Farming for Sustenance

Artist unknown (Mumuye peoples [?], Nigeria)
Vessel with rainmaking wands, mid-20th century
Iron, ceramic
Fowler Museum at UCLA, X2008.32.3; Museum Purchase, 2008


About the Artwork

For centuries, iron has helped Africans forage, hunt, and till the soil. Forged knives, hoes, plows, sickles, machetes, axes, and adzes have long assured the efficient management of household and agricultural chores. In addition to these tools, iron has also assisted in maintaining fertile fields by being used as offerings to secure seasonal rains and bring bountiful harvests. Mumuye peoples of Nigeria’s Middle Benue consider individuals who are recognized as rainmakers to be powerful protectors of community survival. As part of the ritual, rainmakers use zigzag-shaped iron wands of wavy branches pointing upward. Their energetic shapes recall flashes of lightning or the sudden movement of slithering snakes, both thought to signal rain. Rainmakers secure the wands in the ground, where, as visual petitions made of iron, they marshal the Earth’s life force.

Slow Drawing

While looking closely at this artwork, spend 2-3 minutes slowly sketching what you see. You may focus
on a single detail of this vessel with rainmaking wands, or you may attempt to draw the entire figure.
The goal is not to create a perfect recreation of the artwork; rather, you should focus on looking closely
at this artwork’s various lines and shapes.

After sketching, briefly answer the following questions:

  • What did the process of drawing slowly feel like?
  • How did slowing down to look at this artwork while also sketching influence your understanding of this piece’s details?
  • Did your interpretation of this artwork change after sketching? Why or why not?