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The Arts of Africa at the dallas museum of art

Roslyn Adele Walker

the arts

Roslyn Adele Walker is Senior Curator of the Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific and the Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art at the Dallas Museum of Art.

This beautifully illustrated book showcases 110 objects from the Dallas Museum

of africa

of Art’s world-renowned African collection. In contrast to Western “art for art’s

at the

social control. Chosen for their visual appeal, compelling histories, and cultural

sake,” tradition-based African art served as an agent of religion, social stability, or significance, the works of art in this volume are presented under the themes of


leadership and status, the cycle of life, decorative arts, and influences (imported and exported). Also included are many fascinating photographs that show the


context in which these objects were originally used.

of art

222 color illustrations Front cover: Janus reliquary guardian figure (front view), attributed to Semangoy of Zokolunga, Gabon, Franceville area, Kota peoples, Obama group. Late 19th or early 20th century, brass, copper, iron, wood, and fiber. Dallas Museum of Art, Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc. Back cover: Janus reliquary guardian figure (rear view)

Jacket design by Jeff Wincapaw

ISBN 978-0-300-13895-5

printed in china

Dallas Museum of Art | Yale University Press

Distributed by Yale University Press for the Dallas Museum of Art

The Arts of Africa at the dallas museum of art

the arts of africa

the arts of africa at the dallas museum of art

Roslyn Adele Walker

Dallas Museum of Art Yale University Press,

New Haven and London



Director’s Foreword and Acknowledgments  Bonnie Pitman


African Art at the DMA: A Brief History


African Art in Context


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Icons and Symbols of Leadership and Status

African Art in the Cycle of Life 101

Part One: Art to Aid Conception and Birth


Part Two: Art for Coming of Age


Part Three: Art for Security and Well-Being


Part Four: Art for the Afterlife

Chapter 3 219

African Decorative Arts

Chapter 4 261

African Art and the Influences of Foreign Trade




Peoples of Africa


Abbreviated References and Selected Bibliography




Illustration and Copyright Credits

director’s foreword and acknowledgments

The publication of this catalogue coincides with the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the Dallas Museum of Art’s collection of African art. The establishment of the African collection helped to determine the nature of our encyclopedic holdings—the Museum has works of art from many cultures and time periods—and the African collection is one of its jewels. Inaugurated in 1969, our world-renowned African art collection, with its great strengths in Congo sculpture and textiles and its wide range of media and forms, now numbers almost two thousand works and forms a vital part of the Museum’s entire collection in telling the story of art from around the world. A catalogue of this nature has long been the ambition of the Museum’s friends and family. The Arts of Africa is our first publication devoted solely to this collection, taken both as a whole and with emphasis on many of its most dazzling treasures. It is also the first in a series of catalogues that will document the important riches housed in our Museum. I am especially grateful to Margaret McDermott and, in memoriam, to Eugene McDermott, to whom this book is warmly dedicated. Their initial gift of the Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture constitutes the foundation on which the DMA’s African art collection has been built. The African Art Acquisition Endowment Fund that Mrs. McDermott established in 1997 has furthered the development of one of the most outstanding African art collections in the world, and her endowment in 1999 of the permanent position of a curator for African Art secured the future of scholarship on the collection and ensured its continuing growth. Through their almost half-century of philanthropy and outstanding leadership in the ongoing development of this stunning collection, their generous financial and moral support, and their passion for the arts of Africa, the McDermott family has enabled the Dallas Museum of Art to influence the cultural life of its visitors by broadening their horizons through the experience of the art of diverse cultures. A project of this magnitude is achieved through the contributions of a multitude of people. I would like to thank all of the past and current trustees and donors, whose guidance has nurtured the Museum’s collecting vision, and to thank my predecessors and their staffs, who have cultivated the programs and contributed to the growth of the collection. I sincerely thank all of the generous donors of works of art and funds that have enabled the Museum’s African collection to attain both depth and quality throughout the years: The African Collection Fund, The Art Museum League Travel Fund, The Bezalel Foundation, Inc., Alta Brenner, The Alfred and Juanita Bromberg Collection, Joel Cooner, Drs. Nicole and John Dintenfass, The Dozier Foundation, The Otis and Velma Davis Dozier Fund, The Foundation for the Arts Collection, The Friends of African and AfricanAmerican Art, Rita Gaples, The General Acquisition Fund, The Cecil and Ida Green Foundation, Henry H. Hawley III, Mr. and Mrs. S. Roger Horchow, Mr. and Mrs. James H. W. Jacks, Dr. Penn Jackson, The Junior Associates, The 9


Levy Memorial Fund, The Lot for a Little Fund, John Lunsford, Linda and Stanley Marcus, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., The Eugene McDermott Foundation, Alma L. McKinney, Mr. and Mrs. Algur H. Meadows and the Meadows Foundation Incorporated, Edward H. Merrin, David T. Owsley, The Alvin and Lucy Owsley Foundation, Pace Primitive Gallery, New York, George and Sidney Perutz, The Professional Members League, Dr. Hebe Redden and Dr. Kenneth Redden, Gustave and Franyo Schindler, Victoria Scott, Elsa von Seggern, Mr. and Mrs. George A. Shutt, Mr. and Mrs.  Lee M. Singleterry, The Textile Purchase Fund, Denni Davis Washburn and Marie Scott Miegel, Carolyn C. and Dan C. Williams, Lester Wunderman, and several anonymous donors. Gratefully, I acknowledge the connoisseurship and specialized knowledge of the scholars and collectors who have had a particular influence on the growth and development of the African art collection: Ramona Austin, Michael Kan, John Lunsford, Dr. Christopher Roy, Gustave and Franyo Schindler, Clark and Frances Stillman, and Susan Mullin Vogel. We also extend our thanks to the curators, academicians, and other specialists, who provided advice and answers to the author’s questions about specific objects in the Dallas collections: Professor Rowland Abiodun, Amherst College; Professor Barbara Blackmun (retired), San Diego Mesa College; Professor Elisabeth Cameron, University of California, Santa Cruz; Dr. ­Theodore Celenko, Curator (retired), Indianapolis Museum of Art; ­Professor ­Herbert  M. Cole (retired), University of California, Santa Barbara; Professor William Dewey, University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Profes­sorToyin Falola, University of Texas, Austin; Marc Leo Felix, independent scholar, Brussels; Dr. Till Förster, University of Basel; Dr. ­Christraud Geary, Curator, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; David Gelbard, the Gelbard Photographic Archives of African Expressive Culture; Professor Paula Gershick, Indiana University, Bloomington; Dr. Burkhard Gottshalk, Germany; Professor William A. Hart, University of Ulster-Coleraine, Northern Ireland; Professor Christian Kordt Højberg, University of Copen­hagen; Dr. Sidney Kasfir, Emory University, Atlanta; Dr. Frederick Lamp, Curator, Yale University Art Gallery; Professor Babatunde Lawal, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond; Dr. Andrea Nicolls, Curator (retired), National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution; Professor Simon ­Ottenberg (retired), University of Washington, Seattle; Dr. Diane Pelrine, Associate Director and Curator, Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington; Professor John ­Pemberton III (retired), Amherst College; Dr. Louis Perrois, ethnographer and art historian, Honorary Director of Research, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, Marseilles; Dr. ­Constantine Petridis, Curator, Cleveland Museum of Art; Professor Ruth Phillips, Carle­ton University, Ottawa; Dr.  Mary Nooter Roberts, Deputy Director and Curator, Fowler Museum of Cultural History, University of California, Los Angeles; Dr. ­William ­Siegmann, Curator (retired), Brooklyn Museum of Art; Dr. Robert Soppelsa, Senior Curator, Art in Embassies Office, U.S. Department of State; F. Amy Staples, Chief Archivist, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution; Professor Zöe Strother, Columbia University; Louis de Strycker, independent scholar; Dr. Barbara Thompson, Curator, the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University; Professor Robert Farris Thompson, Yale University; Lucien Viola, Galerie Rê, Morocco; and, in memoriam, William B. Fagg, Keeper, African Ethnology, the British Museum, London; Joseph-Aurélien Cornet,

d ire ctor’s f ore word and ack nowledgment s


di r ector ’s f or ewor d a nd acknow l edgment s

Director, Institut des Musées nationaux du Zaire; and Dr. Hans Witte, independent scholar and specialist in Yoruba art. I offer profound thanks to Dr. Roslyn Adele Walker, Senior Curator, the Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific and The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art, for her leadership role as author of this publication. Roz joined the DMA staff in 2003. Immediately, she enthusiastically undertook to further the growth of the collection, carefully directing the development of future holdings. For this publication she selected the objects featured, amassed a vast store of research notes, references, and bibliographic material, wrote all of the texts herein, and guided the publication to its successful completion. For her dedication, expertise, and many contributions to the enrichment of the DMA’s African collection, I offer my most sincere appreciation. A publication of this size, scale, and ambition requires the dedicated expertise of a team of people to bring it to fruition. I would like particularly to recognize Tamara Wootton-Bonner, Director of Exhibitions and Publications, for her contributions in directing the planning for the publications focused on our collection and for her work on this catalogue. Eric Zeidler, Publications Coordinator, and Jessica Beasley, Curatorial Administrative Assistant in the Ancient and Non-Western Art division, deserve special acknowledgment for their efforts on behalf of this project—both worked tirelessly to compile information and assist with every detail related to the publication. Brad Flowers, the lead photographer for this publication, worked meticulously with object after object to recreate the unique texture and complexity of each one on the printed page. Giselle Castro­Brightenburg, the Manager of the Imaging Department, supervised the shooting and sorting of all the photography and worked with Roz Walker, Eric Zeidler, and Marquand Books to coordinate the selection of images. It is with deep gratitude that Roz Walker and I acknowledge the contributions of the DMA staff and other colleagues who have also helped in some way to bring this publication to its realization, making particular mention of Shannon Karol, Anna Lessenger, and Lauren Hughes, McDermott Graduate Curatorial Interns; Carol Robbins, The Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Curator of the Arts of the Americas and the Pacific; Mary Leonard and Jacqueline Allen, Mayer Library and DMA Archives; Jeff Zilm of the Imaging Department; Queta Moore Watson of the Marketing Department; Gabriela Truly, John Dennis, and Vince Jones of the Collections Department; Sidney Perutz and Sandra Youngblood, DMA docents; Natalie H. Lee, independent art historian; the editors Migs Grove and Frances Bowles; the proofreader Sharon Rose Vonasch; Ed Marquand, Marie Weiler, and Jeff Wincapaw of Marquand Books; Patricia Fidler and Carmel M. Lyons of Yale University Press; and John Lunsford, who was the inaugural curator of the African art collection and, before he retired, its keeper for twenty years (1969–1989). For many years the Dallas Museum of Art has collected, exhibited, and championed the arts of Africa. This catalogue, published on the fortieth anniversary of its establishment, is the first permanent record devoted solely to this important and internationally acclaimed collection. On behalf of the donors, trustees, scholars, staff, and most especially the McDermott family, I am delighted to share these treasures with you on this momentous occasion. We hope that this volume will bring pleasure and enlightenment to its readers and encourage a deeper understanding of the beauty and importance of all of the arts of Africa. Bonnie Pitman The Eugene McDermott Director

African Art at the DMA: a brief history

Part One: 1969–1989 The Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) has long championed the inclusion of African art in the discourse of the world’s art. Before acquiring its first African object in 1969, the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (DMFA, as the Museum was known then) hosted and organized a number of exhibitions that introduced the public to this non-Western visual expression. Among these exhibitions were African, Oceanic and Pacific Primitive Artifacts (1954), The Sculpture of Negro Africa (1961), and The Arts of Man: A Selection of World Art from Ancient to Modern Times (1962). The Sculpture of Negro Africa included a diverse selection of sculptures from twenty-seven ethnic groups that were made of ivory, forged iron, cast copper alloy (bronze), terracotta, and wood between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries (fig. 1). The exhibition, organized by the Art Center in La Jolla, California, and arranged by the Stolper Galleries of Primitive Arts in New York and Los Angeles, showcased sculptures from the Stolper collection and works from a group of private collectors that included William Moore of Los Angeles and Jay C. Leff of Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Paul S. Wingert, the leading American authority on African art at the time and a professor of art history at Columbia University, authored an informative introductory essay for this groundbreaking exhibition.1 As this exhibition toured the West Coast and its Texas venues of Dallas and San Antonio, the Museum was in the throes of organizing The Arts of Man, which featured more than eight hundred objects from the world’s major civilizations. The twenty carved wood masks and figures, gold and copper alloy (bronze) castings, and carved ivory sculptures of ancient Egypt and sub-Saharan Africa included in the exhibition were borrowed from the Museum of Primitive Art, the Heeramaneck Collection, the Carlebach Gallery of New York City, and Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Marcus of Dallas. The works of art selected for The Arts of Man exhibition reinforced a fact established in The Sculpture of Negro Africa—significant works of African art existed before the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, when most fig 1  Installation from the 1961 exhibition, The Sculpture of Negro Africa.



extant examples were made, and in materials other than wood. A reporter reviewing the exhibition for the Dallas Times Herald noted, “some of the societies we think of as primitive or aboriginal produced art of great technical skill and highly sophisticated design.”2 He must have had in mind a casting that in the catalog is identified as a sixteenth-century statue of a Benin “king” from Nigeria (fig. 2). The Arts of Man, undoubtedly the most ambitious exhibition the Museum had undertaken up to that point, was the brainchild of Mrs. Eugene (Margaret) McDermott, president of the Dallas Art Association from 1962 to 1964.3 According to John Lunsford, then the curator of collections, Mrs. McDermott “simply came in and in her sweet way said [to Lunsford and the director Jerry Bywaters] ‘I think we ought to do a history of art . . . I mean a ­history of all art, everywhere.’ ”4 Several months later her ambitious idea came to fruition in that extraordinary exhibition, which was the Museum’s most significant accomplishment in its fifty-year history and garnered national attention. It would also expand popular notions about “art.” Art of the Congo followed in 1968 and left a lasting impression. Organized by the Walker Art Center, a museum of modern and contemporary art in Minneapolis, the more than one hundred sculpted masks, figures, furniture, and personal objects (e.g., elaborately decorated hair combs and tobacco pipes) made in the Congo (which had recently gained independence from Belgium) were selected from the vast holdings of the Royal Museum for Central Africa (Koninklijk Museum voor Midden-Afrika / Musée Royal de l’Afrique Centrale) in Tervuren, a suburb of Brussels. The exhibition catalogue included an essay written by Clark Stillman, a connoisseur of African art, who with his wife Frances had amassed one of the most outstanding private collections of Congo art in the world.5 In the meantime, Eugene and Margaret McDermott had met Clark and Frances Stillman in 1966. They were introduced by Ida and Jerry Rubin, friends and fellow supporters of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who were also friends and neighbors of the Stillmans. The McDermotts went to New York to visit them and their African art collection, which Margaret McDermott described as “just so splendid.”6 Her admiration for African art evolved, through study and collecting, to reflect the acumen of a seasoned connoisseur. The McDermotts and Stillmans became lifelong friends. When the Stillmans began downsizing their possessions, the McDermotts offered to purchase their collection of African sculptures, which had been assembled over a period of almost forty years. The offer was accepted, and the McDermotts acquired the collection, but not to keep. Instead, they donated a large portion of it (224 objects) to the Museum in 1969.7 They also provided funds to renovate a gallery in which to display the objects (fig. 3, opposite). In addition to filling a gap in the Museum’s encyclopedic collection, the McDermotts’ donation of African art “could present the extraordinary cultural heritage of Dallas’s African-American citizens.”8 Their motivation may not have been public knowledge, but an African American reporter at the Dallas Morning News noted: African Art is as strange to Negro students as it is to whites or any other race, because it historically has been pretty much unknown to them. Now, the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts has a collection of Congo ­sculpture

af ric an art at t h e d ma: a brie f h istory

a f r i ca n a rt at t h e dma : a br i ef h i s tory


on permanent display that is not only relevant to their search for black identity, but fits well into the pattern of broadening their knowledge of African history and development of race pride.9

fig 2 (left)  This “Standing King, 16th-century Benin bronze from Nigeria” lent by Carlebach Gallery, New York, was part of the dmfa’s 1962 exhibition, The Arts of Man. Current scholarship identifies the figure as an Ewua official who awakened the king daily and may date from the 18th century.

fig 3  The Stillman Collection, installed in the dmfa’s Congo Gallery, 1972.

This extraordinary gift was, as Lunsford describes it, a “watershed event [which] . . . set for [the McDermotts] a new level of committed interest that would grow by geometric progressions over the ensuing years.”10 It was also a watershed event for the Museum, as the Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture was “esteemed all over the world and . . . its final museum resting place has long been a matter of excited competition and interest.”11 With the acquisition of the Stillman Collection, the Museum now numbered among the institutions with significant collections of African art. The Stillmans began collecting African art in the early 1930s in Brussels, where Clark Stillman was a cultural attaché at the American Embassy. In those days, one could find genuine objects—and sometimes major treasures like the Boma figure (fig. 4, overleaf)—at the Sunday flea market and art dealers’ shops.12 The couple was mentored by Frans M. Olbrechts (1899– 1958), a Belgian anthropologist and author of Les Arts plastiques du Congo belge (1959) who eventually became the head of the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren (the source of the Art of the Congo exhibition).13 Under Olbrechts’ guidance, the Stillmans became connoisseurs of Congo art and knowledgeable about the original context in which the objects functioned. The collectors patronized the Belgian art dealers Jeanne Walschot (1896– 1977 [Kanyok water pipe]), who had inherited a vast collection of old African objects from relatives who had been well-placed colonial bureaucrats in the Belgian Congo;14 Gustave De Hondt (also spelled Dehondt, d. 1952 [Luba male figure standing on animal and Mbala female with child]), who was in charge of the Belgian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair of 1939 and also had colonialist family connections;15 and Raoul Blondiau (Chokwe chief’s chair). Blondiau was a connoisseur of African art whose collection was the foundation for the Blondiau-Theatre Arts Collection of Primitive Art that was exhibited in New York and Chicago in 1927, nearly a decade before the epoch-making African Negro Art exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (1935).16 The collection, presented to the public in 1969, was named the Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture to honor the previous owners and to reflect the geographic origin of the objects. Lunsford organized the inaugural exhibition, which was enthusiastically received by the art critics and public alike. African Art and the Modern Tradition, an exhibition mounted in an adjoining gallery, revealed the relationship between traditional African art and twentieth-century art through the use of original works, photographs, texts, and quotations from the early European modernists. Inspired by the collecting activity at the Museum, several Dallas collectors became enthusiasts and began to acquire African works for their own collections. They patronized both established art dealers and “runners,” as itinerant art dealers from Africa were called. In 1972, African Art from Dallas Collections showcased over three hundred diverse works of art grouped under the themes of Metal: Adornment, Amulets, and Power; Figures: Spirits to Man to Spirit; Instruments of Magic: Status and Control; and Masks and Dance: Transformation, Discipline, Theater. Those identified as lending to


af ric an art at t h e d ma: a brie f h istory

a f r i ca n a rt at t h e dma : a br i ef h i s tory


the exhibition included Bernard Brister, Mr. and Mrs. Alfred L. Bromberg, Mr. and Mrs. Otis Dozier, Steve Farr, Mr. and Mrs. E. E. Fogelson, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Foxworth, Donald W. Greaves, Mr. and Mrs. James A. Ledbetter, Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Marcus, Mr. and Mrs. Richard K. Marks, Madelon Mosier, Mr. and Mrs. Raymond D. Nasher, Mr. and Mrs. George Perutz, Judith Robinson, Linda Robinson, and Mr. and Mrs. Dan C. Williams.17 Several of these lenders later donated their treasures to the Museum. The Museum continued to bring traveling exhibitions of African art to Dallas. African Art of the Dogon: The Lester Wunderman Collection (1974) was organized by Michael Kan, the curator of African art at the Brooklyn Museum and the DMA’s first Eugene McDermott Visiting Curator (1986). Kan maintained ties with the Museum, serving as a consultant on new acquisitions. Primitive Art Masterworks (1975) afforded Dallas citizenry an opportunity to view the African, Oceanic, and ancient American art collections of the Museum of Primitive Art (MPA), which co-organized the exhibition with the American Federation of Arts, New York. The Museum’s African art collection reached another milestone in 1974 when its holdings grew to include the important and well-known collection of Gustave and Franyo Schindler of New York City. Presided over by the then-director Harry S. Parker III, the acquisition was made possible by the Eugene McDermott Foundation in honor of Eugene McDermott, who had died in 1973. At the time Margaret McDermott said, My husband possessed a genuine joy in giving. His interest and the majority of his giving were directed toward education. The arts, he felt, were an integral part of education—vital for individuals and communities. So he would have approved, I know, of our gift of the Schindler Collection of African Art to the museum. Besides adding to its growing collection of art, he would have derived pleasure from supporting the museum’s fine staff while making a gift to Dallas—a city which had been so good to him and for which he had an enduring affection.18

fig 4  Standing Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Boma, 19th–20th century. Wood and fiber. The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.6.

