Philobiblon: Africa and gender

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Africa and gender

Sharon's extensive post on web resources on African history, here, prompted me to pop down to the African Gallery at the British Museum this morning after my Enlightenment Gallery shift.

I've posted previously on some of the metal objects in the gallery, almost invariably made by men, since metal-working is strongly gendered as male.

Pottery, however, is broadly a female occupation, although I learnt today on further exploration that: "[Often] only males, or post-menopausal females are allowed to make artistic representations of the human form, on pain of loss of natural fertility."

This piece, however, is something of an hermaphrodite, made in Sudan made "in a colonial context where female Mangbetu potters were intermarrying with male Zande potters for the first time".

From much further south, here's a Zulu pot from a purely female tradition.

Finally, a gorgeous modern piece , which is at the entrance to the gallery at the moment. It is by the Kenyan-born, British-based Magdalene Odundo - it is wonderfully tactile even to look at; they obviously have to put it behind glass, but it just begs to be stroked.

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