When Zulu women potters innovate or move to a more urban setting, they are asked why they have abandoned tradition. Yet when they continue to follow convention or choose to stay in rural areas, art historians speak of their work as unchanging symbols of the past. Burnished rejects both stereotypes, acknowledging the agency of rural women as innovative artists and complex individuals negotiating a biased set of power structures.
Featuring 90 color images, Burnished engages directly with individual artists and specific vessels, fracturing assumptions that Zulu ceramicists are resistant to rural transformation and insulated from urban realities. Elizabeth Perrill shares compelling narratives of women ceramic artists and the sophisticated beer pots they create—their aesthetic choices, audiences, production, and artistic lives. Simultaneously, Perrill documents the manner in which and reasons why ceramic arts, and at times the artists themselves, capitalize upon bucolic stereotypes of rural womanhood, are constrained by artistic methods, or chafe against definitions of what qualifies as a Zulu pot.
Revealing how white South Africans and global art gatekeepers have continually twisted the designation of Zulu ceramics before, during, and after apartheid, Burnished provides an engaging look at the artistry of entrepreneurial Black women too often erased from historical records.