Named The Gustave and Franyo Schindler Collection of African Sculpture, the assemblage of fifty works extended the stylistic and geographical reach of the Dallas holdings with objects from West Africa (Mali, Upper Volta [now Burkina Faso], Guinea, Liberia, the Ivory Coast [Côte d’Ivoire], Ghana, and Nigeria). The Museum’s Central African holdings were augmented by objects from Gabon and Congo (Brazzaville) as well as Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). In contrast to most of the small-scale objects and focus on figurative sculpture in the Stillman Collection, the Schindler Collection offered large-scale statuary and masks. The acquisition of the Schindler Collection established the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts as the leading repository of African art in the Southwest. Gustave and Franyo Schindler first encountered African art in the late 1940s in Germany at a display of German Expressionist paintings ­coupled with African sculptures. Franyo Schindler was a painter who had a special eye for the African forms and “was fascinated by the mysticism connected with them.”19 Because few American art museums displayed or collected African art, the Schindlers developed their connoisseurship by studying African works at the British Museum in London, the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, and the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren. As they began to build their collection, the Schindlers primarily patronized art dealers in New York City. They did not try to collect all the sculpture-producing


cultures or seek only rare objects, but were attracted to objects that displayed “. . . a certain simplicity and purity of conception, and the presence in a piece of the dignity and the almost religious force which makes one feel that it had actually served in the ceremonial rites for which it was created.”20 Indeed, the result of their efforts was a collection of rare finds, among which are a centuries-old pre-Dogon standing female figure from Mali, an elegant Senufo rhythm pounder from Côte d’Ivoire, a colossal Baga D’mba headdress from Guinea, an Igbo standing female figure from Nigeria, and a Hemba ancestor figure and Zande yanda figure, both of which are from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The acquisition of the Schindler Collection prompted Parker to declare, “The extraordinarily high quality of these pieces combined with the Stillman Collection of Congo Art moves us into the top ranks of African art collections in the country.”21 The collection was installed in the renovated West Wing in galleries adjacent to the Ancient American and Pacific art on one side and the classical collection on the other. Both the Stillmans and the Schindlers continued to be involved in the Museum’s collection building efforts until they died. In 1971, for example, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., acquired a group of nine masks from Clark Stillman, and in 1978, following the death of his wife, the McDermott Art Fund acquired fourteen more sculptures from their collection. In 1980, Stillman donated the couple’s extensive collection of books about Congo art and culture to the Museum’s Mildred R. and Frederick M. Mayer Library. Most of the books, like the rare works of art in the Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, are collectors’ items today. For their part, between 1976 and 1987 the Schindlers donated several more sculptures to the Museum, including a Bobo mask from Burkina Faso, a Mumuye standing figure from Nigeria, and an Ovimbundu pipe from Angola. A Dogon door lock was a joint donation with the Bezalel Foundation. The African art collection continued to grow in depth and quality with generous financial assistance from the McDermott Fund and donations of art from local and out-of-state supporters. In 1975 the Museum acquired an Igbo headdress from Nigeria—rarely encountered in public or private collections—through The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., and the generous contributions of Mr. and Mrs. Algur H. Meadows, the Meadows Foundation Incorporated, and Stanley and Billie Marcus. Lester Wunderman, a New York art collector whose passion was the art of the Dogon peoples, donated a nommo statue. The acquisition of a male effigy vessel by Voania Muba, a Woyo potter from Congo, and an effigy bell from the Lower Niger River area of Nigeria resulted from the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene McDermott. With these additions, the African art collection offered a wider range of materials, works by named artists (which countered the notion that traditional African art is anonymous), and art that reached back in time. Dallas was one of three venues for the 1978 exhibition The Arts of Ghana, which was organized by Herbert M. Cole and Doran H. Ross for the Museum of Cultural History at the University of California, Los Angeles. The exhibition presented an array of object types, from popular kente cloth and akua’ba figures that had become part of American fashion and popular culture to the visual arts of lesser-known cultures such as the Lobi, Nafana, and Moba. Nearly twenty years later, a Vagala mask displayed in this exhibition entered the Museum’s collection as a gift from John Lunsford.

af ric an art at t h e d ma: a brie f h istory

Gallery space designed by Barney Delabano, Fair Park, 1979.

a f r i ca n a rt at t h e dma : a br i ef h i s tory


The 1970s closed with the purchase of a rare terracotta ritual bowl by a Yoruba or Edo (Bini) artist from Nigeria. Gifts included a large-scale Igbo standing female shrine figure from Mr. and Mrs. Lee M. Singleterry and a Songye male figure from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a Yoruba ivory tapper carved in the form of a kneeling female figure from Nigeria that were donated by the Art Museum League Travel Fund. The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., acquired the fourteen aforementioned sculptures from the Clark and Frances Stillman Collection, including a Bwa standing male figure from Burkina Faso, a Pende cup with back-to-back standing male and female figures, a Luba headrest with a female caryatid, a Lulua standing figure with an extraordinarily long neck, and an elegant Zande figurative harp from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Schindlers donated the Bobo Nwenka mask from Burkina Faso that still bears traces of the original pigment. Despite the two-story wing that was added to the building in 1965, the museum was bursting at the seams. Dallas voters agreed on Novem­ber 6, 1979, that a new and larger building was in order. This new building was to be designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes and built downtown in what has become the Arts District. While the new building was under construction, exhibitions and collection building continued in the existing facility. In addition to the Schindlers’ largesse, there were gifts from the local art collector Henry W. Hawley III, who donated an Asante akua’ba fertility figure, an Asante hair comb (both from Ghana), and, from Côte d’Ivoire, a Baule ointment box with an anthropomorphic head. A monumental arugba caryatid vessel that was later attributed to the Yoruba sculptor Akobi Ogun Fakeye and a Senufo footed drum decorated with relief figures were donated by Stanley and Linda Marcus, also of Dallas, to the Foundation for the Arts. The Foundation for the Arts was established in 1964 as a holding agency for the collection formerly held by the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts (which had merged with the DMFA in 1963), with the power to solicit funds and acquire art objects to be placed at the disposal of the Museum. The new museum building, which was renamed the Dallas Museum of Art, was opened to the public in 1984. The Director Harry S. Parker III explained the reason for the name change, saying, “This title better describes this inclusive collection which ranges from painting and sculpture to textiles and photographs, African masks and pre-Columbian pottery.”22 In celebration of opening the new building, the longtime supporters Gustave and Franyo Schindler donated a monumental Dogon “ark,” and Stanley and Linda Marcus donated over one hundred fertility figures from around the world and covering a time span from 5,000 BC to the mid-twentieth century. Twenty-two of the figures originated in African countries, among them Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An Igbo ikenga seated male shrine figure and an elaborately decorated, lidded bowl by the renowned Yoruba sculptor Arowogun (Areogun) of OsiIlorin were donated by Carolyn C. and Dan C. Williams of Dallas. Although growing, the DMA’s African art collection essentially still consisted of sculpture. This situation changed in 1984 when Carol Robbins, then the curator of textiles, acquired four woven raffia cloths from Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) with funds from The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., and an anonymous donor. Three of the textiles, which are between fifteen and twenty feet long and ­decorated with appliqué, were originally worn by Kuba women as wrapper-style skirts


on ceremonial occasions. The fourth and smallest panel is decorated with cut-pile embroidery, a technique for which the Shoowa, a Kuba subgroup, have long been famous. In addition to providing two-dimensional art forms, the textiles provided much needed examples of women’s art in the collection. In 1985, the estate of Robert Plant Armstrong—a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, an avid art collector, and the author of many articles and books on African art—donated a Teke mantle from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, then Zaire. Between 1985 and 1989, the Dallas Museum of Art hosted three major traveling exhibitions focused on African art. The Museum of Modern Art’s “Primitivism” in 20th-Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern explored the impact of so-called tribal African, Oceanic, American Indian, and Eskimo art on the art of such European modernists as Picasso, Brancusi, Modigliani, Klee, Giacometti, and others. Dallas was one of three venues and the only one west of the Mississippi River. While the Dallas Museum of Art did not lend to this exhibition, a Baule sculpture in the exhibition became part of the Dallas collection several years later. It should be noted that the Eugene McDermott Foundation supported publication of the exhibition catalogue. The singular focus of Ancestral Arts of Gabon, which was organized by the Barbier-Mueller Museum in Geneva, Switzerland, nicely complemented the Museum’s sculptures from that country. Art /Artifact, organized by the Center for African Art, New York, explored the changing methods of exhibiting and interpreting African art in Western museums with objects from the collections of the Buffalo Museum of Science, the Hampton University Museum, and the American Museum of Natural History. In 1989 the Museum’s adjunct curator of African American Art, Alvia Wardlaw, organized the traveling exhibition Black Art—Ancestral Legacy: The African Impulse in African American Art. Works from the collection featured in the exhibition included the Fang four-faced helmet mask and the Lega figure with four heads from the Gustave and Franyo Schindler Collection of African Sculpture that inspired and influenced African American artists. Following its Dallas debut, the exhibition traveled to the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. In his preface to the Black Art—Ancestral Legacy catalogue, the then-director Richard Brettell wrote The Dallas Museum of Art had the wisdom and foresight to purchase two internationally significant private collections of African art as early as 1969 and 1974. Indeed, the Stillman and the Schindler Collections represent the core of a collection of African sculpture that rivals that of the Metropolitan Museum of New York and is among the greatest collections of African art in any American art museum.23 By 1989 the collection of African objects amounted to 350 and was destined to continue growing in both depth and quality.

Part Two: 1990–Present The 1990s began with an extraordinary gift of approximately one thousand loose and strung African trade beads from the Dozier Foundation. The Museum became the repository of one of the largest public collections of such objects (fig. 5). The donation was inspired by comments that the art historian Susan Mullin Vogel had made to Velma Davis Dozier during a visit

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fig 5  A selection of African trade beads collected by Velma Davis Dozier, including drawn-glass chevron beads made in Europe, marbled beads made in Europe, mille­fiore beads made in Venice, 17th-century glass beads from the Netherlands, seed beads, cowrie shells, and metal beads made in Africa. Dallas Museum of Art, gift of The Dozier Foundation.


in 1988. Vogel, one of several renowned African art specialists called upon to help guide the African art collection, suggested enlivening the African gallery with colorful African trade beads. The assistant curator Carol Robbins knew that Velma Dozier had amassed an outstanding collection of beads and her husband Otis had bought masks and figures from itinerant African art dealers. In addition to displaying a wide array of colors, textures, and shapes, trade beads reflect Africa’s contact with the outside world (Asia and Europe). Beads adorned both sculpture and human beings. In some societies, they signified an affiliation with a particular religious practice, but because of their value as imported objects, they generally indicated individual or group prestige and prosperity. The Otis and Velma Davis Dozier Fund established in 1988 also enabled the Museum to purchase, among other objects, a classic Ndebele woman’s beaded cape from South Africa in 1991. In 1991 the Museum acquired 258 Coptic Christian crosses. Ranging in size from a few inches to over two feet tall, the crosses made of carved wood and cast metal alloys date from about the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries. This important collection was assembled between 1964 and 1967 in Ethiopia by the professors Hebe and Kenneth Redden. Because Ethiopia did not have a law governing the exportation of cultural property at the time, it was legal to collect cultural objects. At the behest of Emperor Haile Selassie, Kenneth Redden—a member of a legal team from the U.S. Department of State that established the first law school in Ethiopia—drafted Ethiopia’s first Antiquities Protection Law. Redden was allowed to keep the crosses


he had collected as a token of the emperor’s appreciation and with the understanding that the crosses would “ultimately be placed in an educational setting, where scholars and the public could learn from them about Ethiopian culture.”24 The collection was subsequently exhibited at the Grand Palais in Paris (1966), the Musée Dynamique à Dakar, Senegal, during the first World Festival of Negro Arts (1967), and at the University of Virginia (1972). Originally donated to St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, the collection of crosses was permanently moved to the Dallas Museum of Art so that it could be accessible to a broader public. In addition, the Museum had “remarkable African holdings” and was willing to share the collection with the African American Museum. Presented to the public in 1992–1993 in an exhibition organized by Anne Bromberg, The Cecil and Ida Green Curator of Ancient and South Asian Art, the crosses have since been displayed selectively in installations such as “Afterlife,” a long-term multicultural exhibition on the theme of death and the hereafter. In 1992 the Museum hired the art historian and African art specialist Christopher D. Roy as an adjunct curator to research and organize a temporary exhibition of the African art collection (figs. 6 and 7). In this role, he advised Jay Gates, the Museum’s director, to acquire types of African art (such as royal art or textiles) especially from West African cultures to create a balanced collection. Broadening the collection in this way would also demonstrate that African societies are not monolithic but differ in terms of sociopolitical and religious structures and associated art forms.25 Roy’s advice was duly acted upon and in 1992 two examples of prestige headwear were acquired: a Yaka chief’s beaded bihorn headdress donated by Linda and Stanley Marcus and an Ekonda chief’s tiered basketry hat (botolo) donated by the Friends of African and African-American Art. In 1993 the Otis and Velma Davis Dozier Fund supported the purchase of an important Guro gye helmet mask from Côte d’Ivoire. That same year, Africa Explores: 20th Century African Art, an exhibition organized by the Cen­ ter for African Art, New York, and Eternal Egypt: Objects of Daily Life, People, and Religion, the second phase of a three-part exhibition of Egyptian and Nubian artifacts on long-term loan from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, were the featured exhibitions focused on Africa. Ramona Austin, an art historian and veteran art museum curator, was hired in 1994 to fill the new fulltime position as curator of African art, which was endowed as The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art in 1999.26 During her tenure, Austin added over one hundred objects to the

af ric an art at t h e d ma: a brie f h istory

fig 6  West African objects at the dma, 1992.

fig 7  Central African objects at the dma, 1992.

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fig 8  Third Floor African Art galleries, West African objects, installed by Ramona Austin in 1996. fig 9  Third Floor African Art galleries, Central African objects, installed by Ramona Austin in 1996.


collection and oversaw the reinstallation of the collection into its designated space on the third floor of the Museum. This space became available when the Nancy and Jake L. Hamon Building was completed in 1993, providing 140,000 additional square feet. The African, Asian, and Pacific collections were installed in adjoining galleries. The completely refurbished galleries, opened with great fanfare in 1996, showcased approximately 125 objects from the collection arranged according to geographic style regions (figs. 8 and 9). Diane Pelrine, an authority on African art and a curator at Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington, writing for African Arts, pronounced the exhibition “an excellent introduction to sub-Saharan Africa’s sculptural traditions.”27 Several African objects were generously acquired for the Museum in 1994 by the Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., including an ancient (200 BC –AD  200) terracotta male figure from Sokoto in northwestern Nigeria and a group of royal objects from the Owo-Yoruba and Benin kingdoms in Nigeria—a finely carved ivory equestrian figure, a copper alloy casting of a chief of Udo, and an elaborately carved ivory waist pendant plaque. These prestigious works of art were complemented by a richly carved and pigmented ivory side-blown horn from the Mende ­peoples of Sierra Leone and a seated male figure from the Baule peoples of Côte d’Ivoire. An nkisi nkondi (power figure) from the Yombe peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo acquired in 1996 for the Foundation for the Arts Collection by the Eugene McDermott Foundation is outstanding—as much for its formal qualities as its grand dimensions. Bristling with handwrought and imported iron nails and wearing a finely woven raffia wrapper, the figure is one of several extant figures from the same workshop that were brought out of Africa between 1910 and 1913. Well traveled, this impressive sculpture has been shown in several major European and American exhibitions. Although African masks are the most popular African art forms, the collection could boast but a few. During her tenure Austin acquired several, including a fierce Senufo komo helmet mask28 that had been on display in the Animals in African Art: From the Familiar to the Marvelous exhibition, which traveled to the Museum in 1997. David T. Owsley, a long-time supporter of the Museum’s Ancient and South Asian art collections and owner of the mask, generously donated it to the Museum. General acquisition funds financed the purchase of a massive and colorful Abua obukele headdress that


was also on display in Animals in African Art, and the Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., was used to acquire an Igbo polychrome igri face mask for the Museum. A Mukenga bead- and ­cowrie-covered helmet mask, given in honor of Peter Hanszen Lynch and Cristina Martha Frances Lynch, and a very fine old Makonde helmet mask, donated by the Cecil and Ida Green Foundation in 1999, rounded out the Museum’s collection of masks during this acquisition phase. In 1997 the Junior Associates, a membership group, donated funds to acquire three prestige hats from the Grasslands region of Cameroon, and a royal Kuba beaded mpaan hat from the Democratic Republic of the Congo was donated by Alma L. McKinney in honor of Frederic A. Luyties III. In 2000 Mr. and Mrs. James H. W. Jacks donated a Dogon granary door with a sun lizard motif, and a bequest from Juanita K. Bromberg gave the Museum a group of Akan miniature cast-brass figures and counterweights from the Alfred and Juanita Bromberg Collection. In 2003 John R. Lane, The Eugene McDermott Director (1999–2008), and Bonnie Pitman, the Deputy Director, hired the author of this volume to join the DMA staff. An art historian, seasoned art museum curator, and former director of the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution, I joined the Museum as Senior Curator, the Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific and The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art. Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of the Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., my first acquisition for the collection was an olumeye, or kneeling female figure with a bowl, by the renowned Yoruba court artist Olowe of Ise (c. 1875–c. 1938). Introduced to the public in the focused exhibition Variations on a Theme: Three Olumeye by Olowe of Ise in 2005, the bowl was presented with two others that Olowe carved and compared with a fine but conventional olumeye carved by Agbonbiofe of EffonAlaiye, a contemporary of Olowe’s. It is my assertion that Olowe reinvented the form of the olumeye as he did other sculptures. The exhibition was supported with funds provided by the Dallas Museum of Art League.29 With “highest quality” always a criterion, there has been a conscious effort to obtain works of art that reveal the diversity of forms, styles, techniques, and materials found in African art and to represent more of the major art-producing peoples, especially from West Africa. Since 2004 several important works of art from Nigeria have helped to close the disparity between the West African and Central African holdings. Among the works of art that have been acquired since 2004 are an elaborately beaded ile ori (“house of the head”), a beaded ibori (the symbol of an individual’s “inner head”), and a circa-eighteenth-century cast copper alloy ring depicting a gruesome scene of human sacrifice in high relief. The solid form, which weighs about seven pounds, is believed to have been used in kingship ­rituals. All the objects are from the Yoruba culture in Nigeria and were purchased with funds from the African Collection Fund. This fund derives from the endowed African Art Acquisition Fund that was established in 1988. Additional recent acquisitions of Yoruba art include a pair of cast copper alloy and iron tongs, donated by George and Sidney Perutz in 2005, that date from the mid-twentieth century and were used in Oshugbo society rituals. A cast copper alloy altar stand dating from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century was financed by the African Collection Fund.

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By 2008 the collection housed fifty-one masks and three complete masquerade costumes. Additions in 2005 and 2006 included a Budja abstract bird-form headdress from the Democratic Republic of the Congo that was worn in a performance in 1986 to honor the king of Belgium during a visit to the country; a pristine Deangle face mask from the Dan peoples of Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire that complements a venerable old Dan mask from the Schindler Collection; and a well-worn Sande society helmet mask from the Mende of Sierra Leone. In 2007 the Museum acquired an unusual blackened Pende forehead mask that, as indicated by its facial details, represents a “hyper male.” It complements a classic Pende face mask that was donated by the Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., in 1971. Other recently acquired masks include a large-scale, multifigured Yoruba Epa headdress and an Ijo water spirit headdress that the dancer wears horizontally on his head. The images carved on the mask face the sky rather than the human audience standing on the ground. The Museum has plans to mount a special exhibition in 2010 to showcase its noteworthy collection of masks. The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., supported two major acquisitions in 2005: a cast bronze single-figure plaque that was made by a master brasscaster in the Benin kingdom in the sixteenth or seventeenth century and a large-scale brass- and copper-clad reliquary guardian figure, with back-to-back faces, from the Kota peoples of Gabon. Margaret McDermott had seen the plaque in the 1960s when she visited Edward A. Bragaline, a well-known collector of modern art, to view a painting by Picasso. The plaque was put on the market following the owner’s demise in the late 1990s but the Museum was not in a position to purchase it. Several years later, however, the plaque was again available and this time the acquisition was possible. It complements the group of bronze and ivory sculptures that was acquired in 1994. The extraordinarily large Kota Janusfaced reliquary guardian figure, which once belonged to a clan rather than a family, complements a similar and smaller single-faced guardian figure from the Schindler Collection. Textiles now have a greater presence in the African art collection with the addition of classic, and sometimes rare, examples from throughout the continent. The collection includes cloths from Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia in northern Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon in Ramona Austin, The Margaret McDermott Associate Curator of African Art; Margaret McDermott and Nancy Hamon, Benefactor Trustees; and Ann Barbier-Mueller and Cristina Barboglio Lynch; 1998.


West Africa, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa. The cloths, some of which were used as garments, were selected in collaboration with Carol Robbins, the Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Curator of the Arts of the Americas and the Pacific, and generously supported by The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., The Textile Fund, and proceeds from the African Art Acquisitions Endowment. Since 1969, the Dallas Museum of Art’s collection of African art has grown from one that focused primarily on sculpture to one that reflects the wide range of the visual arts of Africa’s ancient and traditional cultures. Ancient works like the pre-Christian era Sokoto bust exquisitely demonstrate Africa’s long history of civilization and creativity. The Museum’s collection reflects the diversity of Africa’s societies that range from highly stratified, as exemplified by the royal arts of Yoruba and Benin kingdoms, to those of the village-based Igbo and Lega. Yet, there is room to grow and gaps to fill. For example, there are few works made of gold and iron in the collection; East African and women’s art are critically underrepresented. As the Museum looks to the future, we seek to forge bonds with museums in Africa to display their protected artifacts on long-term loan and to share our resources to further their staff development. By continuing to build on the foundation of the Schindler and Stillman Collections, the African art collection and associated programs will contribute to the realization of the Museum’s mission as adopted in 2002: The Dallas Museum of Art collects, preserves, presents, and interprets works of art from diverse cultures and many centuries, including that of our own time. We champion the power of art, embracing our responsibility to engage and educate our community, to contribute to cultural knowledge, and to advance creative endeavor.

