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africa • indonesia • melanesia


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Mother and child mende, sierra leone

The Poro and Sande societies of the Mende cover justice and social life. Other associations focus on the remedy of mental and physical complaints. In the past, such societies used statues representing a female in consultations. Such a female was generally depicted without feet. Statues of mother and child are rare. They were possibly made for special counseling in order to enhance fertility and pregnancy. The statue shows a seated woman with a child lying across her lap which she supports with both hands. The statue has round, plastic shapes and displays the Mende beauty ideal such as a high forehead, a reduced face, a high swept coiffure and strands of hair falling in cascades and a long neck with fatrolls. This hair dress was fashionable in c.1900 among women of the elite.

34 Wood, medium glossy brownish black patina; heigth 45.5 cm. Ex-Collection Fred ten Houten; Volkenkundig Museum ‘Gerardus van der Leeuw’ 1970-1995; Publ.: Dagan 1989, p. 70


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Helmet mask, zo gbe gola, liberia

A classical Gola Bundu mask with two tresses hanging down towards the front along side a central knot. The side and rear have a permanent decoration consisting of small, stylized cowrie shells, which express prestige and wealth as do the fatrolls displayed on the back. Interestingly, the concave face is carved in the shape of a crescent.

35 Wood, glossy black patina; heigth 35 cm. Ref.: Meneghini 2006, pp. 27-37


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Mask toma, guinea, sierra leone, liberia

In Toma/Loma society the men’s Poro association dominates. In rites de passage such as initiation, this association uses masks that combine human and animal traits. This mask is a reduced representation of the flat face mask which is known by the name Nyangbai, the wife of the great forest spirit.

36 Wood, fibre, partly encrusted, beige patina; heigth 26.5 cm. Ref.: Adams in Phillips 1995, p. 362


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Mask mano/gio (dan), liberia and guinea

Masks with a remarkably detailed physiognomy are difficult to divide into categories. The plastic representation of the facial features marks this example as a portrait mask. Portrait masks were made to commemorate individuals, who in the recent past had occupied a prominent position within the community. Portraying a living person also occurred. Once the mask is ready to perform, the spirit is present and receives the name of the person who is portrayed. The portraits were given a special task within the mask tradition of the Poro and other societies, in which the personal qualities of the portrayed person returned to life.

37 Wood, metal, glossy black patina, heigth 25 cm. Ex-Collection Morris Pinto; Publ.: Arts d’Afrique Noire 32 Ref.: Harley 1975 (1950), pp. 39-40


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Female figure, lu me dan, liberia, ivory coast

Statues such as these which, in general, depict females form a separate category in sub-Saharan Africa. Sculptures are usually carved for a ritual purpose. However, the Dan carve them as objects of prestige. If he can afford it, a man commissions a skilled sculptor to carve a portrait of his wife. With that, he earns respect. It is also possible that the sculptor spontaneously carves a statue in order to demonstrate his skill. It is unclear whether this statue represents a real person, or a female figure idealized by the artist. As a rule, however, these statues are assignments. Based on certain sculptural conventions, the artist adds personal facial features and bodily decorations. That is the case here, see the scars around the torso and the bracelets. The original wig and loin-cloth complete this statue. According to Fischer (personal information d.d. October 17, 1992), this statue is made by the Kran sculptor Sra (1870/1880-1950). Sra (God, creator) carved his first statues aged thirteen. In addition to being a gifted sculptor, he was a blacksmith and metalworker. Within a few decades, he became one of the most prominent artists of his time and has trained many young sculptors.

38 Wood, lime, red pigment, aluminum, fibre; heigth 63 cm. Ex-Collection Michel Gaud Ref.: Himmelheber 1960, pp. 170-178; Fischer & Himmelheber 1984, pp. 117-121


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Gégon masks dan, liberia, ivory coast

Gégon is one of many masquerades held nowadays to entertain. With jokes and jest, the spectators are kept awake during the long rituals. Gégon means ‘male masquerade’ and thereby presents us with no decisive answer concerning the mask’s original function and meaning. With its beak and monkey hair, the mask has a double connection with nature. The mask may have been borrowed from neighbouring tribes and is only to be found in the northern Dan region.

