African Ceramics at Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum

Courtesy Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, Photo: Hannes Rohrer.

In July 2017, Franz, Duke of Bavaria donated his collection of African ceramics to the Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, based in Munich, Germany. Franz, Duke of Bavaria had been accumulating his collection since the 1970s. In September 2019 the museum held an exhibit of over 250 works from the collection, which ran from Sept 2019 – April 2020, and included information on the forms and function of each ceramic piece, plus the context of their creation.

Unfortunately, we all missed that.

Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, did, however, give me permission to share photos of some pieces that were included in the exhibition. I’ve supplemented these images with tidbits about the artists and ceramic traditions that I’ve been able to find online. (I don’t have access to the museum’s information on each piece. I also have no background in African ceramics or African cultures.)

These ceramic pieces stand on their own, with or without exhibition information. They possess raw vitality and energy. It would be fantastic to view the objects first-hand, to experience the physical properties so central to that vitality. I thank Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum for allowing me to share photographs.

Voania of Muba (? – ca. 1928), Figurative vessel, Woyo culture, Muba, Democratic Republic Kongo, end of 19th century until ca. 1928. Courtesy Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, Photo: Hannes Rohrer.

The figurative vessel above was created by the self-taught Voania of Muba, a Woyo chief who worked in the early 1900s. Voania created ceramics for a European clientele. He is fairly unique because the Woyo people do not have a strong pottery tradition. I found multiple images of Voania of Muba’s work online, and individual examples of this artist’s work at the Semanek-Munster museum, the Smithsonian Museum and the British Museum.

Bottle, Tutsi Culture, Rwanda, Burundi, Late 19th – mid 20th c., Black terracotta, white pigment, H 42 D 30.5, Inv.# 1868/2019, Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, Munich, permanent loan from Franz, Duke of Bavaria (Inv.# FVB0551) Courtesy Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, Photo: Hannes Rohrer.

Pots such as this example, above, were used to carry water in rural communities. Made of local clay, the patterns are rich and bold.

Tutsi people are believed to have arrived into what is now Rwanda in the 1400s, setting up a feudal system with a king. Local Hutu farmers ultimately came to lease their farmland from the Tutsi immigrants, and racial tensions sharpened after European colonists arrived. Ultimately, the situation erupted into extreme violence in the 1990s with the Rwandan genocide, where apx. 1 million Tutsi people were massacred with local tools and machetes. See background information here.

Magdalene Odundo (born 1950), Asymmetrical Series, Kenya/Great Britain, 2017. Courtesy Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, Photo: Hannes Rohrer.

Dame Magdalene Odundo was born in Kenya and now works as a studio potter in Surrey, England. She is best known for her hand built, asymmetrical pieces that are highly burnished, covered with slip, and then reburnished.

I found this video interview with Ms. Odundo, who describes her training and background, plus some insight into process and motivations.

Ritual Vessel for Shango Yoruba Culture, Oyo, Nigeria, Late 19th – mid 20th c., Brown terracotta, H 43 D 40.6, Inv.# 1581/2019, Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, Munich, permanent loan from Franz, Duke of Bavaria (Inv.# FVB0295). Courtesy Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, Photo: Hannes Rohrer.

I found an article about Shango cult practices online. It notes that, “In Nigeria, Shango, god of thunder, is the only deity worshipped in the Shango cult… Clay pots and jars containing water are ubiquitous in the Shango centers of Trinidad as they are in cult houses in southern Nigeria (Talbot 1926: 11: 20). On entering a Shango center in Trinidad during a nonceremonial period, a
prominent devotee goes to each of the exterior shrines and pours a small quantity of water from the jar found on the “stool.” Water is poured from clay pots at various times during a ceremony.” (See The Shango Cult in Nigeria and Trinidad.)

Courtesy Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, Photo: Hannes Rohrer.
Courtesy Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, Photo: Hannes Rohrer.

People of the Mangbetu tribes are known for their elongated heads. Newborn babies have their heads wrapped with cloth to shape it into an elongated shape.