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Notes 1. Wingert 1960 2. “The Arts of Man,” Dallas Times Herald Sunday Magazine, October 7, 1962, p. 13; Kosinski 2003: no. 94 3. The Dallas Art Association was established in 1903 to support the visual arts with a goal to create a permanent institution, the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. A brief history of the Dallas Museum of Art is found on the museum’s website, 4. Lee and Lee, in Kosinski 2003: no. 17 5. Stillman, in Walker Art Center 1967: 11–12 6. Margaret McDermott to Bonnie Pitman and the author, personal communication, May 1, 2009 7. The other half of the Stillman collection went to the Museum of Primitive Art (from 1966 to 1972); the Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection in that museum was transferred to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1978. 8. Lunsford, in Kosinski 2003: no. 28 9. Julia Scott Reed, “The Open Line: African Art Put on Exhibit,” Dallas Morning News, January 21, 1970, p. 22a 10. Lunsford, in Kosinski 2003: no. 28; Lunsford 1972: 12–19, 88 11. “A Prestigious Collection,” Dallas Morning News, November 1, 1969, p. 2 12. John Neville, “Art and Artists: Congo Expert Talks of His Collection,” Dallas Morning News, October 28, 1969, p. 5; Stillman and Stillman, in Dallas Museum of Fine Arts 1969: 5–7 13. Olbrechts, who greatly influenced the study of African art, was one of the first scholars to identify the hand of an individual traditional African artist on purely stylistic grounds. For his biography, see Petridis 2001. 14. Wastiau, in Shelton 2001: 237–38 15. Louis de Strycker, personal communication, June 28, 2006 16. New Art Circle 1927 17. Dallas Museum of Fine Arts 1972 18. Janet Kutner, “Scene in Art: McDermott Gift Boosts Museum,” Dallas Morning News, September 29, 1974, p. C1 19. Schindler, in Dallas Museum of Fine Arts 1975: 7 20. Ibid. 21. Kutner, “Scene in Art”

22. “Report of the President and Director,” Dallas Museum of Fine Arts Annual Report 1981–1982, [1] 23. Brettell, in Dallas Museum of Art 1989: 8 24. Louise Cantwell to Anne Bromberg, personal communication, August 14, 1992 25. Christopher D. Roy to Jay Gates, personal communication, September 12, 1993 26. The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art Endowment Fund was established by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 1995 with additional gifts by Irvin Levy, Caren and Vin Prothro, and Deedie Rose. In 1999 Mrs. Eugene McDermott made an additional gift to name the endowment. Income is used to support the salary of a curator of African art to supervise the African collection. 27. Pelrine 1998: 76–77 28. This mask was previously identified as kponyungo. 29. Walker 2005

african art in context

fig 10  Figure of a young man from a funerary relief, Greek, Attic, c. 330 bc. Marble. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Cecil H. Green, 1966.26. fig 11  Studio of Pere Espalargucs, Altarpiece ­Section: Angels and Gabriel, second half of the 15th century. Tempera on panel. Gift of Leicester Busch Faust and Audrey Faust Wallace in memory of Anna Busch Faust and Edward A. Faust, 1939.1.1.

Tradition-based African art is often characterized as “art for life’s sake” or “art as a matter of life and death” in contrast to “art for art’s sake”—an inherited nineteenth-century Western notion that art is “self-sufficient and requires no social or religious justification.”1 Traditional African art served a purpose (and does still in some cultures) as an agent of religion, social stability, and social control. Art that has a purpose is not unique to African or other non-Western cultures but occurs in Western ones as well. Among the works of art at the Dallas Museum of Art, a Greek statue of a young man from the fourth century BC and a Spanish altarpiece from the late fifteenth century exemplify this notion. The Greek statue memorialized a male who died in the prime of life and was part of a sculptural program in an architectural shrine (fig. 10). The altarpiece was a devotional object. It was originally installed in a church behind and above the altar on which Christian religious rituals were performed (fig. 11). The works of art in the African gallery, arranged according to geographic and cultural regions, reveal the extraordinary diversity of sub-Saharan cultures and visual traditions. In this setting, viewers can focus solely on the form of an object and experience it aesthetically and emotionally. But, like the Greek statue and Spanish altarpiece, African works of art were not meant to be viewed in a museum. Rather, they were placed in shrines and on personal or communal altars, carried in public processions, and worn as regalia or in a masquerade. This publication complements the museum installation by exploring one hundred and ten objects in the collection that have both outstanding formal qualities and compelling stories. The objects are grouped under the themes of leadership and status, the cycle of life, decorative arts, and influences into and out of Africa.2 Where possible, contextual photographs are provided. Images of many objects from the African art collection, including new acquisitions, can be viewed online at www, with associated texts and technical data (provenance and exhibition and publication history) available for further research.3 But first, let us place the DMA’s African art collection in the context of African art history and offer some remarks about traditional African art and artists. The oldest extant African art, including that of ancient Egypt,4 dates from the eighth millennium BC, while that of sub-Saharan Africa, the area from which most objects in the DMA originated, dates from the first millennium BC. The oldest of these objects include stylized human and animal terracotta figures from the Nok civilization in central Nigeria5 (fig.  12), a wooden vessel with chipcarved decoration from Njoro, Kenya6 (fig. 13), a group of seven terracotta heads from Lydenburg in South Africa’s



af ric an art in c ont e xt

Mpumalanga province7 (fig. 14), and a carved wood animal head from a site east of the Cuanza River in the Liavela area of central Angola8 (fig. 15). The oldest works of art in the DMA’s collections are a terracotta male figure from the modern state of Sokoto in northwestern Nigeria that dates from between 200 BC and ad 200 and a standing female figure, from a preDogon culture in Mali, that is conservatively dated from the eleventh to thirteenth century.9 These are followed by cast copper alloy figures and a carved ivory waist pendant from the Benin kingdom that date from the sixteenth to eighteenth century. All are made of du­rable materials or, in the case of the pre-Dogon figure, survived owing to a combination of a durable material (hardwood) and the dry climate of the western Sudan. As with most African art collections, the majority of the works at the DMA were made of wood or other organic materials during the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century. Had they remained in Africa these objects would have been destroyed by the moist climate and wood-eating insects inhabiting the rain forests. The prevailing opinion maintains most extant wooden sculptures are replacements; that is, they were in use for not more than a generation or two before they were brought out of Africa. It was customary to replace ritual objects with new ones. The history of African art, like the history of Africa itself, remains a work in progress. The reconstruction of Africa’s art history, especially south of the Sahara where conventional systems of inscription are absent,10 depends upon indigenous oral traditions and early European and Arabic documents from travelers, missionaries, merchants, and colonial officers. Sources of information also include linguistics, archaeology, and scientific dating

a f r i ca n a rt i n cont ex t

fig 13  Dr. Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey and Mary Leakey found this carbonized wooden vessel, probably a drinking cup, at the Njoro River Cave in Kenya in 1938. The carved vessel is decorated with diamond shapes and dates to no later than 850 bc.

fig 12  The Nok head discovered in the Jos plateau of central Nigeria was created sometime between 500 bc and ad 200. © Werner Forman / corbis.

fig 14  This terracotta head, dating to around ad 500 is the largest and most complete of a group of seven heads found at a site in Lydenburg, South Africa. The small animal that sits atop the head may represent a lion. fig 15  Zoomorphic head, Central Angola, 8th–9th century, wood. Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium. © Royal Museum for Central Africa, pre.0.0.14796; photo: R. Asselberghs.


methods such as radiocarbon dating analysis for organic materials and thermoluminescence tests on fired clay objects. X-ray procedures, including computed axial tomography (CT or CAT scan) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), are also being used for this purpose.11 African artists also create with stone, gold, silver, and iron. Materials found in the local environment—leather, animal hair and skin, cotton, palm and other fibers, feathers, shells, seeds, and beads—were used to make objects or to embellish them. New materials and techniques introduced through foreign trade were incorporated into the design and adornment of indigenous objects. Materials such as cowrie shells from the Indian Ocean and mirrors, glass beads, brass upholstery tacks, buttons, silk, cotton, synthetic textiles, and enamel paint from Europe and Asia enhanced the appearance of locally made objects, thereby increasing their prestige value and efficacy. Individuals, not groups, make art in traditional African societies. Artists are specialists who make art that is culturally appropriate for their gender. Traditionally, men work in wood, ivory, stone, and metal, including casting copper alloys and forging iron. Men who make objects for ritual use may be initiated into a cult or association to learn its secrets. Women weave baskets and make pottery wares for domestic and ritual use and model figurative objects out of clay or other pliable materials. They also decorate the exterior of their homes and shrines.12 The roles of males and females in art making, as in other spheres of African social life, are often complementary. Among the Kuba, for ex­ample, men weave the raffia mats or panels that women decorate with appliqué, cut-pile, and embroidery. Products made by both men and women working in the same medium, such as weaving or beadworking, are destined for use in different contexts. African art is not anonymous. Traditional artists’ names do not appear with their works in museum installations and exhibition catalogues because we do not know them. The earliest collectors failed—usually for reasons of prevailing cultural and racial biases or the methods of the discipline (e.g., ethnologists study groups not individuals)—to ask, “Who made this?” There were, as recently as 1960, only a few ethnographers who inquired about the creators of the objects they collected in the field. These individuals include Frans Olbrechts, Hans and Ulrike Himmelheber,


P. J. L. Vandenhoute, Philip Allison, Father Kevin Carroll, William R. Bascom, and William Fagg.13 Since then, Warren d’Azevedo, Robert Farris Thompson, Jean Borgatti, Susan Mullin Vogel, Eberhard and Barbara Fischer, and the author have published works on individual artists.14 Talented artists became famous and were known well beyond their communities. Having said that, there are instances where an artist’s name had been forgotten or it was intentionally suppressed in favor of greater glory to the object itself.15 In the absence of an interview with the artist, scholars obtain biographical information from the indigenous oral literature (among the Yoruba, for example, this is the person’s oriki or praise song), written accounts by Europeans who encountered the artist, and photographs or written descriptions of the artist’s work in situ. Several named, tradition-based African artists represented in the Dallas Museum of Art permanent collections include the Mende artist Manowulo of Bo Town area, Baoma chiefdom, Sierra Leone; the Yoruba artists Olowe of Ise, Arowogun (Areogun) of Osi-Ilorin, Akobi Ogun Fakeye of Ila Orangun, and Oshamuko of Osi from Nigeria; and the Kota sculptor Semangoy from Gabon. Studies of traditional African artists indicate, among other things, that sculptors of wood—who may also be blacksmiths—learned their craft by apprenticing with a master sculptor to perfect their skills. An apprenticeship could last for more than fifteen years. Training entailed learning the established stylistic canon and its vocabulary. A Dan sculptor, for example, was expected to polish the surface of the mask he carved; a Mende sculptor, to depict the attributes of feminine beauty in the carved sowei (helmet mask). While conformity to the canon was essential—because to not conform could adversely affect a mask or figure’s efficacy or repel the spirit that was to embody it—innovation within the parameters of the canon was allowed. Thus, it is possible to distinguish the personal styles of Olowe of Ise, Arowogun (Areogun) of Osi-Ilorin, and other Yoruba artists. Apprentices learning to carve wood had to learn how to select wood according to the type and purpose of the commissioned object. For ex­ample, a mask or figure that was to be used in a healing ritual had to be carved from wood with specific medicinal qualities. They learned to pay respect to the vital forces believed to reside in trees and in carving tools to prevent accidents and harm to themselves. They were taught to carve with a variety of adzes, axelike tools with the blade set at an angle to the haft, and knives and to use a sandpaper-textured leaf to smooth the surface (fig. 16). Artists carving green wood learned how to prevent the dried product from cracking. They learned how to carve the entire object from the solid.16 Color had meaning and had to be applied appropriately. Before the advent of European paints, traditional artists made their pigments and sealants from plants and minerals found in the local environment. Finally, appreciating African art requires a perceptual adjustment away from the western aesthetic of measuring the human form against the yardstick of classical Greek statuary, in favor of a different cultural lens. The proportions of the classical Greco-Roman figure (see fig. 10)—with the head being one-seventh of the standing figure—typify the Western ideal. The head-to-body ratio of most African figures is usually one to three or one to four. To the uninitiated eye, the head is out of proportion to the rest of the body. From a personal perspective, the African artist emphasizes that which is important—the head, because it is the site of the major sensory organs and an individual’s essential nature and destiny; sexual organs, because

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fig 17  Michael G. Owen Jr., Leadbelly, 1943. Black ser­ pentine. Mr. and Mrs. Tom Gooch Fund Purchase Prize, Twelfth Annual Texas Painting and Sculpture, 1950–1951, 1950.91.

fig 16  The traditional carving implements of the Yoruba artist Hasan Makinde, Abeokuta, Nigeria, 1972.


they are essential for reproduction; and the navel and breasts, because they provide nourishment. Hands and feet are sometimes accentuated because they are active and provide stability. Ideal beauty and the height of virility or fertility (ephebism) rather than “the warts and all” realism are depicted regardless of the age or anatomy of the male or female sitter who may have served as a model for the spirit that is embodied by a mask or figure. The human form may be highly stylized, as exemplified by the minimalist Boma standing figure (see fig. 4), or naturalistic, like the Luba female figure (see p. 137). Almost invariably, the facial expression on African sculptures is calm. Consider, for ex­ample, the American sculptor Michael G. Owen’s portrait of Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter (1888–1946) that depicts the sixty-one-year-old musician’s plump face with deep creases (fig. 17). If Leadbelly had been a Hemba sculptor’s subject, his portrait might have looked like the Dallas ancestor figure (p. 213). An elder’s beard is the only indication of age on the otherwise unlined, youthful face of a physically fit male. Exceptions to portraying ideal beauty are masks and figures that represent diseases and malevolent spirits. The


classical sculptures from ancient Ife, Tada, and Owo, Nigeria (all of which are dated between the twelfth and fifteenth century), which are realized in a naturalistic style, are exceptions to this general rule. In compositions that include more than one individual, artists use “social perspective” to identify the most important person in a group. That personage is depicted larger than others and is placed at the center of the composition. These facts and observations can serve as a rudimentary frame, or context, for the study and appreciation of African art. Although the objects pictured and discussed in this book share many cultural points of reference, each also, of course, stands on its own and transcends time and space. According to the Yoruba peoples of Nigeria, Oduduwa the Supreme Being created the world at Ile-Ife, an ancient town that is their spiritual capital. Consequently, visitors, regardless of their national origin, receive a hearty “Welcome home.” Other African traditions make the same claim. Perhaps they knew all along what archeological investigations have revealed—that Africa is the cradle of humankind. This book thus serves to acquaint us with the visual arts of our ultimate motherland, Africa, which has made a great contribution to the world’s cultural heritage.

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Notes 1. Roy 1984; Elsen 1972: 18–38 2. The format for this collection catalogue was inspired by African Art in the Cycle of Life, a publication and an inaugural exhibition written and curated by the author and Roy Sieber (1923–2001) for the National Museum of African Art, Smith­ sonian Institution, in 1987. 3. A project is under way to provide the technical data for all Museum objects online. 4. Ancient Egypt is recognized as an African civilization that shares cultural traits, such as the practice of divine kingship, ancestor worship, and circumcision, with sub-Saharan cultures. Part of the Ancient Mediterranean Civilizations collection, the DMA’s ancient Egyptian art is currently located in a gallery adjacent to the sub-Saharan African gallery. 5. Grunne 1998; Fagg 1990 6. Leakey and Leakey 1950 7. Davison, in T. Phillips 1995: 194–95; Maggs and Davison 1981: 28–33, 88 8. Maret, in T. Phillips 1995: 240; Van Noten 1972: 133–36 9. The wood from the figure was tested in the Physics and Atmospheric Sciences Department, University of Arizona, in 1998. The radiocarbon age is 825≠40 years before present (“before 1950 ad”) and the calibrated age range is ad 1063–1269. 10. Visonà et al. 2007; T. Phillips 1995; Turner 1996: vol. 1, 213–440; Vansina 1984; Kreamer et al. 2007 11. For further reading, see Tull 1998: 30–38; Ghysels 2003: 116–31; and Rasmussen 2008: 19–32 12. Herreman 2003; Barley 1994; Sieber 1972; Sieber 1980; Carey, in Sciama 1998: 83–93 13. As he guided Clark and Frances Stillman in building their collection of central African sculpture, Frans Olbrechts identified the distinctive hand of an anonymous artist and named him the Buli Master. See Olbrechts 1946; Petridis 2001; and Vogel 1980: 133–42. For information about other ethnographers who inquired about the artists, see Vandenhoute 1948; Carroll 1967: 70–123 (pp. 71–72 and 79–89 for information specific to Arowogun [Areogun] of Osi-Ilorin); Bascom, in D’Azevedo 1973: 62–78; Allison 1944: 49–50 (focus on Olowe of Ise). 14. D’Azevedo 1973: 282–340; Thompson, in Biebuyck 1969: 120–81; Fischer and Himmelheber 1984; Fischer et al. 1993 (focus on the Guro sculptor Boti from Côte d’Ivoire, who was interviewed and documented in 1975); Borgatti 1979; Vogel 1999: 49–55; Pemberton in Abiodun, Drewal, and Pemberton 1994: 100–101; Walker 1998 15. Vogel 1999: 40–55, 93–94 16. Willett 1978: 28–33, 96 (focus on the Yoruba sculptor Lamidi Olonade Fakeye)

chapter 1

icons and symbols of leadership and status

Governance in pre-colonial sub-Saharan societies was either centralized or decentralized. Centralized societies, such as the Yoruba and Edo in West Africa and the Chokwe and Kuba in Central Africa, were ruled by kings and chiefs who presided over complex political structures. These paramount rulers were considered political leaders as well as religious personages endowed with extraordinary powers and authority. As living representatives of the creator-god, they were responsible for the well-being and welfare of their peoples. Leadership in decentralized societies, like those of the Lega of Central Africa, was vested in an association or council of elders. The authority of those in positions of leadership—whether held by a paramount king or an association of elders—was reflected in their surroundings, their attire, and the ornamentation of their personal possessions and symbols of office. Art was used to identify and glorify their elevated status. It was more elaborate, more complex, monumental. It was made of durable materials, such as hardwood, ivory, and metal. It was decorated with rare or imported materials, such as cowrie shells, glass, and porcelain. Often, it was labor intensive, requiring many hours of craftsmanship. These attributes confirmed one’s political position or status in society and help scholars determine an object’s purpose and, perhaps, its owner.



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Male figure Nigeria, Sokoto State c. 200 bc to ad 200 Terracotta 19¼ × 9 × 8 in. (48.90 × 22.86 × 20.32 cm) The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 1994.195.McD

This sculpture depicts a political ruler, a religious leader, or a person of high social rank. Although his precise identity is not known, his features offer some clues. His beard is a timeless and conventional masculine symbol of advanced age and wisdom; the incised lines around his neck probably represent a coiled necklace with pendants or rings of fat; and the staff, scepter, weapon, or adze slung over his shoulder is a symbol of power and leadership. The Museum’s hollow figure is stylistically similar to terracotta sculptures that have been unearthed in Sokoto State in the northwestern corner of Nigeria. A carefully modeled hairstyle and elaborate beard frame his face; heavy, down-turned eyelids conceal his pierced eyes; incised lines form eyelashes; and his mouth is opened slightly. Textured patterns under his eyes further emphasize them. These features combine to give the figure a severe expression. His disproportionately large navel, indicative of a herniated navel, is common in the sculptures of sub-Saharan cultures. Dating Sokoto sculpture is problematic. Unlike the terracottas dating from 500 to 200 BC excavated in Nok, a village near the confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers, the Sokoto figures have not, until recently, been documented in situ. The few examples that have been analyzed by thermo­luminescence yield dates as early as 200 bc to AD 200.1 This male bust is the oldest work of art from sub-Saharan Africa in the Museum’s permanent collection.


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Standing female figure Mali, pre-Dogon culture, Djennenke / Soninke 11th to 13th century Wood and oil 383/* × 65/!6 × 611/!6 in. (94.47 × 16.03 × 17.03 cm) The Gustave and Franyo Schindler Collection of African Sculpture, gift of the McDermott Foundation in honor of Eugene McDermott, 1974.SC.1

The durable hardwood used to carve this figure indicates the tall, slender female was someone of importance or status. Sculpted with naturalistic proportions and raised dot scarification on her temples, she is elaborately clothed in an apron rather than nude, adorned with beaded necklaces, and posed standing rather than kneeling as a supplicant. She carries neither a pestle nor a water jug, conventional symbols of a woman’s domestic role. Instead, her hands appear to frame her rounded abdomen, perhaps an indication of pregnancy. These attributes suggest the figure represents a female ancestor who in life was responsible for protecting her lineage.2 Radiocarbon dating analysis has dated the sculpture, attributed to the Djennenke, a pre-Dogon people of Mali, to between the eleventh and thirteenth century AD.3 Its history is related to the glorious Wagadu (also called Ghana), Mali, and Songhai (also called Gao) empires, which flourished from the eighth to the sixteenth century AD and declined because of drought or conquest. “Pagan” villagers, choosing to preserve their cultural traditions and resist conversion to Islam, migrated south (toward ­present-day Senegal) and east (toward present-day Mali) to escape equestrian invaders from the north. Peoples known today as the Dogon, and who probably had multiple origins, settled on the nearly inaccessible Bandiagara cliffs, safe from Muslim invasions. Some came from the Inland Niger Delta region, once an area of highly developed commercial centers, and settled in Jenne (also called Jenne-Jeno or Old Jenne), where large terracotta sculptures dating from the thirteenth to sixteenth century were unearthed in the mid­twentieth century. Depicting mounted warriors and maternity figures among other subjects, the terracottas are distinguished by distinctive bulging eyes, ovoid heads, dotlike scarification at the temples, elaborate dress, and naturalistic proportions. Similar figures carved from wood have been discovered in caves on the Bandiagara plateau, some ninety miles from the Inland Niger Delta. Because the terracotta and wooden figures are similar in form, scarification, dress, and adornment and have comparable dates, a connection likely exists between the two. The wooden sculptures are attributed to either the Djennenke peoples or the Kagoro clan of the Soninke.4 This statue is the oldest wooden sculpture in the collection from south of the Sahara. Its lustrous surface, the result of innumerable anointments with oil, continues to exude oil, suggesting it may have remained in use until the mid-twentieth century.


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Plaque with single figure Nigeria, Benin kingdom court style, Benin City, Edo peoples 16th to 17th century Copper alloy (brass or bronze) 18 × 14½ × 3 in. (45.72 × 36.83 × 7.62 cm) The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 2005.38.McD

This plaque of a high-ranking warrior chief is one of three works of art owned by the Dallas Museum of Art from the powerful Benin kingdom. Located inland from the Niger River Delta in present-day Nigeria, the African kingdom was founded in the tenth century and reached its height during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Benin art, made to glorify the reigning and ancestral kings (oba), served as both a sign of status and record of court life. Many ­seventeenth-century visitors described seeing plaques engraved with pictures on their travels. One Dutch account, published in 1668 by Olfert Dapper (fig. 19), referred to the plaques in a description of the palace complex: The king’s court is square . . . and is certainly as large as the town of Haarlem, and entirely surrounded by a special wall, like that which encircles the town. It is divided into many palaces, houses, and apartments of the courtiers, and comprises beautiful and long square galleries, about as large as the Exchange at Amsterdam, but one larger than another, resting on wooden pillars, from top to bottom covered with cast copper, on which are engraved the pictures of their war exploits and battles, and are kept very clean.5

fig 18  A bronze plaque cast in Benin depicts an entrance to the royal palace. In this bronze repre­sentation, plaques are depicted around doorways and affixed to columns that support the palace. State ­Museums, Ethnological Museum, Berlin.

