art," Museum of Mankind, London (Picton and
Fagg 1970); "African Terra Cottas South of the Sahara," Detroit
Institute of Arts, 1972; "Nupe, Kakanda, BasaNge: Gefasskeramik aus Zentral-Nigeria"
(Stossel 1981a) and "Keramik aus Westafrika: Einfuhrung in Hersterllung und
Gebrauch" (Stossel 1981b), Gallerie Biedermann and Galerie Fred Jahn,
Munich; "Anthropomorphic Terracotta Vessels of Zaire" (Polfliet 1987a)
and "Traditional Zairian Pottery" (Polfliet 1987b), Galerie Fred Jahn,
1987; "Fired Brilliance: Ceramic Vessels from Zaire" University of
Missouri-Kansas City Art Gallery (Darish 1990); "African Ceramics: Ancient
and Historic Earthenware Vessels" (Dawson 1993), "Of the Earth:
Ancient and Historic African Ceramics" (Dawson 2001) and "The Art of
African Clay: Ancient and Historic African Ceramics" (Dawson 2003), Douglas
Dawson Gallery, Chicago; "Women's Art in Africa: Woodfired Pottery from
Iowa Collections," University of Iowa Art Museum, 1994; "Earthen
Vessels: Central and West African Works of Fired Clay," Anderson Gallery,
Drake University, 1996 (Anderson Gallery 1996); "Hier et Aujourd'hui: des
Poteries et des Femmes," Museum d'histoire naturelle, Geneve and Musee
National, Bamako (Gallay et al. 1996); "Earthen Elegance: African Ceramics
from the Newark Museum Collection," Newark Museum, 2004-05; "West
African Ceramic Vessels," Indianapolis Museum of Art, 2006-07; and Indiana
University Art Museum's rotating series of African ceramics installations,
(4) Sieber's catalogue (1980) and the exhibition it accompanied were also
pivotal for presenting ceramics and other utilitarian forms as aesthetic objects
in their own right.
(5) Mall's Inland Niger Delta is perhaps the most richly treated in this
fashion. Zulu pottery, from South Africa, is also beginning to attain a critical
mass of studies.
(6) For instance Frank 1994, 1998; Roy 1989, 2000a, 2000b, 2003; and Schneider
1986, 1990, 1993, 1997. It is interesting to note that in many instances studies
from the 1970s or before remain the standard in their area. Notable examples
include Dias 1961, Lawton 1967, Trowell and Wachsmann 1953, and Waane 1976.
(7) In his detailed and illuminating analysis of the African art market,
Christopher Steiner (1994) discusses the role of art traders as cultural brokers
who benefit from maintaining the separation between the sellers and buyers.
(8) Forni also discussed Fombah in her paper "Improving Tradition Through
Innovation: Martin Fombah and the Contemporary Potters of Nsei" presented
at the Art Institue of Chicago symposium "For Hearth and Altar: Artistry
and Action in African Ceramics," February 4, 2006.
(9) Koloss's definitive consideration of the chiefdom of Oku (2000), with its
numerous photographs and descriptions of ritual, is also a valuable record of
pottery use. Gebauer (1979) suggests the complexity of interconnections among
the arts of the closely related cultures in Western Cameroon.
(10) Some of the techniques identified include pounding in concave mold: Sonrai,
Dogon (Tireli), Dogon (Ka-In Ouro); pounding in concave mold and molding over
convex mold: Peul, northern Bamana; pounding and modeling in concave mold:
northern Somono; modeling over convex mold: southern Bamana, Dogon (Modjodje),
Dogon (Sarnyere); modeling in concave mold: southern Somono; and pounding out a
lump: Bobo, and Dogon (Niongono)
(11) Similar sustained collaborative ethnoarchaeological research has been
undertaken in the Mandara region of Cameroon under the direction of Nicholas
David and Judith Sterner from the University of Calgary in the 1980s and 1990s
(David and Sterner 1987,1989, 1998), and by Olivier Gosselain, Alexandre
Livingstone Smith, and their colleagues in northern Cameroon on the Ceramic and
Society Project 1994-99 under the direction of Pierre de Maret at the University
of Brussels (Gosselain et al 1996; see also Gosselain 1998, 1999, 2000).
Important individual ethnoarchaeological studies have also been done in Senegal
(Gueye 1997-1998, Sall 2000-2001).
(12) Magdalene Odundo remains the perhaps the only artist of African origin
whose name is widely associated with contemporary ceramic arts (Berns 1995).
There is also some information on El Anatsui's early work in clay (Oguibe 1998),
although he is much better known for his more recent signature works in wood and
multimedia. Ethiopian artist Etyie Dimma Poulsen is known as a sculptor rather
than a ceramic artist per se, even though her primary medium is clay (see Harney
Kathleen Bickford Berzock is curator of African art at the Art Institute of
Barbara E. Frank is associate professor of art history at Stony Brook
COPYRIGHT 2007 The Regents of the University of California
COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group
this book: For
Hearth and Altar: African Ceramics from the Keith Achepohl
read also Pottery No
Fiona Marshall studies the domestication of the African wild ass
African Ceramics Symposium:
In conjunction with the exhibition For Hearth and Altar: from the Keith
Achepohl Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago