Historic African Ceramics

December 9, 2015 - January 29, 2016

Press Release



Douglas Dawson’s Eighth Exhibition of Historic African Ceramics  


Chicago - 13 October 2015 - This Douglas Dawson Gallery presented its first exhibition of historic African ceramics in 1993. Since then the market for the same has grown significantly both among museums and private collectors.  Once relegated to the deep storerooms of museums African ceramics are now recognized as an integral part of the larger corpus of African art.  Today many major American and European museums now include important examples of African ceramics in their permanent displays of African artFrom the Fire: Historic African Ceramics, opening in December 2015, will be the eighth exhibition on this subject mounted in the Gallery.


The increase in interest and attention to ceramics can be attributed to several changes in the field of African art studies.  In most cases African potters were women.  There are many more women curators in the field today whose perspective on African art is broader than that of the traditional male curator of the late 20th century. There has also been much more study of the role of women in traditional African culture. Additionally there is an increased interest in ritual and ceremony in which ceramics play a profound role which compliments wooden masks and figures.


Ironically this increased interest also comes at a time of profound cultural change in Africa.  The production of potter y in Africa has changed dramatically as noted by many scholars.   Religious conversion, urbanization, availability of cheap plastic and enamel ware have eroded the traditional role of pottery.  The potting that continues, in most cases, is production of generic types devoid of specific cultural markings.  Once pottery loses its identity as a cultural marker it is then easy to abandon it all together and replace it with plastic.  In a few very special cases there has evolved the artist potter.  This is particularly the case in South Africa that enjoys a sophisticated urban art market that can support such artists.  However in most of Africa this is rare.


This exhibition and accompanying catalog (both print and on-line) features approximately fifty examples of traditional vessels representing most areas of the African continent.  Most vessels date between the late 19th century and mid-20th century.  In almost all cases these vessels have not been made for several decades, if not longer.