A casting in Berlin provides further evidence of the plaques (fig. 18). Accounts of the plaques’ existence all but disappeared in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, only to resurface in 1897 following the British Punitive Expedition. The warrior chief on the Dallas plaque is dressed in formal military attire—consisting of a shirt and a layered, leopard skin wrapper or kilt—an elaborate hat decorated with horsehair, a coral beaded choker, a leopard tooth necklace, and a bell for signaling his position on the battlefield. He carries a knife under his left arm and a sword in his right hand. The foliate background is thought to represent healing river leaves, and the rosettes cast in relief are thought to symbolize an Edo belief that the sun made a daily voyage from the sky into the sea and back again—the source of Benin wealth transported in the ships. Edo metalsmiths were casting brass before the late fifteenth century when the Portuguese, the first European visitors to the area, arrived bringing copper, a material valued by the Bini. The Portuguese explorer Duarte Pacheco Pereira noted in the 1490s that the Kingdom of Beny [sic] “is about eighty leagues long and forty wide; it is usually at war with its neighbors and takes captives, whom we buy at twelve or fifteen brass bracelets each, or for copper bracelets, which they prize more.”6 The brasscasters’ guild melted down the copper bracelets and over time cast plaques, equestrian figures and other statuary, portrait heads of rulers, pitchers in the form of leopards, boxes, and game boards. The demise of the powerful and glorious Benin kingdom came in 1897 following the British Punitive Expedition, a war waged in retaliation for


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the massacre of British soldiers in 1896, and the exile of the reigning king Oloranmwen. The Edo throne was restored in 1914, but without its former power. (Today, Oba Erediauwa reigns as a member of one of the oldest extant dynasties in the world.) The British government took Benin’s royal treasures as war booty, reserving some of the castings and carvings for the British Museum’s collection and selling some to defray the cost of the war and provide compensation for survivors of the fallen soldiers. The Dallas plaque is marked with the British Museum’s inventory number 98.1‑15.100. It originally bore the number 298 in white, which was the Foreign Office number and dates from the plaque’s arrival in England in 1898. The plaque was one of several works the British Museum sold periodically, from 1950 to 1970, to raise funds to establish a national museum in Lagos.

fig 19  The City of Benin. Engraving, 1668. The oba is shown in the foreground on horseback ­surrounded by dancers, dwarves, and animals. His palace is in the background.


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Waist pendant Nigeria, Benin kingdom court style, Benin City, Edo peoples 18th century Ivory 8 × 4¾ × 2½ in. (20.32 × 12.07 × 6.35 cm) The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 1994.201.McD

The central figure on this rare carved ivory pendant is distinguished by his placement, his slightly larger size and the large bead at the center of his chest. He is the hereditary king, or oba, of Benin and wears the bead of ­kingship—an imported red coral, jasper, or agate bead. This bead, a significant emblem of his rank, and the textured bars on the figure’s helmet and collar represent the oba’s netted red coral and agate garment. Panels on either side of his tunic are shaped like mudfish with filaments hanging from their mouths. Around his waist, three pendants with heads of Portuguese soldiers or officials demonstrate how the pendant was worn. (Fig. 20 shows an oba wearing the symbols of office.) The oba, legs adorned with coral beads, stands on a human head with mudfish issuing from its nostrils. Two high priests, Osa and Osuan, each wearing a waist pendant depicting crocodiles and standing on a frog, flank the oba. These priests, as well as other court officials or sons of the oba, traditionally support the oba during his coronation and ceremonies of importance.7 This grouping of the triad recalls an eyewitness account of Oba Overami’s appearance when he surrendered to the British on August 5, 1897: “He was supported in the usual way by chosen men holding him up by each arm.”8 The pendant’s rich and complex iconography can be interpreted from Edo oral tradition, recorded history in European sources, and kingship practice that endures today. The gesture of support, for example, is not meant to suggest the king is infirm, but symbolizes the delicate balance that must be maintained between the oba’s authority and the Edo ­peoples’ willingness to submit to his authority. The mudfish and the frogs are associated with the realm of Olokun, the god of wealth and all waters (streams, rivers, seas, oceans, and the divine) and a source of the oba’s supernatural powers. The initial source of Benin’s great wealth came from the sea: the first group of Portuguese explorers and traders must have seemed to emerge from Olokun’s realm. An ancient belief asserts the oba’s legs were so heavily charged that damp soil would lose fertility if touched by his feet. Thus, the oba’s power is also manifested in his legs and feet, which are sometimes depicted as mudfish in art. Mudfish are liminal creatures that can survive on land as well as in water. While some varieties are benign and considered a delicacy, and therefore symbolize feasting and prosperity, others are dangerous and can electrocute their adversaries. Benin artists do not differentiate the various types of mudfish in visual art. Frogs are considered mysterious creatures because they seem to change species from tadpole to frog. These creatures present a paradox like the oba, who commands and must keep two worlds, that of the sea and the land, in harmony. The Emobo ceremony, an extant kingship ritual that commemorates the establishment of Benin as the capital of the kingdom, requires an oba to wear waist pendants.9 According to oral tradition, Esigie, a sixteenthcentury prince and founder of the present dynasty, competed with his


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half-brother Arhuanran, who ruled the province of Udo and was heir apparent to the throne. After the death of their father, Esigie challenged Arhuanran’s ascent. He succeeded with the help of Edo chiefs, Portuguese allies, and most importantly, his mother Idia. Defeated, Arhuanran cursed the bead of kingship. Oba Esigie subsequently went insane when he wore the bead. The story, however, has a happy ending: Idia used her incredible spiritual powers to break the curse and thereby restore her son’s sanity. Today he is considered one of Benin’s most successful rulers. The Emobo ceremony also expels negative spirits from the capital city. According to some accounts, those negative spirits have been sent to Udo. This rare ivory pendant is one of five that were taken by Private William Kelland of the British Royal Marines as souvenirs of the British Punitive Expedition in 1897.10 The other pendant plaques are in the collections of the Buffalo Museum of Science, the Nigerian National Museum, Lagos, and the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.

fig 20  The full regalia of Oba Akenzua II (1933–1978) includes several carved ivory plaques worn at his waist. Benin, Nigeria, 1964.


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Figure of a town chief (iyase) Nigeria, Benin kingdom court style, Udo ­Village, Edo peoples 16th century Copper alloy 19¼ × 6 × 5 in. (48.90 × 15.24 × 12.7 cm) The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 1994.196.McD

In the sixteenth century, following the death of his father Oba Ozolua, Prince Esigie of Benin City challenged his half-brother Prince Arhuanran, “a man of giant stature” and ruler of Udo, over the leadership of the Benin kingdom and its center.11 Esigie defeated Arhuanran in the fierce battle of Okuo-Ukpoba or Battle of Blood to become the oba of the kingdom and its capital Benin City. Since then, the Oba of Benin has appointed town chiefs (iyase) to rule Udo.12 This figure represents the Iyase of Udo. The Oba of Benin determined the iyase’s prerogatives and regalia, establishing the oba’s power and authority over Edo and non-Edo ­vassals.13 The iyase wears a helmet, a necklace of leopard teeth around the lower edge of the high-beaded collar (odigba) that identifies titleholders, a single band of beads across his naked and scarified torso, a wrapper or kilt made of pangolin skin, and a belt decorated with serpentine pendants. A mask depicting a leopard head is attached to the belt at his hip. In Benin, headwear is an important indicator of identity and status and distinguishes Benin town chiefs from other vassals. The helmet, shaped like an inverted tulip and surmounted by a spool-shaped minia­ture replica of a special type of container, is decorated with vertical bands of slithering snakes and beads cast in relief. Real containers (ekpokin) held sacrificial offerings, ceremonial gifts for the Oba of Benin, or an herbalist’s secret materials and implements used to heal soldiers on the battlefield.14 Leopard imagery occurs frequently in Benin art. Admired for its effectiveness as a predator, its handsome markings, and its qualities of restraint and moderation, the leopard is an appropriate symbol for the oba. Although the leopard is seen as the Lord of the Forest and the oba, the Lord of the Town, they were not equals. The oba, by his exclusive right to have leopards slain as sacrificial offerings, had ultimate power over the leopard. He kept tamed leopards in the palace and paraded with them during annual processions. Some bronze plaques show the oba twirling leopards by their tails. War chiefs wore cast bronze leopard masks on their left hips to signify that, as the oba’s representatives, they were authorized to take human life, a divinely sanctioned and exclusive power of the king. Leopard head masks and teeth also protected their wearers from danger. War captains and town chiefs have worn wrappers or kilts made of pangolin skins since the sixteenth century. Because the pangolin, an ­anteater-like animal with scaly skin, has the ability to curl up and become invulnerable when in danger, it is an appropriate metaphor for the traditional tensions that exist between the Oba of Benin and the town chiefs and some vassals (i.e., men who were self-made rather than heirs to political power). Thus, the expression “the pangolin is the only animal the leopard cannot kill” is apropos.15 Serpents, regarded as liminal creatures, are at home both in the water and on land. In Benin art they represent Olokun, the god of all waters and wealth, and serve as the messenger between the realm of the waters and


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the land—that is, Olokun and the Oba of Benin. In addition to their appearance on chiefly regalia, cast bronze pythons (see fig. 18) were hung from the gables of the palace roof for protection and as links between the sky and the earth. This figure is one of several sculptures—memorial heads, figures of Portuguese soldiers, and standing male figures like this one—that are believed to have been cast in Udo during the sixteenth century.16 Edo oral traditions regarding their origin vary. According to one tradition, Benin brasscasters were forced to reside and work in Udo during the war between Esigie and Arhuanran while another asserts that the brasscasters temporarily resided in Udo during their annual visit from Ile-Ife, the ancient capital of the Yoruba kingdom and center of casting brass since the twelfth century.17 In these oral traditions the brass­casters are members of the royal guild at Benin. The distinctly provincial character of the Udo sculptures suggests that their makers were not royal guild members from Benin. Their style may be explained by yet another oral tradition: after defeating Arhuanran, Esigie allowed his half-brother to rule at Udo where the institutions parallel to those at the capital, including a brasscasters guild, were established. A peculiar feature of these castings, including the Dallas figure, is an unexplained opening in their backs (see rear view, opposite). The Dallas figure is also missing a ceremonial sword (eben) from its right hand.18


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Ring depicting ritual sacrifice Nigeria, Yoruba peoples c. 18th century Cast copper alloy 2¾ × 9 in. diam. (6.99 × 22.86 cm) African Art Collection Fund, 2005.14

When a new king of a Yoruba satellite kingdom was installed, the paramount Yoruba king, the Oni of Ife, had to be assured that all the prescribed kingship rituals had been performed and that he had the new ­ruler’s allegiance. Some scholars think the transfer of rule in these instances was officially recorded on a wreathlike ring.19 Eleven cast copper alloy rings, including the Dallas Museum of Art example, were unearthed at Ife and depict with realistic detail a scene with two or more bound and decapitated human bodies lying on their stomachs with their severed, and sometimes gagged, heads nearby. Each ring shows a human figure dressed in full regalia, at least one vulture pecking at a head or body, a crocodile and/ or tortoise and a hairpinlike form on the outer edge. All of the rings demonstrate a sophisticated artistry and complete mastery of  the lost-wax casting technique. The figures depicted in the horrific scene on the rings can be identified and interpreted by referencing Yoruba oral traditions, religious beliefs, and kingship rituals. The bound and decapitated bodies are sacrificial victims. In the distant past, the Yoruba practiced human sacrifice during occasions of grave importance to the entire community such as the installation of a new king or the outbreak of a pandemic disease. “It was better to sacrifice one life for the good of the community than for all to perish” asserts Yoruba religious belief.20 Vultures, scavenger birds that feed on dead things, are positive images in Yoruba art because they are believed to be divine messengers. Their presence indicates the deities (orisha) accepted the sacrificial offering. The precise function of the upright vessel, which is found on only two of the rings, is uncertain. Ajapa, the cunning tortoise who tried to prevent death from entering the world, is placed above the crowned figure on the side of the ring (see detail, p. 58). Tortoises were sacrificed to Ogun, the god of iron, who protected anyone working with metal, including sculptors, hunters, and executioners. The predominant figure placed parallel to the surface of the ring is meant to be viewed as a live, standing figure. He wears a conical crown and a long wrapper with a textured pattern and is adorned with chest baldrics, armlets, wristlets, and anklets. The scarification of opposed crescents on the figure’s forehead is a pattern found on Oshugbo society emblems from the ancient Yoruba kingdom of Ijebu. The pinlike forms, a simplified rendering of an edan—a cast brass male and female pair joined by a chain—near the crowned figure’s elbow are also symbols of Oshugbo. The society of male and female elders responsible for the selection, installation, and burial of kings was also known as Ogboni. The conical forms above the crossed baldrics may be either feminine breasts or masculine pectorals. The right hand holds a staff or scepter. The larger left one rests just above the waist. A dimpled seedpod rests between the figure’s feet. Who does this figure represent? The conical crown, elaborate dress, and


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adornments suggest a person of high rank. The forehead scarification suggests it is a male or female member of Oshugbo, or the king’s female representative to this society. Scholars interpret a scene of ritual sacrifice and acceptance of the sacrificial offering, Oshugbo emblems, and an aristocratic personage as a record of a very important event—such as the rituals performed during the installation of a new king. The ring would have been sent to the Oni of Ife as proof that the prescribed rituals had been accomplished. The Dallas Museum of Art’s ring was probably made at Ijebu, as indicated by the emblems on the principal figure’s forehead. Dating is problematic, but it has been suggested that all of the rings in the corpus were made after the twelfth century AD because the type of crown depicted on this figure is not found in any works from Ife’s Classical period, when the cast bronze heads were made.


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Royal crown (ade) Nigeria, Yoruba peoples Late 19th to early 20th century Glass beads, cloth, basketry, and fiber 34½ × 9 in. diam. (87.63 × 22.86 cm) Gift of David T. Owsley via the Alvin and Lucy Owsley Foundation, 2008.39.A–B

fig 21  Oba William Adetona Ayeni wears the Yoruba beaded crown with beaded veil, O ­ rangun-Ila, Ila-Orangun, Nigeria, 1977.

A beaded crown with frontal faces, birds, and a beaded fringe veil is a Yoruba king’s most important regalia. It is simultaneously a symbol of the king’s semi-divine status and the mythic origins of Yoruba royalty. According to oral tradition, Oduduwa was the founder and first king (oba) of the Yoruba peoples. He wore the first crown, which was created by Olokun, the god of the sea and inventor and “owner” of the beads. When Oduduwa became old, he sent his sixteen sons out into the world to found their own kingdoms. Only those rulers who can trace their ancestry to Oduduwa are privileged to wear the beaded crown.21 A beaded crown is typically conical in form and decorated with frontal faces, interlaces, zigzags, and one or more birds at the apex of the crown and, optionally, along the sides. Each of these motifs is symbolic of Yoruba divine kingship. The faces might represent Oduduwa, Olokun, or the father of the oba’s lineage. The white face of the Dallas crown makes this association more apparent because white refers to the afterlife. The interlace pattern that appears above the face is associated with royalty and symbolizes eternity. The pattern of interlocking curves is never-­ending like the oba’s lineage. The bird or birds perched on the pinnacle of the crown symbolizes the oba’s access to the sacred. The royal bird (okin) represents communication with the gods through flight; they connect the sky and earth. The beaded veil, which conceals the oba’s face, allows him to act on behalf of the gods and ancestors whose symbolic forms decorate the crown (fig. 21). Essentially a mask, the crown allows the ruler’s subjects to focus on only the headdress and the beliefs it represents. Beaded crowns are made by highly skilled artists from the major beadworking centers of Effon-Alaiye, Ile-Ife, Oyo, Ilesha, Abeokuta, and Iperu-Remo. The crown begins as a conical framework of palm ribs covered with four layers of white cloth glued together with cornstarch. The three-­dimensional forms and raised surfaces, such as the faces on this crown, are built up with additional cloth and cornstarch. Strands of tiny European beads are sewn onto the cloth in the desired patterns. The earliest crowns were decorated with African red jasper. Today, the beads are usually plastic. Older examples like this one incorporate glass beads, which are desirable because they are translucent and allow the colorful patterns to become infused with light, adding to the depth of the overall design.


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Symbol of the inner head (ibori) Nigeria, Yoruba peoples Late 19th to early 20th century Glass beads, cowrie shells, and leather 6½ × 3¼ in. diam. (16.51 × 8.26 cm) African Collection Fund, 2005.102


House of the head (ile ori) Nigeria, Yoruba peoples Late 19th to early 20th century Leather, cowrie shells, glass beads, cloth, and metal 21 × 12 in. diam. (53.34 × 30.48 cm) African Collection Fund, 2005.13

Most African sculptures of human figures seem all wrong to Western eyes accustomed to the proportions of classical Greek statuary. The head, for instance, is out of proportion to the rest of the body. Ere ibeji, or twin figures, exemplify the Yoruba concept of how body parts relate to one another: the head (ori) being one-third to one-fourth of a standing figure in contrast to the head being one-seventh of a Greek standing figure. Yoruba artists, like artists in many other African cultures, emphasize that which is important in a composition. The Yoruba believe the ori, the site of the major sensory organs and the brain, is the seat of one’s essential nature and destiny.22 For this reason the head must be treated as a spiritual entity, like a divinity. Thus, an “oversized” head makes perfect sense. According to the Yoruba version of the Creation, humans are created by the deities Obatala, who models the body in clay, and Olorun, who blows vital force into it. The head, however, is made by Ajala, a potter who does not always make perfect heads. An individual can counteract Ajala’s incompetence by making periodic sacrifices to his or her ibori, a physical symbol of one’s essential nature and spiritual life (sometimes referred to as the “inner head”). The ibori, which is housed in ile ori or “house of the head,” also serves as a container as it is packed with “ingredients associated with one’s ancestors, gods, and the restrictions or taboos (ewo) one must abide by.”23 The importance of one’s destiny motivates an individual to invest in the largest and most elaborately decorated ibori and ile ori possible. The owner of the Dallas ibori and ile ori was undoubtedly a person of means. Imported European glass seed beads and Maldive Islands cowrie shells were expensive to obtain and were valued as currency before the introduction of coins and paper money. The imagery on and shape of the ile ori also reveal information about its original owner, who was probably a Yoruba king. Bird imagery commonly appears on royal crowns and refers to the procreative powers of women who assure continuity of the lineage. Its shape also replicates the cone-shaped royal crown. Upon the death of the owner, both the ibori and ile ori are usually dismantled and the beads and cowries are scattered on the deceased’s grave or spent by the survivors.

CAT. 8

CAT. 9


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Four-faced half figure (Sakimatwematwe) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lega peoples Late 19th to mid-20th century Wood and kaolin 125/* × 59/!6 × 55/* in. (32.07 × 14.12 × 14.13 cm) The Gustave and Franyo Schindler Collection of African Sculpture, gift of the McDermott Foundation in honor of Eugene McDermott, 1974.SC.49

In contrast to the Edo peoples, the Lega do not have a centralized political system. Instead, leadership and governance are vested in Bwami, a graded association open to both men and women that teaches values of moderation, nonviolence, kinship, respect, constraint and moral as well as physical beauty. It was also the major channel for prestige and the sole motivation for the visual arts.24 Not all members reach the highest grades of Bwami. The few that do become the moral and philosophical elite and are entitled to possess particular emblems appropriate to their status. These emblems, which are accumulated over time, include carved wood or ivory sculptures that illustrate proverbs or aphorisms about moral perfection.25 The multiheaded figure known as Sakimatwematwe, or “many heads,” illustrates the proverb “Sakimatwematwe has seen an elephant on the other side of the large river” and teaches Bwami members to be openminded, wise, and fair. This meaning applies to any multiheaded figure. The Museum’s example has a meaningful form that stops not at the base of the neck but becomes a stool with legs bending outward at an angle. Among the Lega, only high-ranking individuals possess stools in the Bwami society. Explanations of such figures demonstrate the complex teachings of the Bwami society and the layered meanings of its sculptures. The aphorism refers to the cylindrical base of the seat and base. The seat and base are referred to here as two opposing heads, a theme frequently represented on anthropomorphic figurines. Many-Heads is a symbol of the wisdom, perspicacity, and equitableness of the kindi (one of the highest grades in Bwami). Everybody can achieve status and self expression through Bwami: “Every chair has an open space; every mulega [member of the Lega] is [a potential] wabume [one who has virility and manhood, poise and character, and status; one who is fully human].” The statement, “The chair was very bad; bukenga leaves have made me shine around the eyes,” bears on the beautiful gloss obtained by sanding the chair with lubenga leaves and by oiling it. The reference is to a man whose goodness or whose kanyamwa wife (both represented by the lubenga leaf) have brought him fame. An uninitiated person is in darkness; bwami brings light and gives greatness (shine) to people. The typical bend in the legs of the chair is reminiscent of death: “The branch of the nkungu tree: the bending is the reason why it dies.” The aphorism refers not merely to knees bent by old age, but to the use of a bent branch of the tree to tear off the head of the decomposing corpse.26


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Mask (lukwakongo) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lega peoples Late 19th to mid-20th century Wood, raffia, and pigment 6 7/* × 5¼ × 2¼ in. (17.46 × 13.33 × 5.72 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 1971.6.McD

fig 22  Lega masks are displayed on a special fence surrounding a large wooden mask during the lutumbo lwa kindi rite. Democratic Republic of the Congo, c. 1952.

The small, bearded lukwakongo mask is the insignia of the Bwami subgroup yananio, the last grade before reaching the pinnacle in the association. Representing the ideal Lega man, it is not only an object of transformation or concealment like a conventional face mask. It may be worn on other parts of the body, simply held in one’s hands or displayed on the ground, a mat, or a fence (fig. 22). Lukwakongo literally means “death gathers in,” a reference to the portrayal and importance of the ancestors.27 As Bwami members successfully complete a level or grade, they participate in the lutumbo lwa kindi rite, receiving grade-related masks that had belonged to other members who had reached the same grade. Before the presentation, the mask is placed on an ancestral grave to express continuity of Bwami leadership from the past to the present.


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Crown Côte d’Ivoire, Baule peoples c. 1920 Wood, gold leaf, and textile 5¾ × 9¼ × 7¾ in. (14.61 × 23.50 × 19.69 cm) African Art Collection Fund, 2007.34.3

fig 23  Kyaman chiefs and notables, Anna village, Côte d’Ivoire, 1972.