Patterns carved into Mangbetu pots are typically thin, shallow lines that wind around the pot surface.

Additional examples can be found by searching for “Mangbetu” on the Met’s website.

Spirit Vessel, Mafa or Matakam Culture, Cameroon, Nigeria, Late 19th – mid 20th c.
Gray terracotta, white stones, H 47 D 40, Inv.# 1591/2019, 2019 Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, Munich, permanent loan from Franz, Duke of Bavaria (Inv.# FVB0311). Courtesy Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, Photo: Hannes Rohrer.

I could find very little about the Matakam culture online. Nevertheless, I like this “Spirit Vessel”, above. A lot.

Initiation Mask, Makonde Culture, Mozambique, 1950 – 1980, Dark brown terracotta, H 27 B/W 22 T/D 18, Inv.# 1877/2019, 2019 Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, permanent loan from Franz, Duke of Bavaria (Inv.# FVB0581). Courtesy Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, Photo: Hannes Rohrer.

I found an interesting article entitled “Rituals, Beliefs and Sculptures in Makonde Culture” saying: “Two types of masks can be used during Mapiko ritual dances: a “máscara facial”, covering the face, or a “máscara capacete”, covering the whole head. Both masks are made from wood and their shape is usually heightened and bizarre, with hair and bright colour decorations.”

Of course, the initiation mask displayed above is terracotta clay, not wood.

Medicinal Figure of a Warthog or Hippopotamus, Zigua Culture, Tanga or Kilimanjaro region, Tanzania, Late 19th – mid 20th c., Brown terracotta, H 13 D 30, Inv.# 1929/2019, 2019 Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, Munich, permanent loan from Franz, Duke of Bavaria (Inv.# FVB0634). Courtesy Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, Photo: Hannes Rohrer.
Jug with Handle and Spout, Igbo Culture, Nigeria, c. 1950, Dark gray terracotta, red, white and blue paint, H 35 D 29, Inv.# 1706/2019, 2019 Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, Munich, permanent loan from Franz, Duke of Bavaria (Inv.# FVB1215). Courtesy Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, Photo: Hannes Rohrer.

See this Wikipedia page on Igbo art, including their ceramic traditions. Beautiful object.

Beer Vessel (ukhamba), Azolina MaMncube Ngema, (1936 – 2015 or 2016, South Africa, Zulu Culture, South Africa, Mid 20th c – 2015/16, Black terracotta, burnished, H 32.7 D 38.1, Inv.# 702/2017, Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, Munich, donated by Franz, Duke of Bavaria (Inv.# FVB0529). Courtesy Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, Photo: Hannes Rohrer.

I can’t vouch for the accuracy of observations recorded, but in this article entitled “Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) & Zulu Ceramic Arts: Azolina MaMncube Ngema, One Worman’s Story” the author recounts information about Azolina MaMncube Ngema, whose work is shown above. The author spent several weeks with Ms. MaMncube, observing and discussing her ceramic work. Ms. MaMncube often created pots in the “izinkamba” style, including raised “amasumpa” decorations, blackened with “natural” materials including shoe polish. This style of pottery was traditionally associated with Zulu royalty, but Ms. MaMncube may have worked in this way specifically to appeal to to high-paying patrons – specifically, white scholars and collectors. It is an interesting read.

Another example of Ms. MaMncube’s amasumpa-decorated pots is at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Ritual Vessel in the Shape of a Human Head, Tiv Culture (probably), Nigeria Late 19th – mid 20th c. Brown terracotta, wood, feathers, sacrificial patina, H 15 B/W 17 T/D 10 Inv.# 1584/2019. Courtesy Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, Photo: Hannes Rohrer.

I return to my initial statement about these ceramic pieces – they contain raw vitality and energy. Here is an academic paper on ceramics produced by Tiv women. I prefer to just enjoy the piece on its own.

Finally, here is a .pdf listing all the exhibited works, prepared by Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum. The listing is complete, but the images are small.

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