A spoon in the collection of the Musee de l'Homme
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South Africa, Zulu
H. 56 cm.
Saint-Pol bequest 1977
Though the Zulu never made a great deal of sculpture compared to other African groups, what they did
produce has a bold, confident quality in keeping with the aggressive expansionist history of the Zulu nation,
but surprising in the light of their small output. Zulu art tends toward simplified lines, bold patterning, and
strong geometric forms. Their works are mostly useful objects such as bowls, cups, staffs, neckrests, and an
occasional spoon. Figures are rare, and often stiff or even naive as sculptures compared to the sophistication
of Zulu decorated utilitarian objects.
This spoon is brilliant for the way in which the figure of the woman is the spoon and not a decorative element
incorporated into the utensil (as in the Guro spoon no. 38). Her head is the bowl, and her long slender body is
the handle which ends at her slim ankles. Any parts of the female anatomy which were obtrusive or
unnecessary in the artist's view—such as face, arms, and feet—were simply omitted. Essentials such as
breasts, buttocks, and genitals, of course, have been carefully carved. For all his economy, the artist has
provided this female figure with a decided character; she seems pert, young, and energetic. The clean, strong
lines give her vigor, the tiny sexual features and the pale wood a feminine lightness and grace.
Many ancient cultures of the world created female figures with prominent sexual characteristics but no faces,
arms, or feet. The figures may represent a sort of male cultural ideal, or a kind of sculptural shorthand for the
essence of woman. This irresistible spoon-woman goes a step further—in attitude and in fact—to create the
|Rand African Art