The Baule are essentially an egalitarian people who live in independent villages and vest authority in the “notables.” These dignitaries lead a cluster of villages and distinguish themselves with fine handwoven cloth and gold regalia, including crowns, jewelry, handheld objects, flywhisks, and footwear (fig. 23). The regalia may be made of pure gold or wood covered with gold leaf. Crowns take the form of a pillbox or narrow headband. The notables’ crowns are made of imported velvet and decorated with small figurative or geometric wooden plaques covered with gold leaf. The rectangular plaques may represent the gold beads found on prestige necklaces. Called srala (bamboo door), the shape replicates the bamboo screen that is hung at the entrance to a bedroom in traditional village houses. As a screen “sees” both inside and outside the bedroom, a notable must know all that is happening within his village and beyond.28 An animal carved in full relief typically sits atop a crown. This pillbox crown is topped with an elephant, a fitting metaphor for political leadership.


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Elephant mask (mbap mteng) Cameroon, Bamileke peoples 1920–1930 Palm leaf fiber textile, cotton textile, glass beads, and palm leaf ribs 58 × 26 × 6½ in. (147.32 × 66.04 × 16.51 cm) Textile Purchase Fund, 1991.54.1


Hat for elephant mask Cameroon, Bamileke peoples Mid-20th century Basketry, wood, feathers, and cotton textile 9¾ × 32 in. diam. (24.77 × 81.28 cm) Textile Purchase Fund, 1991.54.2

fig 24  Members of the elephant society, wearing beaded elephant masks and feathered headdresses, pose for a French missionary photographer in the market place of Bandjoun, Cameroon, 1930.

The Bamileke peoples believe the king (fon) is the representative of the Supreme Being and the ancestors and has supernatural as well as religious and political powers. The fon, however, does not control human behavior. Secret associations acting on behalf of the king establish and enforce social order. One such association is the Kuosi (or Kwosi), which began as a warrior’s or regulatory society and evolved into one composed of wealthy titled men. Kuosi members serve not only as the fon’s emissaries, but as the protectors of kingship and as such remind the fon that he is not above reproach. Wearing a beaded cloth mask with elephantine features, Kuosi members perform the elephant dance (tso) in public on ritual occasions, major festivals, and funerals. Sometimes the fon appears as one of the masked dancers (fig. 24). The Kuosi masquerade has been described as “the most spectacular and prestigious Bamileke ritual performance.”29 The beaded mask (mbap mteng) is worn with an indigo-dyed cloth (ndop) decorated with colobus monkey fur and a leopard pelt and may be worn with a headdress of red feathers from the tail of an African gray parrot. Long panels hanging down the front and the back of the tight-fitting hood represent the elephant’s trunk. Stiff, large circular ears are attached to either side of the hood and flap when the dancer moves. The facial features, which are humanlike, are made of padded cloth so they project from the cloth background.

CAT. 13A


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Royal symbols lavishly beaded on the mbap mteng include an iron ­double-gong, a frog (symbol of fertility), a spider (emblem of the earth into which the ancestors are interred), a toad, lizard, crocodile, and serpent. These depictions, which may be naturalistic, schematic, or abstract, may all appear in the same composition. One theory for this occurrence is that the naturalistic designs are reduced until they become triangles, which are further transformed into the lozenges, circles, and squares.30 While all mbap mteng conform to the basic form described, the arrangement of the beaded icons varies from mask to mask. The Dallas Museum of Art’s mask is distinguished by dissimilar patterns on the ears and by the lavish application of beads, including the reddish tubular ones at the back of the hood. The earliest masks, which date from the nineteenth century, are characterized by a conservative use of beads (mostly black, blue, and white) that were imported in limited quantities from Venice and Czechoslovakia. Because beads were used as currency—and therefore a symbol of wealth—the mbap mteng also means “a thing of money.” Imported beads were more plentiful and more colorful after World War I. Beads of various colors distinguish the Museum’s mask, suggesting a date of between 1920 and 1930 for its creation.31 The gray parrot’s red tail feathers are as precious and significant as the expensive imported beads. Gray parrots produce few tail feathers; to have a headdress made of so many feathers is impressive. Rarity aside, the selection of this bird probably has much to do with its superior intelligence, which is an attribute of great leaders. On a practical note, the feather headdress is collapsible.

CAT. 13B


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Tiered hat with brass discs (botolo) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ekonda peoples 20th century Coiled basketry (palm splints and fiber) and brass discs 25 × 10 × 9¾ in. (63.50 × 25.40 × 24.77 cm) Gift of the Friends of African and African-American Art, 1992.511

fig 25  An Ekonda chief (nkumu) wears the botolo with metal discs as a symbol of his authority, Isangi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, c. 1950. © Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium, EP 0.0.2949; photograph: C. Lamote.

Village chiefs (nkumu) among the Ekonda and neighboring groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo wear a tiered hat (botolo) as an insignia of office and an association with the powers of the ancestors, important ritual functions, and divination.32 The botolo is a coiled basketry hat composed of several horizontal brims that increase in size from top to bottom. Made of raffia fibers and often colored with camwood powder mixed with oil, it is adorned with brass or copper disks. Copper, brass, and iron were used as currency in the Belgian Congo in the nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. The presence of metal disks on botolo signifies wealth and prestige. A chief who is the first in his line must buy the botolo; if he is descended from a chief, he inherits his predecessor’s “crown.”33 In addition to wearing a botolo, Ekonda chiefs carry a wavy-edged s­ cepter (fig. 25).


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Prestige hat (kalyeem) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kuba peoples Early 20th century Raffia, glass beads, cowrie shells, conus shells, cotton textile, and brass 11 × 8¼ × 9 in. (27.94 × 20.96 × 22.86 cm) General Acquisition Fund, 1997.88


Bead-embroidered prestige hat (mpaan) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kuba peoples 20th century Palm leaf fiber textile, cotton textile, cowrie shells, and glass beads 17¼ × 10¾ × 8½ in. (43.82 × 27.31 × 21.59 cm) Gift of Alma L. McKinney in honor of Frederic A. Luyties III, 1992.21

The Kuba kingdom, founded in the early seventeenth century in the central part of present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo, is made up of several different ethnicities that pay tribute to a king (nyim). The first nyim was the legendary Shyaam-a-Mbul Ngwoong, from the Bushoong subgroup, who is said to have introduced the administrative and political structures that continue today. Hats and headdresses are the most visible expression of one’s standing within the intricate Kuba system of leadership and titleholding.34 Male and female titleholders wear prestige hats and headdresses on ceremonial occasions and at funerals.35 The most senior male titleholders wear the kalyeem, a cone-shaped hat elaborately decorated with beads and cowrie shells (fig. 26). Two or more beaded panels hang from a small inverted cone on top of the hat. The Dallas ­kalyeem is distinguished by the addition of conus shells and brass bells. The hat supports innumerable strands of white beads with cowrie pendants, and the chevron-patterned panels, which ascend and flow from the sides of the central form, are edged with cowries. Senior female titleholders wear the mpaan, which combines the conical shape of the kalyeem with a rigid semicircular half-crown shape. The mpaan is decorated with beads and cowrie shells and may be further embellished with feathers. A beaded stem projects from the crown of the Dallas mpaan, and the lateral forehead band is extended by three-dimensional cowrieand bead-embroidered rectangles. Used as part of one’s funeral display, these symbols of status were not inherited by family members but usually buried, along with other emblems, with the deceased.

CAT. 15

fig 26  A Northern Kete man wears the kalyeem hat to demonstrate his prestige and elite status as a titleholder. The characteristic beaded flaps of the kalyeem cascade from the very top of the hat and are edged in red beads. Democratic Republic of the Congo, c. 1982.

CAT. 16


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Hat with nut shells (mukuba)

Hats and headdresses reveal a member’s rank within the Bwami society. The conical shaped hat decorated with shells and a beaded elephant tail projecting from its top is called mukuba. It signifies membership at the highest level of the kindi grade. Kindi members identify with elephants, which although nonviolent (a Bwami principle of perfection), can be destructive if disturbed. The wig-form hat (sawamazembe), decorated with a large imported scallop or seashell and imported buttons, is worn by members of lutumbo lwa kindi, the supreme grade in the Bwami society. The hat replicates a woman’s hairstyle, a reminder of the interdependence of the kindi initiate and his wife. In the past, the shell was polished to symbolize the crescent moon and attract attention to the superior status of the wearer.36

Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lega peoples 20th century Coiled basketry, elephant tail, grass beads, cowrie shells, buttons, and nuts 22 × 7¾ × 13 in. (55.88 × 19.69 × 33.02 cm) Gift of Mr. and Mrs. George A. Shutt, The Levy Memorial Fund, and the Lot for a Little Fund, 1992.510


Hat in the form of a wig (sawamazembe) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lega peoples 20th century Coiled basketry, felted wool, plied palm fiber, halved seeds, shells, buttons (glass and plastic), palm splints, and palm fiber 19 × 10 × 7 in. (48.26 × 25.4 × 17.78 cm) The Otis and Velma Davis Dozier Fund, 1992.509

CAT. 17

CAT. 18


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Chair with head on back and figures on rungs Angola and Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chokwe peoples Late 19th to early 20th century Wood and hide 22 7/!6 × 95/* × 17 in. (56.99 × 24.45 × 43.18 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.10

While their subjects sat on the ground, African rulers sat elevated on stools or chairs. In societies where all were entitled to such furniture, the highest-ranking political and religious officials owned seats that were larger and more elaborate. European chairs, introduced to West Africa by Portuguese merchants in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, were appropriated as symbols of power and authority. African peoples drew inspiration for their chairs (thrones) from the European model—with its backrest and four legs connected by ­stretchers —but did not slavishly copy it; instead, they adapted it to local tastes and needs. The position of the backrest, for example, is rarely upright; instead, it is set at an oblique angle. Moreover, the decoration on the backrest and stretchers is figurative and refers to indigenous daily life, history, mythology, or religion. Chokwe chiefs in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo first encountered the European chair in the seventeenth century. In addition to the full-sized thrones, Chokwe chiefs had smaller versions that traveled with them on visits to their villages or to the market. The Dallas chair is a fine example of a traveling throne. The textured backrest is decorated with the head of an ancestral chief wearing an elaborate hairstyle or headdress and a pair of horns, which represent the animal horns that were filled with supernatural substances to protect the ruler. The scenes on the stretchers refer to daily life: travel by boat; a couple copulating; and ancestors displaying the characteristic gestures of arms folded across their chests or hands resting on their knees (see detail, below). The seated or crouched figure on the back stretcher represents a Cihongo masquerader wearing an elaborate headdress, wooden mask, and raffia skirt. Cihongo is the male ancestor who symbolizes chiefly wealth, power, and justice. In the distant past, the chief or his sons wore a similar mask when they went to collect tribute (food, cloth, beads, and livestock) from their subjects.37


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Stool supported by kneeling female figure (kipona) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Luba peoples Late 19th to early 20th century Wood, beads, and metal 16 7/!6 × 11 9/!6 × 109/!6 in. (41.75 × 29.37 × 26.83 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.105

fig 27  Russûna and a Wife. Engraving, 1887. Russûna, a Luba chief, sits on a carved wooden stool in the form of a caryatid and rests his feet on his wife’s lap.

Royal regalia of the Luba peoples include bow stands, spears, cups, staffs, and thrones. The throne, carved in the form of a caryatid stool called a kipona, is the king’s most important symbol of his status. It is tangible proof that he is a descendant of Mbidi Kiluwe, the legendary seventeenthcentury ruler who founded the kingdom. In fact, when the king sat on his caryatid throne, his feet did not touch the ground, but rested on his wife’s lap (fig. 27). The kipona is also a receptacle for the king’s spirit. Perhaps because they are so important, kipona are not always on public view, but covered with a white cloth and guarded by a palace official at a site well away from the village.38 The caryatid stool in the Dallas Museum of Art collection depicts a female with a high forehead, heavy lidded eyes, and a serene facial expression. Posed kneeling, she supports the seat with her head and hands. Her torso and thighs are decorated with symmetrical patterns carved in relief. The back of her head reveals a cross-form hairstyle carved in high relief. Although the Luba are a patrilineal society, most items of Luba regalia created from the eighteenth to the twentieth century depict females rather than males. An explanation may lie in the fact that the female image represents more than the aesthetic ideal. Feminine imagery reminds one that women have played important roles in Luba history by wielding power behind the scenes as counselors, title­holders, priestesses, spirit mediums, ambassadors, and symbolic kings. Of course, from the male perspective, women also have that mysterious ability to bear children. Their support is both literal and spiritual. According to Verney Lovett Cameron, a British traveler who accompanied Sir Richard Burton to Central Africa in 1882, a woman was placed on her hands and knees upon a chief’s death and made to support the dead king and his treasury.39 Another report asserts that women were spirit mediums (mwadi). The mwadi, possessed by the dead king’s spirit, lived a celibate life that was dedicated to perpetuating the king’s memory.40


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Ceremonial adze with head and torso Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pende peoples Late 19th to early 20th century Wood and metal 16 × 3 1/!6 × 11 7/* in. (40.64 × 7.78 × 30.16 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.168

Staffs, weapons, and tools serve as chiefly insignia. On ceremonial occasions, a Pende chief carried an adze over his shoulder. It was not an ordinary tool used to sculpt wood but an ornate version of the conventional model.41 This adze exemplifies the type. At the top of the handle there is a sculpted human head adorned with imported European brass tacks. Its face displays raised scarification marks on each cheek. Both the hairstyle, or skullcap as some authors refer to it, and scarification marks are found on Pende masks with visual references to both leadership and hunting— an important activity, especially if the chief killed a leopard or crocodile. A very long iron blade has been hammered into the head’s mouth. At the back on the handle, a female bust carved in full relief is positioned upside down (see detail, below). When viewed in profile, the small skulllike head appears to be an exaggerated depiction of the head at the top of the adze.


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Side-blown horn Sierra Leone, Mende peoples Late 19th to mid-20th century Ivory 23¾ × 2¼ × 3¾ in. (60.33 × 5.72 × 9.53 cm) The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc. 1994.198.McD

fig 28  Carved from wood, this standing female figure is a decorative element in an early 19th‑century Temne harp.

Musical instruments, when not sounding the call to war, were important objects that announced a ruler’s arrival and entertained him or her with pleasing sounds. This richly hued ivory horn was made for a Mende paramount chief of Sierra Leone. It may predate British colonization and the introduction of staffs with a silver knob bearing the British coat of arms. The imagery carved on this horn is intriguing. Near the top of the instrument a nude female stands on a platform between two wheel-like forms and holds her breasts (see detail, p. 89). Below and in opposition to the female figure lies a lizard in low relief. On the back of the horn is a bird carved in full relief, a raised square amulet (opposite the lizard) and a loop for a fiber or leather carrying cord. Concentric circles, half circles, and multiple bands are incised on the horn or carved in relief. The meaning of the figures and patterns on this instrument is not fully understood. What can be cited are the contexts in which the imagery occurs in the art of the Mende, Sherbro, Sapi, and Temne peoples. The wheel form, for example, is found on the top of a gbini, a mask associated with the power of the Mende paramount chief (fig.  29), and resembles the shape of the paramount chief’s crown.42 This motif is also found on a Renaissance-period ivory saltcellar, one of the so-called Afro-Portuguese ivories that were exported to Europe and destined for the tables of the nobility (fig. 30).43 The standing female figure corresponds to one that is attached to a harp of Temne origin illustrated without commentary in a missionary publication from the early nineteenth century (fig. 28).44 The rectangular shapes appear as decoration on the Mende sowei helmet masks of the Sande society that initiates girls into womanhood. They represent amulets that are sometimes covered with silver, gold, or leather and contain Islamic inscriptions believed to have spiritual power. Finally, depending upon when the patterns were introduced, they may have been inspired by the British orb, a symbol of royal power. Further study is required to interpret the meaning of the imagery on this horn.


1 : icons and sy mbol s of l e ad e rsh ip a nd s tat u s

fig 29  The “wheel” motif that appears on the gbini mask symbolizes a Mende paramount chief ’s supreme power. Mattru Kolanima, Tikonko Chiefdom, Siera Leone, 1974.

fig 30  Ivory saltcellar with “wheel” motif, c. 16th century. Collection of Alain de Monbrison.


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Kneeling female figure with bowl (olumeye) Olowe of Ise, c. 1875–1938 Nigeria, Ekiti region, Effon-Alaiye, Yoruba peoples c. 1910–c. 1918 Wood, pigment, and paint 19½ × 10¼ × 14½ in. (49.53 × 26.04 × 36.83 cm) The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 2004.16.McD

fig 31  A conventional olumeye (kneeling figure with bowl) carved by Agonbiofe of Effon-Alaiye (died 1945), early 20th century. Collection of John and Jane Pemberton.

The Yoruba have traditionally offered kola nuts to guests in a domestic hospitality ritual or to the deities in the context of religious worship. While gourd containers served these purposes for most people, honored visitors to the palace or other prestigious residences were served from elaborately decorated wooden bowls. The containers are called olumeye in reference to the kneeling female figure holding the bowl. The word means “she who brings honor,” and the figure celebrates Yoruba aesthetic ideals of feminine beauty. Olumeye sculptures are numerous because all Yoruba sculptors knew how to carve them. Sculptors of most of the extant olumeye carved the lidded bowl in the form of a cock (fig. 31), an animal that is usually sacrificed to the deities (orisha) and offered to guests in a spicy soup. The Dallas olumeye seems to be an innovation because the lidded bowl is just that—made prominent only by giving it a dome-shaped lid and elevating it on the upraised hands of female figures kneeling along the edge of the base. The sculpture is boldly decorated with zigzags, diamonds, rectangles, and other geometric designs. The lid, which was carved separately, is decorated with a group of birds carved in high relief pecking at a mound of feed. The sculpture is painted. But, the artist’s masterstroke is the freestanding bearded head he carved within the “cage” formed by the kneeling figures around the base. The head can be moved about the cage but it cannot be removed, indicating that it was carved from within the cage (see detail, p. 93). Olowe was indeed an innovator. No other Yoruba artists of his time carved sculptures in exceedingly high relief, created the illusion of movement in his figures, and painted them. He seems to have re­visited his own creations with the outcome of more complex versions of the theme. This olumeye, for example, is one of three that he is known to have carved. The smallest and least complex of the group, the Museum’s olumeye may be the first one he carved.45 Unlike most works of art by African tradition-based artists, the creator of this olumeye is known by name: Olowe of Ise. In fact, African artists were not anonymous but were known to their patrons and the people living in their communities. Their names may not have been collected for various reasons, but a major one is that early ethnographers and collectors failed to ask, “Who made this?”46 Olowe of Ise was born around 1875 and died in about 1938. He was born in Effon-Alaiye, an important royal town and center of Yoruba visual art in the nineteenth century. Olowe grew up to become an artist in the court of the Arinjale of Ise for whom he carved veranda posts, doors, drums, toys, and whatever was required for use in the official, religious, and domestic activities at the palace. He was occasionally lent to other Yoruba kings and families who could afford to hire him to beautify their surroundings and to religious specialists for shrine sculptures and masks.


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In 1924, a door that Olowe had carved for the palace of the Ogoga of Ikere was included in the British Empire Exhibition in England. The British Museum officials were so impressed with the door that they arranged to acquire it for the British Museum. Works by Olowe had already reached England earlier in the century. (Many sculptures by Olowe have been acquired since 1925 by museums and private collectors in Europe, America, and Australia.)47 The Dallas olumeye was brought to England by Edwin Holland, a telegraphist who was employed by the British Colonial government in Lagos.48 How Holland obtained the olumeye is not known, but one can imagine him visiting the royal owner of the sculpture and expressing his admiration of it. The king could have given the bowl to Holland. After all, Olowe was still alive in 1919 and could carve another one. That is what happened in 1925 when he replaced the door that had remained in England after the British Empire Exhibition.


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Prestige pipe bowl Cameroon, Bamum peoples 20th century Terracotta 15½ × 9 × 9 in. (39.37 × 22.86 × 22.86 cm) Gift of The Cecil and Ida Green Foundation, 1999.60

fig 32  The Queen Mother of Bamum, with many attendents, Foumban, Cameroon, c. 1907–1912. An attendant of the Queen Mother to the far left in the photo displays a ceremonial pipe.

The introduction of tobacco to sub-Saharan Africa in the seventeenth century inspired the creation of new prestige objects and leadership rituals. There are numerous depictions of tobacco usage in Africa, from a ­seventeenth-century Yoruba divination tray49 to nineteenth-century statues of Chokwe kings holding tobacco mortars that were used on cere­ monial occasions.50 In the highly stratified Bamum society, both men and women smoked tobacco in pipes befitting their social status. The largest and most elaborately decorated pipes were made by male court potters for the king (fon) and smoked on important ceremonial occasions “as a visual attribute of royal might.”51 Other potters, who included women, were brought to the Bamum court to make pipes and vessels for the palace. A pipe bowl from the Dallas Museum of Art collection exemplifies their work. The pipe bowl is modeled in the form of the head of a man with puffed cheeks and wearing an openwork headdress. Although the puffed cheeks can be found on Bamum masks, they probably serve to give the heavy pipe bowls stability. The headdress is inspired by a woven cotton cap over a netlike support fashioned from cane. The opening at the bottom of the pipe regulated the air supply. Pipe stems made of brass or carved wood were also decorated, often with colorful beadwork. An early nineteenth-century photograph of the queen mother and her attendants shows a complete pipe that was decorated with a flag (fig. 32). Since antiquity and throughout the vast continent, the visual arts have glorified and supported leadership. Whether authority was invested in a king, chief, or the elders in an association or council, those in supreme leadership positions were distinguished by a range of aesthetic emblems whose form, material, and ornamentation were the exclusive prerogatives of their rank.


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Notes 1. T. Phillips 1995: 531

31. Geary 2000: 5

2. Leloup 2005: 172

32. Biebuyck and Abbeele 1984: 96

3. A wood sample from the sculpture was tested in 1988 at the Physics and Atmospheric Sciences Laboratory at the University of Arizona, Tucson; see also p. 35, note 3, for additional information.

33. Brown 1944: 431–47 Brown describes chieftainship among the Tumba, who also have a chief (nkumu) who wears a similar hat called a montolo. Writing in the 1940s, Brown notes that the ceremonies connected with the nkumu were rapidly disappearing under the influence of European occupation and control.