39 Wood, glossy black patina, monkey hair (Colobus); heigth 33 cm.


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Gégon masks dan, liberia, ivory coast

Gégon is one of many masquerades held nowadays to entertain. With jokes and jest, the spectators are kept awake during the long rituals. Gégon means ‘male masquerade’ and thereby presents us with no decisive answer concerning the mask’s original function and meaning. With its beak and monkey hair, the mask has a double connection with nature. The mask may have been borrowed from neighbouring tribes and is only to be found in the northern Dan region.

40 Wood, cloth, monkey hair (Colobus), glossy black patina; heigth 24.5 cm. Ref.: Fischer & Himmelheber 1984, pp. 81-87


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Mask mau, ivory coast

Like their neighbours the Dan, the Mau use masks in which human and animal characteristics are combined. The combination of horns and beak indicates the wilderness. The connection with the Dan is clearly visible in the representation of the face. The thick, encrusted patina points to an intensive and protracted ritual use, probably in a men’s society.

Wood, cotton, fibre, crusty brown to black patina; heigth 67 cm. Ex-Collection Freddy Rolin Publ.: Bacquart 2002, p. 37, ill. 11


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Mask, bo nun amuin baule, ivory coast

The male masquerade masks feared most are the bo amuin nun, meaning ‘gods of the forest’. They are large, zoomorphic masks that symbolize the forest without depicting a specific animal. Along with all the dance paraphernalia, they are kept at a sacred place in the forest. The uninitiated women and children are strictly forbidden to lay their eyes on the masks, let alone to participate in the male masquerades. Naked dancers perform wearing only a costume consisting of raffia.

Wood, iron, plant fibre, horn, pigment, encrusted beige-brown patina; length 90 cm x width 37 cm Ref.: Vogel 1997, pp. 205-214

This is another reference to the forest. The dancers partake in burials of deceased dancers, in ceremonies to protect the village against threats and in occasions to discipline females. Women have their own masquerades. Dissimilar from the males, these masks and paraphernalia are kept in the village. The contradiction between nature and culture and the analogue contradictions: forest – village, female – male, death – and life, threat – security are reflected herein.


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Female figure, mi iri na guro, ivory coast

This small, standing female figure has a trapezoidal torso and legs. The arms are carved along the body and the head is disproportionately large, measuring about one third of the total length. In general, the Guro refer to anthropomorphic figures as mi iri na, ‘small wooden person’. These figures are neither portraits, nor individuals from the other world or ancestors. They are associated with the Zu cult. As a rule, these figures play a role on the Zu altar, which is dedicated to spirits who are commissioned by the Supreme to assist human beings in achieving their personal goals. According to Fischer, these statues may have fulfilled a role as accessories to the altar in a small region inhabited by the Guro. In recent times, mainly the traditional healers of the neighbouring Mwa instigated the placing of anthropomorphic figures on the altar.

Wood, fibre, glass, partly medium glossy black patina; heigth 23.5 cm. Publ.: Heinemans 1986, p. 89 fig 165 Ex-Collection Harrie Heinemans Ref.: Fischer 2008, pp. 467-471

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Heddle pulley, kono guro, ivory coast

Guro heddle pulleys are among the finest specimens produced in Ivory Coast. The elegance of these miniature sculptures are best expressed when we look at the pulley en profil. The head is presented in a flowing line of alternating convex and concave surfaces. In a more schematic shape, this line repeats itself in the rendition of the headdress. The long neck is accentuated by means of a row of small carved stripes and stands at a subtle angle to the bracket, which serves as a shoulder.

44 Wood, medium glossy brownish black patina, heigth 24.5 cm. Publ.: Vogelzang 1996, ill. 3; Exhibition ‘Van katrol tot kunstwerk’, March 17-June 3, 1996 Volkenkundig Museum ‘Gerardus van der Leeuw’ Ref. Fischer 2008, pp. 475-481