Spencer Museum of Art The University of Kansas

Welcome to the Spencer Collection

wooden spoon
  • Zulu peoples
  • wooden spoon, 1925–1990
  • Where object was made: South Africa
  • wood, carving
  • Object Length/Width: 35.56 x 5.71 cm
    Object Length/Width: 14 x 2 1/4 in
  • Anonymous gift
  • On view: Marshall Balcony, 404, C1
  • PG2008.006
Label Text

Mobile App Exhibition Label:
"Race, Gender, and the "Decorative" in 20th-Century African Art: Reimagining Boundaries", 11-Nov-2017
This large beer pot featuring a zig-zag band of raised bumps, or amasumpa, represents an established Zulu art form found in many museum collections. However, the history of the amasumpa motif reveals how African art and modes of decoration developed within racialized systems of classification. Before colonial rule, Zulu women created ceramics characterized by diverse decorative techniques that revealed the robust, multi-directional exchange of artistic knowledge among various individuals and communities. By the mid-1900s, however, apartheid educational policies in South Africa forced the “retribalization” of rural black communities into segregated racial and ethnic groups. Mapping this policy onto women’s art, Jack Grossert, a white arts administrator and educator, promoted the exclusive use of amasumpa design to Zulu potters through textbooks. Zulu artists have since engaged with Grossert’s prescriptive teaching in negotiating demand for this art form.

Exhibition Label:
"Earthly Vessels: African Ceramics," Sep-2009, Nancy Mahaney
Food for the Ancestors: After the harvest, Zulu women process sorghum or millet grain to make beer, using large vessels. The Zulu consider the beer to be the food of the ancestors. The women brew and store the beer in a sacred area at the back of the house called the umsamo, where the pots are left just slightly uncovered, so that the ancestors can taste the drink. Zulus share the beer at social events by passing it from person to person using the smaller beer pots. Beer is seen as a symbol of fertility, and the offering of beer to the ancestors is one way of thanking them for continuing the life cycle of the community through the women’s fertility.