I visited the Powerful Bodies Zulu Arts of Personal Adornment exhibit at the UCLA Fowler Museum on October 17th. It was very interesting to see the practices of another culture. The Zulu People are from the Southern part of Africa and have been around since the 19th century. They speak in a distinct dialect and use personal adornment on their bodies to create their own identities.
They display their power and status in many different ways. Such as in their bead work that stood out most to me in the exhibit. It is very important to the Zulu People. Women typically made the beadwork pieces, the beads were sewn into the fabric and worn to cover pubic areas, breasts, or could also be worn on the head or chest. The beadwork was displayed on belts and aprons with many different designs. The women would wear as much beadwork as they could afford, the heavier their beadwork was, the greater status they held. “Sumptuary law was important because it operated in societies in which dress was a direct and unambiguous indicator of social identity connected directly with social standing.” The bead work said a lot about the individuals like their status and what region they were from, as opposed to today’s society.
“What constitutes ‘dress’ varies from culture to culture and also within a culture since what is considered appropriate dress will vary according to the situation or occasion.” Every culture has their own form of expressing themselves. The manner in which the Zulu dress is very different form the way Americans dress, we all have different tastes. We do not normally see someone walking around in a beaded apron, because that is another cultures practice. But in both cultures power and status is important. The Zulu wanted to display their power and we do too, they did it by wearing extravagant beaded belts, aprons, or showed status through their staffs and snuff containers. Americans show status through their cars, handbags or clothes. We are different, but with similar characteristics.
“Visual language, even more than verbal language, always sends a message regardless of intention to communicate.” Everything people put on their bodies sends out a message to world even if we do not mean to. Whether the message is status for the Zulu or Americans, clothes communicate.