4. Leloup 2000: 8; Leloup 1994: 111–28; Grunne 2001a: 35–54; Grunne 2001b: 75–88 5. Olfert Dapper (1668) quoted, in Roth [1903] 1972: 160 6. Ben-Amos 1995: 9 7. Blackmun 1983: 64 8. Roth [1903] 1972: xiii 9. Blackmun 2000: 3–4 10. Christie’s 1992: lot 247 11. Egharevba 1968: 26 12. Roese and Bondarenko 2003: 100–1003; Blackmun, in Plankensteiner 2007: 445–46

34. Shamashang, in Mack 2000: 137 35. Darish and Binkley 1995: 168 36. Cameron 2001: 75–76 37. Bastin 1982: 86–89 38. Roberts and Roberts 1996: 154 39. Cameron 1877: 333 40. Roberts and Roberts 1996: 156 41. Sousberghe 1958: 135–37 42. R. Phillips 1995: 75

13. Blackmun, in Ben-Amos and Rubin 1983: 62

43. Bassani and Fagg 1988: 231, fig. 52

14. Ibid.

44. Flickinger 1885: facing p. 32

15. Ben-Amos 1995: 98

45. Walker 2005

16. Blackmun, in Plankensteiner 2007: 446

46. Allison 1944: 49–50

17. Ben-Amos 1995: 34

47. Walker 1998 This book includes the artist’s biography reconstructed from various European and African sources, a catalogue raisonné of the artist’s works, and an extensive bibliography.

18. A complete figure is reproduced in Eyo 1990: 120; and in Blackmun, in Plankensteiner 2007: 445 19. Vogel 1983: 350; Willett, in T. Phillips 1995: 428 The corpus includes one in the National Museum, Lagos, that is not mentioned in Vogel’s article. 20. Awolalu 1979: 168 21. Thompson 1970: 8–17; Drewal and Mason 1998: 201–205 22. Drewal and Pemberton with Abiodun 1989: 26–33; Lawal 2002: 80–89 23. Drewal and Pemberton with Abiodun 1989: 26–32 24. Biebuyck 1973: 66–71 25. Rubin 1993: 16–18 26. Biebuyck 1973: 186–87 27. Ibid., [213], plates 60–62; Cameron 2001: 180 28. Garrard, in Barbier 1993, vol. 2: 163 29. Notue, in Mack 2000: 112 30. Northern 1984: 53

48. Kloman and Elliott 2004: 120–23 49. Sieber and Walker 1987: 73 50. Wastiau 2006: 18, 120 51. Geary 1983: 108

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chapter 2

african art in the cycle of life Part one: Art to Aid Conception and Birth “Children are better than riches,” declares an African proverb. Children obviously represent continuity from one generation to the next, but they are crucial for other reasons. Most importantly, they fulfill the biological roles of males and females, demonstrating their sexual identity, virility, and fertility. Children are also the “social security” system for their elderly parents: they care for them and ensure they receive a proper burial, which is necessary to successfully transition to the afterlife and possibly achieve ancestor status or be reincarnated as a child. Those who do not procreate are considered most unfortunate. To assure conception and the successful delivery of healthy infants, women have sought spiritual intervention. Ritual objects were used throughout sub-Saharan Africa by diviners to identify the cause of and cure for infertility and by legendary midwives or healers to petition the deities. Some ritual objects may be repurposed. Akua’ma, for example, may become educational aids to teach childcare. The sculptures discussed in this chapter are not the only ones associated with fertility. Because African art has a multivalent nature, an object may have multiple significances. Fang and Kota reliquary guardian figures protect the venerated relics of ancestors who are empowered to bless their descendants with children, and a Bobo Nwenka mask appears not only at funerals but also at agricultural festivals to encourage the fertility of human beings as well as the land. Children are a material blessing from the Supreme Being through his various deities. The blessing may be achieved easily and naturally. If supernatural aid is needed to successfully achieve one’s biological destiny, aesthetic objects are required for effective communication with the spirit world. Spirits, like human beings, are attracted to beautiful things.



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Equestrian figure Côte d’Ivoire, Senufo peoples Late 19th to early 20th century Wood and pigment 12 5/* × 2 7/* × 8¾ in. (32.07 × 7.30 × 22.23 cm) The Gustave and Franyo Schindler Collection of African Sculpture, gift of the McDermott Foundation in honor of Eugene McDermott, 1974.SC.14

The Senufo peoples consult diviners (sando), who invoke nature spirits, to determine the cause of and remedy for an illness or misfortune. These ambiguous nature spirits (madebele)—believed to live in the forest (or “bush” as it is commonly called), fields, and streams surrounding Senufo villages—both cause and cure misfortune. A barren woman, for example, would seek a diviner’s advice to learn the cause of her infertility. After casting assorted symbolic items (miniature sculptures and natural objects) before a group of display figures representing the nature spirits and a pair of sculpted male and female primordial twins, the diviner interprets the spirits’ messages, which are expressed in the positional relationships among the cast pieces. A small cowrie inserted into a larger one, for instance, is a symbol of pregnancy issues.1 Originally part of a sando’s group of display figures, the Dallas carved equestrian figure depicts a madebele on his steed. Madebele are believed to possess some human traits, such as appreciating the visual and performing arts. They are therefore attracted to music, dance, and sculptures that are tana, that is “beautiful,” connoting luxury.2 An equestrian sculpture would be especially attractive to the madebele because it expresses aggressive masculinity, mobility to travel about (especially at night), status, and wealth. Although horses could survive in the local environment, they were uncommon. Originally imported from North Africa, they came to be connected with invasions of foreign mounted warriors during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is understandable then that horses became associated with authority, wealth, and power. A client would have confidence in a diviner who owned such an equestrian figure, because only very successful diviners could afford to acquire them. Mounted horsemen are typically depicted wearing a conical, magicimbued warrior’s or hunter’s hat and holding a spear in one hand. The sculptor of this equestrian figure, on his own or under the direction of a diviner who dreamt it, emphasized the horseman’s aggressive power by giving him both a warrior’s and a hunter’s hat and by baring his teeth. The figure’s arched back creates the illusion of forward movement while his fanlike hands, which hold neither a spear nor reins, signify control of his horse—a static figure with its head lowered—with his strong limbs and spiritual powers.


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Seated male figure Côte d’Ivoire, Baule peoples 1875–1900 Wood 23¾ × 4½ × 5 in. (60.33 × 11.43 × 12.70 cm) The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 1994.200.McD

Among the Baule peoples of central Côte d’Ivoire, barren women ­consult male or female diviners (komien), who become possessed by a nature spirit (asie usu) or by an Mbra (deity) during the divining ritual. To welcome the spirits and, thus, encourage them to speak, diviners beautify shrine rooms with decorations and sculptures.3 In contrast to Senufo practice, Baule clients may not look at these figures, which are usually concealed under white cloths. Yet, seen or not, the presence of the sculptures acknowledges the special relationship between the diviner and the gods and spirits. Because carving styles for spirit figures—whether they represent nature spirits or spirit spouses—are similar, it is difficult to ascertain a sculpture’s original function unless it has been seen in situ. This male figure is presumed to have been owned by a Baule diviner because of its seated pose and gesture. Divination display figures typically depict a male, seated on a stool, holding his long three-braided beard with his left hand and pressing his abdomen with his right. Despite his muscular buttocks and youthful calves, the sitter is a wise and elderly man, as indicated by his beard. Regardless of his or her age, a subject in African art is generally portrayed in the prime of life. The sculpture’s carefully groomed hair, scarification marks that denote he has been initiated into adult society, short fingernails and toenails, and contemplative expression indicate he also represents a civilized Baule man. The figure was once clothed, as indicated by the lighter color of the wood in the area of his loins. The stool—a concave seat atop a stepped base—is a style that is used in southeastern Côte d’Ivoire and southern Ghana. This type of stool normally has two legs projecting from a center post or four legs that project symmetrically from the center of the stool.4 As if to lessen the visual confusion of too many pairs of legs, the sculptor eliminated one pair, replacing them with the figure’s legs. When viewed in profile, the figure’s legs appear to echo the shape of the stool’s back legs, creating a lozenge. Just as the frontal view of the figure offers a balanced asymmetry, the profile is equally symmetrical. This sculpture was acquired circa 1930 by Isaac Païlès (1895–1978), a Russian painter working in Paris.5 It is believed to be one of the earliest Baule sculptures brought to Europe after Côte d’Ivoire was vanquished by the French in 1910. Features such as the hole carved between the buttocks and stool to hold a loincloth (now missing) in place, the mouth shaped in a figure eight, the symbols of civilization, the style of the stool, the polished surface, and the expert craftsmanship attest to Baule skill and artistry of the distant past.


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Ifa divination tray (opon Ifa ) Nigeria, Effon-Alaiye, Yoruba peoples Early to mid-20th century Wood 18¼ diam. × 1½ in. (46.36 × 3.81 cm) African Collection Fund, 2005.84


Ifa divination tapper (iro Ifa ) Nigeria, Owo, Yoruba peoples Late 19th to early 20th century Ivory 7 7/* × 1½ × 2 in. (20 × 3.81 × 5.08 cm) The Art Museum League Travel Fund, 1978.40

In the absence of medical therapies, Yoruba women who fail to ­conceive consult a male diviner-priest (babalawo). Translated as “father of secrets” or “father of ancient wisdom,” the babalawo performs the Ifa ritual to explain and reverse a woman’s misfortune. Ifa, considered the most important and most reliable system of divination, enables supplicants to understand the will of the Supreme Being Olodumare (also known as Olorun or Creator God). Olodumare empowered ­Orunmila, the god of divination, to speak for the numerous Yoruba deities (orisha) through the divining ritual. During a consultation, numerical patterns, obtained by passing sixteen palm nuts from hand to hand, are recorded on a divination tray. Each pattern corresponds to a sacred verse, of which there are 256, that contains both the prediction and the required sacrifice. The babalawo interprets these patterns. A diviner’s equipment, carved by artists, includes a divination tray (opon Ifa), a tapper (iro Ifa), cups (agere Ifa) to hold the palm nuts, and a storage container for the sacred paraphernalia (opon igede). Yoruba sculptors typically carve the opon Ifa in the shape of a square, rectangle, or circle. The center of the tray is always depressed to accommodate pulverized wood or yam flour on which the diviner marks a ­deity’s message in symbolic strokes.6 Geometric patterns or figures drawn from Yoruba mythology or daily life decorate the raised border. The hole bored into the top of this tray originally carried an “eraser” made of a cord of fifty cowrie shells that the diviner used to clear the tray during the divining ritual.7 Among the images on the raised border is that of the deity Eshu. Although only Orunmila knows God’s will, it is Eshu—the divine messenger and guardian of the divining process—who carries the client’s sacrifices to the deities and other spirits.8 He is placated with an offering at the beginning of the ritual and begged not to garble messages as that may cause catastrophe in the end. Eshu’s image may appear once or, as exemplified by the elaborately carved Dallas tray, at each of the four cardinal points. He is depicted as a face and as a full-length figure wearing his trademark long-tailed cap and brandishing a club. Where only Eshu’s face is depicted, he is wearing a half-shaved hairstyle with hornlike forms projecting from his head. The hairstyle and horns are symbolic. According to an oral tradition, because of his deep affection for Orunmila, Eshu interrupted having his head shaved so he could come to the aid of his friend. The horns symbolize Eshu’s great generative powers. In addition to the four images of Eshu on the raised border of the tray, the sculptor carved a complex program of symbolic scenes depicting Yoruba royalty, religious rituals, and scenes from Orunmila’s life. Such a skillfully carved and elaborately decorated opon Ifa must have been owned by a very successful babalawo from the town of Effon-Alaiye, as suggested by the style of carving. Effon-Alaiye was an important center of Yoruba art toward the end of the nineteenth century and the alleged

CAT. 27


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birthplace of Olowe of Ise, the renowned court sculptor (see chapter 1). The Dallas tray resembles one in the collection of the Fowler Museum at UCLA9 and another in a private collection in the United States.10 These three trays may be the work of the same sculptor. At the beginning of a ritual the diviner taps the edge or the center of the divination tray with an iro Ifa, or “tapper,” to attract the attention of Orunmila, Eshu, and other deities, family ancestors, and ancestral diviners. Ordinary tappers are carved of wood, while those belonging to very successful diviners are made of expensive and prestigious materials such as copper alloy or ivory, like this one. The king (oba) held exclusive rights to own ivory, and only those who had his permission had access to this precious material. The conelike shape of the tapper clearly indicates that it was carved from the tip of an elephant tusk. In Yoruba thought, the cone is an ideogram for life force (ashe), which animates everything in the universe. It is therefore an appropriate form for an object that is used to invoke and celebrate all the spiritual forces present at a divination ritual.11 Ifa tappers invariably depict a female figure posed in the kneeling position wearing only waistbeads and modestly covering her genitalia with a decorated fan. The kneeling position is that of the supplicant, but in Yoruba tradition it also refers to an individual’s existence before being born on Earth, when one knelt during the ritual of choosing his or her head (ori), the seat of one’s destiny. There is also the profound belief that women are more effective than men in honoring, soothing, and cooling the gods so they will favor mankind.12

CAT. 28


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one : art to aid conception and birth


Shango dance wand (oshe Shango) Master of the Owu Shrine, c. 1850–1925 Nigeria, Igbomina area, Yoruba peoples Late 19th to early 20th century Wood, pigment, and metal 17 × 63/* × 3 in. (43.18 × 16.19 × 7.62 cm) African Collection Fund, 2006.39

Shango—the Yoruba god of thunder, giver of children, and “patron saint” of twins—once lived among men as a brilliant but capricious military general who became the fourth king (alafin) of the ancient Oyo Yoruba empire. He had a volatile temper, and when he ranted, fire issued from his mouth. Fascinated by magic, Shango created lightning and practically burned down the capital, inadvertently killing numerous subjects, his own children, and most of his wives. Shango subsequently committed suicide. Shortly after his death, Oyo experienced horrific thunderstorms that were believed to be a sign of Shango’s wrath and vengeance. Consequently, Shango was deified as an orisha and a priesthood was established to worship him. Among the objects used to honor Shango is the oshe Shango, or dance wand. It is carried by Shango priests and devotees during public worship activities and enshrined on the deity’s altar. The basic form of the oshe Shango is a shaft with a double club or axe projecting underneath or from the head of the sole or central figure in the composition. The axe blades are shaped like thunderstones or Neolithic celts, which Shango’s devotees believe are thunderbolts Shango hurls toward those that offend or displease him. This ritual object was originally carved from the àyàn tree on which Shango committed suicide.13 Oshe Shango range from nonfigurative sculptures with shafts ending in undecorated double axes to complex figu­rative configurations with unique interpretations of the double axe. The stylistic diversity found in the designs of oshe Shango can be attributed to the wide dispersion of Shango worship, unlimited iconography (the only restriction is that the deity may not be portrayed), and the creative prerogative of the artist or patron. The priestesses or female supplicants often depicted on oshe Shango represent Shango’s benevolence as he bestows the blessing of children upon his faithful worshippers and protects children, especially twins (ibeji). The supplicant depicted on this oshe Shango is pregnant. Posed in a conventional kneeling position, she holds her protruding abdomen with both hands. Her openwork hairstyle with four braids meeting at the top recalls the shape of an ile ori or “house of the head” (see p. 62). She is further adorned with vertical scarification marks on her cheeks and jaws and a labret in her lower lip. Her oblong, pendant breasts echo the shape of her thighs. While the figure’s pose is conventional, the placement of the double axe at the bottom of the shaft is rare. Only two other wands with this configuration have been published: the Museum Rietberg in Zurich has an oshe Shango that was collected in the Igbomina area and brought to Switzerland by the Basel Mission before 1820,14 and the other resides in a private collection in London.15 In contrast to conventional oshe Shango that are held at the shaft, the heads of these wands serve as the handles, resulting in their flattened facial features and smooth surfaces.

The exquisite Dallas oshe Shango is attributed to the Master of the Owu Shrine by Deborah Stokes Hammer, who with Jeffrey Hammer studied thousands of Yoruba sculptures in the British Museum and the National Museum in Lagos, and more than two thousand photographs in the Kenneth C. Murray Archives at the museum in Lagos.16 They named him the Master of the Owu Shrine after an unusual oshe Shango that had been documented in situ in the Igbomina town of Owu. Several objects, including twin figures and bowl carriers, share similar or identical traits with the Dallas oshe Shango. They include: an elongated head with a swollen cranium that joins a conical shape extending below the eyes; a head set at an angle on the neck; prominent elongated ears that extend the jawline; rounded elongated shoulders that flow into bent arms cut away from the torso; hands that have splayed fingers; buttocks that are flattened underneath and jut out sharply above the soles of the feet; and the lower body conceived as a triangle that is cut deeply to separate the thighs from the legs. William Fagg (1914–1992), the curator of African art at the British Museum and a noted authority on Yoruba art, speculated that the Master of the Owu Shrine lived from about 1850 to about 1925.17


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Caryatid vessel (arugba Shango) Akobi Ogun Fakeye (c. 1870–1946) Nigeria, Ila Orangun, Yoruba peoples Late 19th century to c. 1940 Wood and pigment 41¾ × 17 × 17½ in. (106.05 × 43.18 × 44.45 cm) Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Marcus, 1981.138.A–B FA

fig 33  Two ile ori, visible in the background, and an arugba Shango, the large figure holding a bowl, are displayed in this Shango shrine, Idofin, Igbana, Nigeria, 1961.

Shango priests store the deity’s thunderbolts (Neolithic celts or axe heads), kola nuts, food offerings, oshe Shango, and other ritual paraphernalia in a calabash bowl that is placed on an upturned mortar. In the Igbomina and Ekiti areas, Shango shrines are adorned with large sculpted arugba, or bowl carriers, as exemplified by the Dallas arugba Shango that depicts a seated female holding a lidded bowl above her head (fig. 33). The central figure in a caryatid vessel is always a female, depicted either kneeling or seated on a mortar, holding a large lidded bowl above her head with both hands. She represents a devotee who has petitioned Shango for the blessing of a child. That her prayer was answered is indicated by the figure’s swollen abdomen and/or by one of the smaller figures carved at either side. The smaller figures on this sculpture are holding ritual objects. The one on her left carries an oshe Shango in one hand and a stockfish in the other, while the figure on her right clasps a bowl. The faces carved in relief on the lid and bowl held by the central figure refer to a ritual practice in which a devotee touches his or her forehead with a kola nut and then repeats this action on the sculpted faces. The face carved on the lid looks toward the viewer; the face on the bowl is placed upside down to look toward the sky world. The faces are darkened with blue paint, traditionally natural indigo pigment, in reference to the ori inu, or the seat of one’s destiny in one’s “inner head.” The bowl itself is thought to be a metaphor for the womb, which Shango can fill with a new life if the devotee is faithful to him.18 This arugba Shango was carved by Akobi Ogun Fakeye (c. 1870–1946), whose name means “the first born of Ogun,” the Yoruba god of iron and the patron saint of woodcarvers. Akobi Ogun was the son of a sculptor but chose not to carve. According to his son Lamidi Olonade Fakeye (b. 1925), an internationally known sculptor whose work is installed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Akobi Ogun contracted smallpox when he was about twenty years old. Ifa divination revealed that Akobi Ogun’s destiny was to follow the “family work of woodcarving” and because he had denied his destiny, he was punished with smallpox. After making sacrificial food offerings to Ogun, Akobi Ogun entered into an apprenticeship with a master sculptor named Tayewo who lived in the town Ila Orangun. Three years later, Akobi Ogun established his own atelier.19 Akobi Ogun Fakeye carved at least two other arugba Shango, one of which is in a German private collection20 and the other in a British private collection.21


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Seated female figure with child (pfemba) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lower Congo region, Kongo peoples, Yombe group Late 19th to early 20th century Wood, glass or mica, and stain 15 × 4 9/!6 × 4 3/!6 in. (38.1 × 11.59 × 10.64 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.21

The Dallas pfemba, as such maternity figures are called, is the ­epitome of feminine beauty, composure, and intense concentration. Her upswept miterlike hairstyle or hat, which was worn by both men and women, frames her face with its carefully composed expression. Her imported glass eyes “see” beyond this world. Beautifying features include filed teeth and scarification patterns on her neck, back, and shoulders. In real life, raised scars are made by rubbing a medicinal substance into superficial cuts in the skin so they heal as smooth, shiny scars with definite shapes. This was done to make women physically more attractive and to heighten sexual pleasure. The kitanda string the pfemba wears above her breasts signifies poise and order. Yombe sculptures are generally rendered in a seminaturalistic style with great care given to depicting cultural details. Yombe maternity figures are conventionally posed cross-legged seated on a plinth with an infant lying on her lap. They are believed to have been used in the rituals of a women’s fertility cult established by a distinguished midwife on the Loango coast.22 Camwood paste originally coated the Dallas pfemba. Its reddish color signified transitional conditions, such as being born or passing into the afterlife. The pfemba leans forward, indicating that she is strong but flexible like a palm tree and is able to see through glass-covered eyes or “through water to the spirit world.”23 The figure depicts a female chief, a midwife, or a healer who will accomplish whatever is required of her. Whether the infant on this pfemba sculpture is dead or alive is controversial. Some infants are shown nursing or with flexed legs, a clear indication of vitality, while others lie still on their mothers’ laps with their stiff legs outstretched. The mother’s right hand on the Dallas sculpture covers the child’s legs, making it impossible to determine the infant’s condition.24


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Standing female figure with child Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kwilu area, Mbala peoples Late 19th to early 20th century Wood 10 1/* × 5 × 4 1/* in. (25.72 × 12.70 × 10.48 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.149

Power and authority in Mbala society rests in the female line.25 Their fertility sculptures depict a seated or standing female carrying a child on her left hip, nursing an infant with her left breast, or holding a child with her left hand to reinforce the idea that “left” and “left hand” are synonymous with femininity. Such maternity figures are usually paired with male figures that are portrayed playing a drum. This maternity figure holds her child, who isn’t touching her, on her left side. Although the mother and child are looking out at the viewer rather than at each other, they are physically and emotionally connected. The sculptor exaggerated the mother’s embrace by carving her arms in an expressionistic rather than naturalistic manner. Her shoulders are minimized and slope downward to the left side. She holds the infant’s feet with her right hand while she wraps her left arm around its torso. Her left hand slanted upward completes this circle of protection. Drummer and maternity figures were commonly owned by chiefs or major lineages as part of the royal treasure, but their meaning and the context(s) in which they were used are not certain. Called pindi, they were invoked to provide supernatural aid in times of war, periods of poor harvests or lack of game, epidemics, or natural disasters. The chief was a diviner and a ritual specialist who was expected to successfully mediate between his ancestral spirits and the fertility of his subjects and their environment. Because virility was an important criterion for his position, mother-and-child figures may symbolize a clan chief’s numerous wives and children as well as a woman’s essential role as child bearer.26 The tradition of figurative sculpture went into decline in the 1920s and finally ceased to exist in the face of European influence before the middle of the twentieth century. Nonfigurative regalia for chiefs were, however, retained.


