Dr. Kent D. Fowler is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Manitoba. He is an archaeologist with research interests in crafts production, farming societies and the development of state societies. Dr. Fowler was the first anthropologist to employ a chaînes opératoires (operations sequences) approach to ceramic analysis in sub-equatorial Africa, demonstrating the ways technical knowhow in pottery-making is linked to people’s daily and seasonal routines, social networks, and social identities. Fowler has applied the knowledge gained from ethnoarchaeology and experimental archaeology to develop innovative methods in archaeoacoustics, ceramic provenience research, ancient fingerprint analysis, and identifying past pottery manufacturing processes in Africa, the Near East, and Canada. He currently directs the Zulu Kingdom Archaeological Project, a case study of whether craft specialization and surplus production is a universal feature in the formation of state societies. He is the author of three books, over sixty articles, a veteran of more than thirty conference presentations, and is an elected Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society, Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute, and elected member of the Association of Southern African Professional Archaeologists.
Between 2002 and 2014, the Nguni Ceramics and Society Project documented how pottery was made, used, and circulated within and outside of Zulu and Swazi communities in eastern South Africa and the Kingdom of eSwatini. The aim of the project was to understand the practices of potters, their technical knowledge, how people taught and learned the craft, and what had changed and why during the twentieth century. Over this period, anthropology students and artists watched potting demonstrations, actively worked with potters, collected information on family histories, pottery uses, styles and names, religious prohibitions and ritual observances, and observed and participated first-hand in the life history of pottery containers in Zulu and Swazi societies, from their manufacture to their use in every-day life and ritual observances. As part of these efforts, a significant collection of pottery was obtained from eight communities. A portion of this collection is represented in this exhibition. It reflects the different practices, traditions, and histories of contemporary Zulu potters both as members of the largest cultural group in South Africa and as rural women living in a society still struggling to right itself of inequality and poverty a quarter century after the fall of apartheid.