Celebrating the matriarchal world of Zulu ceramics during Women’s History Month

In the world of Zulu ceramics, pottery is a primary vehicle for women to assert and increase their prestige within Zulu society. Even as plastic and enamel alternatives proliferate, there are still many Zulu women, primarily in rural areas, creating functional terracotta wares that contribute to the daily workings of their communities and serve as potent connectors between ancestors and the living. Most are made for either brewing or serving mild beer, which is communally consumed at important occasions.

Mncane Nzuza with one of her handcrafted clay pots. Photo courtesy of the Ulwazi Programme.

Mncane Nzuz made this pot, now on view in the lobby at Mia, in 1990, having  learned how to make ceramics from her grandmother as a teenager more than 20 years earlier. Now in her early 70s, she is among the most celebrated Zulu ceramicists, living in the valley of the Tugela River in Zululand, the traditional home of the Zulu people in South Africa, while her pottery is collected and shown around the world. Though she adheres to ancient methods of process, form, and surface treatment, Nzuza’s individual expression infuses her lively pots.