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Doll (akua’ba) Ghana, Asante peoples 20th century Wood, glass beads, and fiber 11¼ × 5 7/!6 × 1 7/* in. (28.58 × 13.81 × 4.76 cm) Gift of Henry H. Hawley III, 1981.173

fig 34  An Asante woman has tucked an akua’ba into her wrapper, just as an infant might be carried, in hopes that she will have an equally beautiful child. Ghana, 1972.

Akua’ma (sing. akua’ba) statues are icons of Asante art. Familiar to American women who wear miniature replicas as brooches and deco­rate their homes with full-scale figures, akua’ma helped barren Asante women become fertile and ensured a safe delivery of a healthy infant. The Asante sculpture got its name from Akua who, according to oral tradition, was barren but desperately wanted children. She consulted a priest who advised her to commission a sculptor to carve an akua’ba, or “Akua’s child.” She was instructed to treat the little sculpture as if it were a real child. She secured it to her back with her wrapper (fig. 34), nursed it, put it to bed, and adorned it. She eventually became pregnant and had a successful birth. Following her example, barren women carried an akua’ba in the hope they too would conceive. After a successful birth, women either give their sculpted surrogate to a daughter to play with or return it to a priest to enshrine.27 This Dallas akua’ba is a classic example. The female figure has a very large round head and high, flattened forehead like those of royal children. Its neck is very long and ringed to suggest the creased flesh of a chubby baby. The figure is painted with lustrous black pigment and decorated with colorful beaded necklaces and earrings. All of these features visually express notions of feminine beauty among the Asante peoples. Akua’ma rarely depict male infants because inheritance in the matrilineal society of the Asante passes from mother to daughter. It is, therefore, desirable to give birth to a girl.28


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african art in the cycle of life Part two: art for coming of age

Notes 1. Glaze 1981: 61–72 2. Ibid., 63, 72 3. Vogel 1997: 221–39 4. Robert Soppelsa, personal communication, May 10, 2005 5. Musée de l’Homme 1967: n.p., cat. no. 56; Lehuard 1981: 7 6. See Bascom 1969 and Epega and Neimark 1995 for descriptions of the Ifa ritual 7. Hans Witte, personal communication, August 19, 2005 8. Drewal and Pemberton with Abiodun 1989: 15 9. Thompson 1976: chap. 5, fig. 15 10. Fagg and Pemberton 1982: 114, plate 31 11. Drewal, in Ross 1992: 192 12. Abiodun, in Drewal and Pemberton with Abiodun 1989: 111–12 13. Ojo 1966: 172 14. Abiodun, Drewal, and Pemberton 1991: 88, fig. 101 15. Jones 1988: 25, cat. no. 414 16. Deborah Stokes, personal communication, August 29, 2006; Hammer and Hammer 1986: 70 17. Hammer and Hammer 1986: 70 18. Compare Drewal and Pemberton with Abiodun 1989: p. 155, fig. 169, and pp. 162–63, fig. 170, for an arugba Shango carved by Arowogun (Areogun) of Osi-Ilorin. 19. Haight and Fakeye 1987: 38 20. Abiodun, Drewal, and Pemberton 1991: 27, fig. 34 21. Jones 1988: 25, cat. no. 414 22. MacGaffey, in Verswijver et al. 1996: 146, cat. no. 15 23. Thompson 2005: 87 24. Lehuard 1989: vol. 2, 576, fig. K5–2–2–2 The caption indicates that the infant is dead. 25. Biebuyck 1985: 168 26. I. de Pierpont, quoted in Bourgeois 1988: 22 27. Cole and Ross 1977: 103–107; McLeod 1981: 162–65 28. McLeod 1981: 164

Coming-of-age is an event in the life cycle that is formally acknowledged and celebrated throughout the world. In America coming-of-age rites take various forms according to ethnic or socio-religious patterns. Jewish girls and boys, for example, undergo religious training and learn the responsibilities of adulthood at age twelve and thirteen, respectively. In Latin American communities, teenage girls celebrate their fifteenth birthday with a quinceanera, and American girls of European and African descent may celebrate their entry into adult society with a debut. In recent years, many African American churches and youth-oriented organizations have prepared boys and girls for adulthood in formal programs patterned after traditional African rituals. Preparation for adulthood in the United States as in Africa may take years, months, or days depending on the established norms and expectations of the community. Similarly, the culminating activity may be a celebratory event that requires the initiates to wear special attire and perhaps demonstrate their new knowledge or skills before an audience. In sub-Saharan Africa, before the introduction of “formal” education in Muslim or Western-style schools, boys and girls were educated in a secluded “bush school,” or forest encampment, located some distance from the village or town.1 The curriculum included discipline, the traditions of the people and etiquette, professional training needed for genderappropriate occupations (e.g., farming, hunting, or war; home economics, pottery making, or weaving), sexual responsibility, and the obligations of marriage and family life. At this time, youth were also initiated into the prevailing religion. The youths learned to sing and dance, skills required for socializing and for participation in religious activities. Secrets pertaining to masking and secret societies that had been withheld from them were now revealed. For boys and girls, attending the bush school meant separation from their parents (mothers, especially for the boys), and bonding with their age mates. In many societies, sexual identity was confirmed by circumcision (boys) or excision (girls), and proof of courage was tested by various physical ordeals. Among some peoples, coming-of-age rituals included modifying an individual’s face and/or body for the purpose of identity with the group or family, as marks of civilization, and for beautification. An array of sculpted masks, figures, and other aesthetic objects that have a role in coming-of-age rituals or manifest the outcome of this rite of passage are presented on the following pages. Many, like the Bobo Nwenka mask, appear in more than one context—for example, at planting and harvest celebrations and the funerals of community elders. Such events benefit the whole community. But it is only males to whom the secrets of masking and mask making are revealed among the Bobo, Dan, and Makonde peoples. Art for girls’ coming-of-age rituals includes a helmet mask from the Mende peoples—one of the rare societies in which masking is a woman’s right— and female statues as tangible symbols of feminine beauty and the lessons of coming of age. 121


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Nwenka mask Burkina Faso and Mali, Bobo peoples 20th century Wood, pigment, and metal 46¼ × 13½ × 123/!6 in. (117.48 × 34.29 × 30.96 cm) Gift of Gustave and Franyo Schindler, 1979.35.A–B

Bobo boys and young men were not considered adults until they had been initiated into the worship of Dwo, the Creator God’s representative, and learned the secret of masking. They learned about the relationship between Dwo and the Nwenka and other masks that appear on the occasions of harvest rites, male initiation rituals, and funerals. The Nwenka mask is one of the oldest and most sacred wooden masks that perform at Bobo masquerades. Tradition claims it dates from the time of creation when Wuro, the Creator God, molded the world from moist clay and made creatures to inhabit it. The first humans he created were the blacksmith and his wife. When Wuro eventually retreated from the perfect world he had created, he left his three sons behind to help mankind maintain the balance between the opposing forces in the world. His most important son is Dwo, the mask, which Wuro fashioned out of leaves. This mask is the major spiritual being through which man can communicate with the Creator God. Wuro gave this mask to the blacksmith who carved other masks to manifest Dwo’s many aspects. Each mask has a name, is worn by an elder who is concealed by a fiber costume, and has special choreography and musical accompaniment.2 Nwenka embodies the spirit of Dwo and ultimately Wuro’s spirit. The Nwenka masked dance imitates Wuro creating the world. According to an eyewitness account of a performance, the dancer plants his feet firmly and twists his torso and neck, grasping the small handle that protrudes from the chin of the mask or a band of fiber that is knotted inside the chin. The wooden head of the mask rotates two or three revolutions, then returns in such a way that the mask may leave the performer’s head and is only kept from flying across the performance area by the tight grip on it.3 Bobo blacksmith-sculptors carve Nwenke masks (sing. Nwenka) in the form of a demi-helmet with an elongated trapezoidal human face featuring a prominent forehead, circular eyes, a long, narrow nose, and narrow chin. Nwenke masks are typically surmounted by a frontal plank decorated with openwork geometric patterns. There may be additional elements such as a bird’s head, beak, or an anthropomorphic figure carved on the helmet. These masks were traditionally painted red, white, and black and are worn with a costume of thick fibers.4 The Dallas Nwenka mask is an excellent example of the type. The bird embodied in the frontal plank form and the traces of red, white, and blue pigment are original. The frontal plank is decorated with opposing columns of alternating solid and cutout triangles on either side of the long neck of a hornbill bird head that was carved separately in full relief. The openwork triangle motif is repeated on the sagittal crest running from the brow line to the back of the mask. Under each eye is a raised diagonal bar to represent the facial scarification worn by Bobo men. The mouth is a solid tubular form.


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Face mask Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, and Liberia, Dan peoples Before 1940 Wood, fiber, and pigment 11½ × 6¼ × 3 in. (29.21 × 15.88 × 7.62 cm) African Collection Fund, 2005.45

This lustrous black face mask probably played a role in Dan boys’ ­initiation rites. It is a support for a du (vital force) spirit, which is materialized in a mask considered to be a spirit medium. When du decides it wants to participate in human society and help mankind, it appears to men in dreams and dictates the requirements for a mask to make it tangible. Subsequently the dreamer, who will wear and perform the masquerade, commissions a sculptor (glen ye meh; the spelling is only approximate; the phonetic symbol ε, denoted by the Greek epsilon, as in mε, provides a closer indication of the pronunciation) to carve a mask out of wood. There are at least eleven major spirit masks with human or animal features that are realized in a naturalistic or stylized manner. Each mask has a name and its own paraphernalia, costume, and headdress as well as unique behavior, choreography, and musical accompaniment. Masks have human or animal features that may be representational or stylized. Other masks are a fantastic combination of both. The small, oval face and narrow eyes of the Dallas mask suggest femininity in contrast to masks with heavy, overhanging brows, jutting angles, and mustaches that are considered masculine. This mask probably represents Deangle, a smiling and attractive female spirit that neither sings nor dances but walks and gestures gracefully. It serves as a mediator between the village and the boys’ ­circumcision/initiation camp from which it emerges to collect food for the boys and report the news from the camp to the village and vice versa.5


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Face mask (igri) Nigeria, Igbo peoples, Ada group Mid-20th century Wood, pigment, and raffia 17¾ × 5 × 5½ in. (45.09 × 12.70 × 13.97 cm) The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 1998.83.McD

fig 35  An igri mask is performed during an Afikpo njenji parade. In addition to the carved and painted mask, the participant wears an elaborate headdress of leaves and a woven halter across his chest. Nigeria, 1960.

Among the Ada and related Igbo subgroups, the njenji masquerade is an annual event that ushers in the festival season. It is held on the first day of a four-day event that moves from village to village and is arranged by an age-grade comprised of males in their late twenties who demonstrate their organizational skills and ability to obtain the cooperation of others as a test of manhood. The initiates are also obligated to prepare a feast for village men older than themselves. Depending on the village, the parade and feast are held on the day before the initiation is to be completed or as the first project of the newly initiated men.6 The njenji masquerade, which is performed by males, represents historical and present-day characters including, among others, pubescent girls and married women, male and female couples, scholars, Christians, Muslims, and slaves. Traditionally, indigenous characters walk at the front of the parade carrying machetes and shields, while those wearing Islamic dress or Western clothing carrying modern accessories, such as briefcases, bring up the rear. The modern costumes and behavior of the maskers pre­ sent a satirical commentary on changes that occurred in Igboland under British rule. The masquerade also stresses male adulthood. Igri masks represent vigorous and exuberant young men who clear the parade route and protect the maskers that follow them, especially those wearing the traditional costumes of married women and beautiful pubescent girls like the standing female figure (p. 135). The Dallas mask exemplifies a type that is distinguished by a tall, rectangular forehead rising up from a long facial plane and is decorated with incised and painted geometric patterns. Missing from the mask are bundles of raffia that were laid horizontally one above the other and bound together at the top of the mask, which is further adorned with leaves, plaited palm fronds, and porcupine quills (fig. 35). To complete the outfit, a masker wears a woven halter over his bare chest, a feline animal skin on his back and around his upper arm, a short raffia skirt, ankle rattles, and one or more rows of plastic beads around his neck and hips. His accessories include a wrestling bell, a machete in its sheath, and a special shield made of sticks and raffia. In order to impersonate females properly, male maskers rely on their sisters, wives, mothers, or girlfriends to lend them the essential waistbeads or cloth for wrappers, shoes, purses, and the like. They also have to obtain the women’s cooperation in preparing food for a feast in honor of the older men of the village. Despite their feminine appearance the female characters carry canes or sticks in their right hands—symbolic of masculine eldership—to remind the audience that the maskers are mature males.


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Helmet mask (muti wa lipiko) Mozambique and Tanzania, Makonde peoples Before 1914 Wood, beeswax, human hair, and pigment 10 × 7 × 10 in. (25.40 × 17.78 × 25.40 cm) Gift of the Cecil and Ida Green Foundation, 1999.64

This helmet mask appeared in the men’s lipiko, a public masquerade that was still being staged in the 1990s to celebrate the reentry of Makonde males and females into the community after they completed the comingof-age rituals in their respective bush schools.7 Boys and girls were initiated into adulthood according to African convention, which includes three stages: separation from the community and one’s mother, preparation for adult life, and reentry into the community as an adult. In the seclusion of the forest encampment, boys learned discipline and the rules of accepted social behavior and developed skills to support their future families (e.g., farming, hunting, fishing). They learned the songs and dances they would have to perform and gained understanding of their sexuality and the obligations of marriage and family life. Before completing this stage, both boys and girls were subjected to surgical procedures, circumcision for males and excision for females, and had their faces and/or bodies decorated with scarification patterns. Their teeth were chipped into points. These were painful tests to prove one’s manhood or to become more attractive.8 During the second stage, boys also learned about death and the secret of masking. They had been taught to believe that the humanlike beings (the masks) came from the world of the dead. Now, in a frightful rite, they came in close contact with the mask, which was dramatically removed from the wearer. The boys discovered it was made of wood and to drive home this fact, a sculptor carved one in their presence. They also learned how to wear the muti wa lipiko (head of the lipiko) to allow air to circulate through the neck end of the mask so as not to suffocate, to attach the cloth to the mask so it draped over the shoulders, and to wear the bodyconcealing costume and tutulike overskirt. The mystery of masking was not revealed to the girls and uninitiated males because masking was a form of social control. The final stage was a public masquerade in honor of the new adults. Makonde sculptors faithfully depicted the filed teeth and facial scarification of the villagers on the masks. The Dallas mask probably represents a male, as indicated by the absence of a lip plug. It is reputed to have entered a German collection before 1914. The application of smoked beeswax to create the scarification patterns reflects a Makonde practice that was current in the early part of the twen­tieth century.9


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Helmet mask (sowei) Manowulo, active c. 1935–1960 Sierra Leone, Bo Town area, Baoma chiefdom, Mende peoples 1940–1960 Wood and pigment 14¼ × 8½ × 9 in. (36.20 × 21.59 × 22.86 cm) African Collection Fund, 2006.44

The women’s Sande society traditionally initiated Mende girls into woman­hood by preparing them for marriage and family life and participation in religious rituals and teaching them the songs and dances they would have to perform. Similar to the boys’ coming-of-age rites and ordeals, girls were excised. When they were deemed to be ready, the highranking teacher and leader (ndoli jowei) of the Sande society introduced them to the community as adult women (fig. 36). On this occasion, each ndoli jowei wore a voluminous raffia fiber costume and a wooden helmet mask that embodied sowei, the female water spirit which is the guardian deity of the Sande society. The masquerade presented “the idealized image of female perfection and power and also personifies the corporate interest and prestige of the female portion of the Mende community.”10 Usually, African women do not wear masks. Men wear the masks and men carve them. The Mende model of women wearing masks is a rare exception that is shared with peoples in southern Sierra Leone and western Liberia who are bound by the multiethnic men’s Poro association of which Sande (also known as Bundu) is the counterpart. The Dallas Sande society helmet mask is a venerable example of a mask that has changed very little since it was first described in an eighteenthcentury travel book.11 Wherever they are found, Sande society masks are always in the form of a helmet that fits closely over the wearer’s head, and they depict a female wearing an elaborate hairstyle. The slits cut through the downcast eyes in a diamond-shaped face allow visibility. The eyes may also be placed along the edge of the mask. The small mouth can be closed or slightly open. The wide rings around the neck and holes along the edge are for attaching the raffia costume. Each of these elements is significant. The elaborate hairstyle, for ex­ample, is carefully detailed and reflects current fashion. Downcast eyes are associated with modesty and the nonhuman essence of the spirit that inhabits the mask. The wide rings on the neck are usually interpreted as rings of fat and signify fertility. Another interpretation is that the rings are the “recognition of the natural and desirable pattern of biological growth in adolescent girls in preparation for childbearing that entails the increase in body fat—a pattern that is also well documented in Western medicine.”12 The mouth is closed or slightly open to signify silence and inner spiritual concentration. The lustrous black pigment or paint staining the mask is a reference to the river-dwelling spirit that inhabits the mask. Black, in the Mende language, means “wet” or “wetness.” Animal horns and an amulet carved in relief adorn this mask. Some masks display these objects as attachments that may be covered with gold or silver. Such horns in real life were stuffed with protective medicines. A long time ago, wealthy Mende women also wore pendant necklaces with silver-encased amulets containing Islamic inscriptions. The amulets were made by Muslim mori, or holy men, and expensive to obtain. Their


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a­ ttachment to or depiction on Sande society masks protected the dancer from malevolent forces while she performed. It was also an unmistakable sign of wealth. This mask is attributed to Manowulo, a Mende sculptor who was active from about 1935 until 1960 in the Baoma chiefdom located north of Jaiama-Bongor near the town of Bo. Many masks carved by Manowulo and his apprentices were still in use in the 1970s when the anthropologist Ruth B. Phillips conducted field research on Sande society masks among the Sewa-Mende. The sculptor’s trademark style features a wide diamond shape, the upper half of which is framed by an inverted V or U and the lower half by a sharply angled jawline. The jawline of some of his masks is delineated by a border of parallel grooves into which the small mouth is placed at the point of the chin. Manowulo carved the ears at the lateral points of the facial diamond and gave them a C-shaped ridge with a raised round dot at the center of the opening. The eyes are long horizontal slits, and the nose is a long form that is slightly flared at the nostrils. He typically carved fine details of braids or other designs on the head. The hairstyle on this mask is obscured by the patina, but it is typical of what Mende women wore during the mid-twentieth century.13

fig 36  Female members of the Sande, or Bundu, association dance in wooden masks that are crafted by men. The Sande masquerade provides an uncommon opportunity for women to perform masks. Bumpe, Sierra Leone, 1976.


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two : art for Coming of age


Standing female figure Nigeria, Igbo peoples Late 19th to 20th century Wood, pigment, metal, fiber, and beads 367/* × 8¾ × 8½ in. (93.66 × 22.22 × 21.59 cm) The Gustave and Franyo Schindler Collection of African Sculpture, gift of the McDermott Foundation in honor of Eugene McDermott, 1974.SC.29

fig 37  The moulded hairstyle with center crest worn by the Igbo women of Nigeria in the early 20th century is reflected in their sculptural representations of nubile females.

Among the Igbo peoples of north central Igboland, pubescent girls (agbogho) prepared for womanhood through a process called nkpu, which translates as “fattening confinement.” While overeating and maintaining the weight gained by not working or exercising for six months or longer (depending upon the family’s economic situation), girls spent their time learning how to be beautiful, both physically and morally. In addition to the obligatory excision, their bodies were decorated with delicately painted uli patterns and mbudu or ebubu scarification. Select village women taught the girls how to be virtuous and dutiful wives, housekeepers, and nurturing mothers. At the appointed time, the initiates reentered village life ready for marriage and family life. The event was celebrated with a promenade around the village at which time the initiated women were honored with gifts of cowries, which were used as currency before the introduction of coins and paper money. An early twentieth-century description of Igbo girls after they had experienced the nkpu (fig. 37) could apply to the Dallas figure. They wear no clothes whatever. Their bodies are smeared all over with Vermilion red and they are decorated with ropes of tightly twisted cloth or threaded cowrie shells. One or more tiny brass bells are fastened to the cloth or cowrie-shell waistband. Rings of brass adorn the legs, graduated in size from the ankles to just above the knees. The coiffure is a very elaborate affair and requires unlimited patience and skill to arrange in the correct style. In the center the hair is worked up with a mixture of clay, powdered charcoal and palm-oil until it becomes a sticky mass. It is then moulded into a shape resembling the central crest of a Roman helmet. The center comes well over the middle of the forehead, and it extends backwards into the nape of the neck. Below the main erection and on either side delicate patterns are traced with tiny plaits of hair curled into small coils and then plastered down flatly to the head. Finally the high center has its sides embellished with mother of pearl or bits of brass; the pieces (about the size of shillings) being sewn in with hair.14 These freestanding figures usually have an elongated neck and many are depicted holding imported umbrellas and mirrors. The “Vermilion red” color on the statue was obtained from the inner bark of the camwood tree and used as a cosmetic among the Igbo and other sub-Saharan peoples. It was also believed to have healing properties. G. T. Basden, an Anglican missionary, mentions that one of the girls’ tasks during the nkpu confinement was preparing the camwood dye with which they would eventually stain their bodies. They probably learned to make the vegetable dye used for painting uli patterns and how to paint the curvilinear patterns with the thinnest sliver of wood. Uli was ­exclusively

a women’s art until the twentieth century. These sculptures, like the initiated women they portray, are the image of ideal beauty. In traditional Igbo culture, “beauty” was not only about physical appearance but also about displaying moral conduct.15 Men’s age-grade associations commissioned sculptors to carve freestanding figures for display at public, secular festivals held during the dry season. They were considered prestige objects and emblems of the associations that owned them. During the festival, members paraded them around the village—much like the nkpu girls they portray and honor—and when they performed, the statue was a stationary display.


