In nineteenth-century southern Africa, highly individualized arts of personal adornment experienced a florescence among isi-Zulu-speakers, people now called the Zulu. Personal objects worn on or carried around the body were made with considerable aesthetic investment and announced status and identity. Intimate objects like ivory hairpins and snuff spoons were worn in elaborate hairstyles; beautifully crafted snuff bottles were worn against the body, suspended from belts and necklaces; and finely sculpted staffs and clubs carried by all adult men were prized possessions. Men and women wore intricately sewn, jewel-colored beadwork to accentuate bodily “zones of power”: necklaces drew attention to the head; beaded fringes and belts highlighted the reproductive organs; and bracelets and anklets emphasized the hands and feet. Powerful Bodies includes seventy-nine fine examples of such objects, which were often imbued with the physical traces of their former users.
This exhibition was curated by Anitra Nettleton, Chair and Director, Center for the Creative Arts of Africa, Faculty of Humanities/Wits Art Museum, Wits School of Arts, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, with Gemma Rodrigues, Curator of African Arts, Fowler Museum at UCLA.