By Victoria Rovine
University of Florida (formerly University of Iowa)

Trimming the edges. Banamba, Mali, 1988. Photograph by Barbara E. Frank.


For thousands of years, clay has been skillfully worked by African artists, producing pots in an immense variety of sizes and styles for storage, cooking, transport, dyeing, and a myriad other uses. Ceramic technology—preparation and shaping of clay, ornamentation of surfaces, and firing of pots—varies as widely as the pots themselves. Almost without exception, pottery is the work of women, from the gathering of clay at riverbanks to the sale of finished pots at markets. As imported aluminum and plastic wares flood African markets, ceramics no longer hold the place they once held in African daily life. But use of locally made pots continues, for they remain the most practical and affordable vessels for many purposes.