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Standing female figure Democratic Republic of the Congo, Luba peoples Late 19th to early 20th century Wood, leather, beads, and fiber 13 × 25/* × 3¼ in. (33.02 × 6.67 × 8.26 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of African Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.96

Luba girls learn that a woman is not born beautiful but becomes so as a result of modifications to her face and body. This process begins at puberty, as part of the coming-of-age rituals (butanda) that transform girls into physically beautiful, sexually attractive, and, therefore, highly eligible women who can fulfill their destiny as wives and ­mothers. Their teeth are filed, their hair is arranged into elegant hairstyles, and their bodies are decorated with beaded jewelry. In addition to having their labia extended, their bodies are decorated with strategically placed scarification patterns. Achieving such modifications and enhancements is not without pain, but in Luba thought the pain thus suffered makes the woman strong. This is especially important if she is destined to serve as the receptacle for a spirit, possibly that of a deceased king.16 The gesture of holding the breasts with one’s hands signifies a woman’s responsibility to guard the secrets of royal power or other important knowledge tucked in her breasts.17 The Dallas standing female figure elegantly visualizes Luba concepts of feminine beauty, maturity, and civilization. The figure is elaborately decorated with scarification (ntapo). The named patterns are inspired by things in nature and include: milalo, the horizontal, parallel lines below the navel on the lower abdomen; lunenyenye, or “star,” the large welt below the breasts; kisanji, or music, the clustered marks on either side of the navel; and the round protuberances above each buttock, called meso a tete or grasshopper eyes.18 Another Luba criterion of physical beauty and sexual attractiveness on the sculpture is its glossy surface. Before retiring at night, a Luba woman heightened her attractiveness by applying oil to her scarified skin “so it will gleam in the dim lamplight of her bedroom chamber.”19 A nineteenth-century practice was to oil the sculpture. Nearly a century after its departure from Africa, the Dallas figure still exudes oil. The figure once surmounted a carved wooden staff (luswaga) that served as a judicial emblem among the Luba peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.20 The missing shaft ended in a metal rod that was planted in the ground during rituals. The figure is clearly an object of great spiritual significance because it carries a leather-covered “charge” inserted into the top of the figure’s head. The charge contains potent, supernatural medicine.


2 : af ric an art in t h e c yc l e of l if e two : art for Coming of age

african art in the cycle of life Part three: art for security and well-being

Notes 1. Mbiti 1970: 121–22 2. Roy, in Koloss 2002: 204 3. Roy 1987: 338–39 4. Ibid., 318–34 5. Fischer and Himmelheber 1984: 11–12, 22–33 6. Ottenberg 1975: 147–69 7. Kingdon 1999: [4–8]; Wembah-Rashid 1971: 38–44 8. Kingdon 1999: [12–16]; Schneider 1973: 26–31; 92 9. Fagg 1968: 268 10. R. Phillips 1995: 81 11. Matthews [1788] 1966, quoted in R. Phillips 1995: 16–18 12. R. Phillips 1995: 116; Boone 1986: 100 13. Ibid., 171, fig. 8.21 ab and 8.22 ab; Ruth Phillips, personal communication, July 8, 2006 14. Basden [1921] 1966: 73–74 A photograph of nkpu girls is found facing page 240. 15. Cole and Aniakor 1984: 107–108, 121 16. Roberts and Roberts 1996: 106 17. Ibid., 111–12 18. Roberts 2000: 6; Roberts and Roberts 1996: 102, 107, 111–12 19. Roberts and Roberts 1996: 111 20. Louis de Strycker, personal communication, January 26, 2004

Traditional African art addresses an essential human concern, that of wellbeing or the state of feeling content. Feeling secure in a peaceful and orderly environment, being mentally and physically healthy, having a family of one’s own, prospering in one’s occupation, and dying in old age of natural causes contribute to this sense of well-being and contentment. In the belief that there are influential supernatural forces in all things—living and dead, animate and inanimate—that can be appeased or contacted and petitioned for blessings, humans have invented various objects to serve as mediums of communication and as tangible symbols of the invisible. Artworks used to ensure communal and individual security and wellbeing include masks, religious objects, medicine vials, and power figures. Masks of the Baga and Yoruba peoples portray celebrated deities and culture heroes, while other masks imbued with powers to punish evildoers enforced the law. Bronze bells and shrine figures were used in the context of religious worship. Medicine was contained in specially crafted vessels and in solid figures representing intangible spiritual forces that protected the community, promoted good fortune, or ensured success in trading and hunting. Power figures were charged with magical materials as well as supernatural forces to heal, seek out wrongdoers, or enforce a contractual agreement and required the services of a ritual specialist to activate them. This section also includes a drum that, in this context, contributes to women’s mental health. The multivalent nature of most African art allows these objects to express the theme of security and well-being. Other objects could as well—for ex­ ample, the divination objects that are used to ascertain the cause and cure of infertility or to avert or reverse other misfortune; or the Nwenka mask that represents the Creator God and the Egungun masquerade costume that makes a family ancestor visible, both of which can be petitioned for blessings. In all cases, artists have created objects that conform to the canon but are unique and, as such, attract the attention of spiritual entities.



2 : af ric an art in t h e c yc l e of l if e three : art for security and well-being


Headdress (D’mba) Guinea, Baga peoples Late 19th to early 20th century Wood 49¼ × 161/* × 27 11/!6 in. (125.10 × 40.96 × 70.33 cm) The Gustave and Franyo Schindler Collection of African Sculpture, gift of the McDermott Foundation in honor of Eugene McDermott, 1974.SC.18

This colossal headdress represents D’mba, the universal mother, symbol of mature femininity. She is indeed a fertility object, but one that is also concerned with the prosperity and well-being of the entire community. She is a welcome sight at all stages of the agricultural and human cycles of development. Dressed in a voluminous palm fiber skirt that reaches the ground and a dark cloth tied so as to expose her prominent breasts, which are flat as a result of nursing many children, D’mba appears at planting and harvesting festivals, marriages, births, funerals, and ancestral commemorations. D’mba masquerades, which were suppressed by Muslim leaders in the 1950s, have been experiencing a resurgence in some villages since the 1980s. Their revival has, as recently witnessed by Frederick Lamp, given women the strength to bear children and nurture them to adulthood, encouraged the ancestors to participate in the continuance of community well-being, induced the rain to fall, and driven young men to feats of cooperative excellence in agriculture.1 In performance, the Dallas D’mba headdress would have been adorned with separately carved ear ornaments and polished with oil to achieve the glow of vitality. The raised patterns represent scarification; on some headdresses these patterns are enhanced with the insertion of shiny brass tacks. It was carried by a strong young man who wore it on top of his head with a ring of cloth or fibers to cushion the weight. The four legs of the mask were attached at the bottom to a hoop encircling his chest and back. Two holes between the breasts allowed the dancer to see outside the mask.


2 : af ric an art in t h e c yc l e of l if e three : art for security and well-being


Epa headdress Attributed to Oshamuko of Osi Village (d. circa 1950) or his workshop Nigeria, northern Ekiti region, Yoruba peoples Early to mid-20th century Wood and pigment 47½ × 17 × 13 in. (120.65 × 43.18 × 33.02 cm) African Collection Fund, 2007.41.1

Annual festivals held throughout Yorubaland incorporate masquerades that celebrate the values and social roles upon which the well-being of the towns depend.2 The festival, called Epa (or Elefon) in Ekiti towns, is characterized by the appearance of large-scale wooden headdresses. The animals and humans carved on the superstructure of the headdress represent real or mythical ancestors who provide the foundation and continuity of Yoruba society. When more than one mask performs, the masks appear in a prescribed order. Oloko, who introduced farming and hunting, is the first mask to perform. He is followed by a warrior who carries a spear and a gun to defend the land and people; he may have been a founder or ruler of a town. Olosanyin, the priest of Osanyin and the god of herbal medicine, appears next. He has special knowledge of psychology and the ability to identify and use curative plants. Olosanyin is followed by a woman who is honored for her procreative powers or as the leader of the townswomen. The last to appear is a male ruler astride a horse. Epa headdresses, which are carved from a single block of wood, can be quite tall and heavy. Each headdress consists of a pot-shaped helmet capped with a superstructure. The helmet portion features a stylized human face that fits over the head of the dancer, who looks through the mouth opening for visibility. The superstructure depicts a specific social role such as farmer, warrior, priest, mother, or king as indicated above. The size of the subject, which is always centered, dominates the composition in accordance with the Yoruba rules of social perspective. The costume, which is not meant to conceal the wearer’s body, consists of strips of cloth or fresh palm fronds suspended from the base of the headdress. The Dallas mask is attributed to Oshamuko of Osi village. Apprenticed to the master artist Arowogun (Areogun) of Osi-Ilorin (p. 276), Oshamuko produced his mature works from about 1920 to about 1950. The headdress portrays the bearded priest Olosanyin. In his right hand he grasps a wrought iron staff (opa orere) decorated with bird imagery; in his left, a chevron-patterned antelope horn supported by an attendant. Such horns were filled with powerful medicines used to cure physical or mental illnesses. The priest’s extraordinarily long hair is styled into a single braid and decorated with medicine gourd containers. The end of the braid rests on the heads of two musicians who play their instruments to herald the priest’s powers (see detail, left). In addition to demonstrating technical skill and insight into his subject, Oshamuko also shows great imagination (imoju-mora) in rendering the priest’s clothing as a dynamic form.3 Over each hip of the priest’s pants the sculptor carved knotted ends that he extended across the shoulders of two attendants to touch the medicine gourds each holds.


2 : af ric an art in t h e c yc l e of l if e three : art for security and well-being


Bell in the form of a head Nigeria, Lower Niger Bronze Industry, Forcados River style 16th to 19th century Cast copper alloy 55/* × 2 7/* in. diam. (14.29 × 7.30 cm) Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene McDermott, 1976.3

Although the precise purpose of bells shaped like heads is unknown, it is reasonable to assume, based on the traditional use of bells and gongs among the peoples of southern Nigeria, that the Dallas example was used to call ancestors and divinities to worship. Rendered in a naturalistic style, the face has humanlike eyes, broad nose, mouth, and ears. The relief imagery of horns rising from behind the ears, serpents issuing from the nostrils, and a knot at the bridge of the nose are, however, unnatural. These symbolic motifs are found in the visual arts of the Yoruba and Benin kingdoms and Lower Niger cultures. Horns, for example, symbolize the extraordinary power that emanates from the head of a deity and, as such, appear on multiple depictions of Eshu, the god of uncertainty and chaos, and on Yoruba Ifa divination trays (see p. 107). Snakes are associated with the worship of Oshun, the deity who rules the ocean and other bodies of water, and are depicted in artworks from the ancient Yoruba kingdom at Ile-Ife and especially in the art of the Benin kingdom. Knots represent the power­ful, magical medicine that is usually found on warrior gear worn by figures on Benin and Lower Niger Bronze Industry sculptures. Taken together, the imagery evokes supernatural and physical powers.4 Cast using the lost-wax process, this bell is similar to others attributed to the style of the “Lower Niger Bronze Industry,” a designation coined by William Fagg in 1959 as a catchall attribution for a hoard of bronze castings excavated around 1909 on the Forcados River in the western Niger Delta southwest of Benin City.5 The castings are diverse in terms of formal qualities, iconography, and technical sophistication and do not fit within the canons of copper alloy casting in the major centers (i.e., the Yoruba and Benin kingdoms and at Igbo Ukwu). Similar mysterious castings, none of which has been precisely dated, have since been found in numerous locations in southern Nigeria and have been attributed likewise. That the bells are made of a durable material, are technically sophisticated, and depict complex imagery suggest they were made for leaders or persons of high sociopolitical rank, perhaps kings or chiefs on whose behalf they were used on the occasion of the transfer of power or as part of the royal regalia.


2 : af ric an art in t h e c yc l e of l if e three : art for security and well-being


Seated female shrine figure Nigeria, Benue State, Igede peoples Early 20th century Wood and pigment 27½ × 6¾ × 9¼ in. (69.85 × 17.15 × 23.50 cm) African Collection Fund, 2005.97

Carved in a naturalistic style, this female figure sits on a round stool with her hands resting on her knees. She stares intently at the viewer, her mouth open as if she were speaking. The scarification decorating her face and body may signify her affiliation with a particular family or lineage, or successful initiation into a possession cult called Anjenu. The Igede peoples believe disease, infertility, and disorder are caused by the anjenu, nature spirits that reside in fast-flowing rivers and streams or massive anthills. When the spirits invade a village, the Igede erect a shrine to appease them and furnish it with vessels of sacred water, a magical substance (eka), and sacrificial food. Clay lions or leopards representing strong and powerful wild animals along with specially carved wooden figures said to portray devotees of Anjenu also populate the shrine. The Igede believe combining sculpture with singing honors the spirits more effectively than simply performing the ritual with sacred water.6 Although this enshrined figure was probably viewed from the front, it was conceived as a three-dimensional form. Viewed from the front, the figure’s torso appears to be an elongated cylinder; from the side, the form slopes to a point just beyond her breasts and her feet. The figure’s generous buttocks rest solidly on a cylindrical stool. Clearly, it was meant to be viewed from all angles. Traces of pigment remain on the figure. When the sculpture was in use, her coiffure and body were regularly refreshed with applications of white kaolin clay and ochre, respectively.


2 : af ric an art in t h e c yc l e of l if e three : art for security and well-being


Vessel (itinate) Nigeria, Lower Gongola River Valley, Cham or Mwona peoples Early 20th century Terracotta 16 × 5 × 5 in. (40.64 × 12.70 × 12.70 cm) Gift of The Cecil and Ida Green Foundation, 1999.58

Embellished vessels (itinate) were traditionally used in divination and healing rituals among diverse peoples in the Lower Gongola River Valley in northeast Nigeria. The stylistically similar healing vessels of the Cham and Mwona peoples feature a bulbous base surmounted by either a figure with an open mouth or a nonrepresentational form. The surface of the upper portion usually has a rough, often jagged, texture. The highly stylized female figure on this vessel has an elabo­rate hairstyle or headdress tapering into a hornlike form, an apelike brow, eyes, and an elongated snoutlike mouth with notched lips. Its “collar” and the band encircling the place where the upper and lower portions meet are similarly notched.7 When J. N. Hare, an official of the British Colonial Administrative Service in Nigeria, formed a collection of these vessels in the late 1950s, the practice of making them was dying out and only the elderly knew how to use them.8 Individuals concerned about infertility or giving birth to a healthy baby, tending to a sick animal, or threatened by forces beyond their control conferred with the village diviner, a man of great authority. The diviner consulted either a male or female terracotta figure, according to the patient’s gender, for advice. Upon receiving an answer, the diviner sent the patient to a male potter to commission a specific vessel. The potter had to be highly skilled and familiar with the different kinds of vessels in order to ensure the prescription would work. Before a vessel could be used, the diviner activated it with incantations, pouring a libation, and in some cases, filling the vessel with water from a particular pool that was believed to have magical powers.9 The patient then took the vessel home where it was kept until his or her malady was cured. After the vessel had served its purpose, the owner discarded it at a safe distance from the village. Hare notes that these vessels were also used during important festivals at which time they were filled with locally brewed guinea corn beer in thanks to all of the benign powers operating within the household.10 Unfortunately, the precise function of the Dallas vessel is not known.


2 : af ric an art in t h e c yc l e of l if e three : art for security and well-being


Ritual container in form of standing male figure Angola, Chokwe peoples 19th century Wood, metal, and leather 14 1/* × 4 1/* × 311/!6 in. (35.88 × 10.48 × 9.37 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.8.A–B

The Chokwe believed their chief or “owner of the land” (mwanangana) was God’s representative on earth, the intermediary between the world of humans and the world of ancestral and nature spirits. The chief ultimately ensured his people’s well-being by keeping the balance between these realms. In order to do so, he required the spiritual support of his ancestors, which he activated with special, potent medicines. This standing male figure has a hollow torso—revealed by removing its head—and once held the medicine used by an ancestral chief to activate supernatural powers. The right hand of this figure was accidentally broken and replaced by a blade, suggesting the regenerative abilities of the chief and his ancestors.11


2 : af ric an art in t h e c yc l e of l if e three : art for security and well-being


Standing male figure (mbulenga) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lulua peoples Late 19th to early 20th century Wood and camwood patination 7½ × 13/* × 1½ in. (19.05 × 3.49 × 3.81 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.131

Small sculpted figures holding a vessel in one hand are called mbulenga, which means “for beauty, for good luck” in the Lulua language, and were believed to protect infants. The figure’s reddish brown patina is the result of being coated with ngula (red powder from the camwood tree mixed with water). Its power comes from the contents of the vessel, which included the hair of a female albino (considered a blessing by the Lulua), the bark of a sacred tree (mutshi muabi), and the red feathers from the tail of a gray parrot. The sculptor carved this figure in a naturalistic style, carefully depicting details of the hairstyle, clothing, ornamentation, and scarification that were in fashion. Having one’s body decorated with scarification made an individual bwimpe—that is, beautiful, not only physically but morally as well. Scarification is produced by making cuts in the skin, which must heal properly to leave smooth and shiny raised scars. An individual whose skin did not heal properly was not considered to be a beautiful and moral person. To give themselves a healthy glow, individuals applied a mixture of red earth, oil, and kaolin to their bodies.12


2 : af ric an art in t h e c yc l e of l if e three : art for security and well-being


Male figure standing on an animal Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eastern Luba-related peoples Late 19th to early 20th century Wood 93/* × 25/* × 51/!6 in. (23.81 × 6.67 × 12.86 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.99

The precise meaning of this figure is unclear. It was enshrined and maintained by hunters who believed the hunting spirit Luwe would ensure a successful hunt, thereby providing meat for the community. The figure standing on the animal may allude to Mbidi Kiluwe in the guise of the hunting spirit as he rides the lead animal of a herd toward the hunter’s blind or pit trap. In the Luba epic, Mbidi Kiluwe is the culture hero, a foreign hunter and warrior from the east who introduced sacred kingship to the indigenous population that became the Luba. Among peoples conquered by the Luba or who otherwise came under Luba influence, Mbidi Kiluwe is depicted riding on the back of a buffalo, an elephant, or antelope.13


2 : af ric an art in t h e c yc l e of l if e three : art for security and well-being


Standing female figure (mbem) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yanzi peoples Late 19th to early 20th century Wood and pigment 91/!6 × 213/!6 × 25/* in. (23.02 × 7.14 × 6.67 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.199

The Yanzi employ a variety of sculpted figures in rituals to assure their well-being. A series of figures called mbem were used in specific situations to protect against disease, reverse infertility that could ironically be caused by an mbem, or identify wrongdoers.14 Some mbem were used to reinforce the authority of the head of an extended family or cause a woman to become sterile if she lied about an adulterous relationship under oath before an mbem. Grandmothers, in addition to chiefs and male heads of extended families, were entitled to own mbem to reinforce their authority over the women in their families.15 Mbem figures are carved in the form of male, female, or androgynous humans with minimal physiognomic details. The hands and feet of this diminutive female figure, for example, are rendered as faceted geometric forms. Diagonal striations incised on her face replicate the facial scarification that was in fashion when the statue was carved. Although the figure is posed frontally (see facing), it is fully three-­dimensional in its conception (see rear view, below). The profile, for example, displays echoing and complementary angles: the upward thrust of her hairstyle is in opposition to the V-shaped ears that oppose the larger V-shaped arms and shoulders. And, her legs are flexed at the knees offering more angles. The figure’s red color, the result of applications of camwood paste, indicates that a ritual specialist consecrated the mbem. When it was in use, the mbem was probably dressed in a raffia cloth, adorned with a necklace, and smelled of tobacco smoke.


2 : af ric an art in t h e c yc l e of l if e three : art for security and well-being


Figure (nazeze-type of yanda) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Northeastern region, Zande peoples Late 19th to early 20th century Wood, metal, coins, and beads 6½ × 23/* × 2 1/* in. (16.51 × 6.03 × 5.40 cm) The Gustave and Franyo Schindler Collection of African Sculpture, gift of the McDermott Foundation in honor of Eugene McDermott, 1974.SC.50

Anthropomorphic figures like this one are known as yandas after the protective spirits that the Zande peoples believe guard their communities.16 Yanda figures belonged to the highest-ranking members of the Mani society, a secret association open to both men and women. Membership in Mani ensured one’s general well-being, including fertility, successful hunting and fishing, protection against disease and sorcery, and the resolution of family or legal problems. According to some scholars, the Mani association was organized initially to counter­act the authority of the royal elite lead by the Vurungura clan and later the Belgian colonial government.17 Yanda figures are usually referred to as female because of their asso­cia­ tion with fertility even though their sex is most often un­defined. Made of wood, clay, or soft stone, nazeze-type yandas are carved in an abstract style with a minimum of physiognomic details. The wood used for the sculpture was chosen for its medicinal properties.18 Magical substances could also be placed in the yanda’s recessed navel, which was covered. Concealed in special containers, yandas were activated during a ritual in which they were anointed with libele, a plant mixture. Petitioners continued to anoint the yandas as they disclosed their problems to the figures, which were then returned to their receptacles. After a problem was resolved, the petitioner offered the yanda gifts of beads, metal rings, and coins, similar to the adornments on the Dallas figure. Over time the surface of the figure became so thick with encrustation that the carving beneath was obscured. It could be said that the sculptures were more the product of ritual process than aesthetic choice made by the sculptor.


2 : af ric an art in t h e c yc l e of l if e three : art for security and well-being


Standing power figure (nkisi nkondi) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chiloango River region, Yombe peoples Late 19th to early 20th century Wood, iron, raffia, ceramic, pigment, kaolin, red camwood, resin, dirt, leaves, animal skin, and cowrie shell 43¾ × 15½ × 11 in. (111.13 × 39.37 × 27.94 cm) Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of the McDermott Foundation, 1996.184.FA

fig 38  An x-ray of the nkisi nkondi reveals deep inset eyes and metal pins used to attach the beard to the face.

All minkisi (sing. nkisi) are containers for magical substances, or ­“medicines,” that empower them to protect the community or an individual against negative forces. They can, however, also cause mis­fortune, illness, and death. The containers come in a variety of forms, including cloth bundles, snail shells, clay pots, or sculpted wood figures in animal or human form. The latter type of nkisi is called a power figure. The empower­ ing medicines (bilongo), which were made of vege­tal, animal, and mineral elements including dirt from ancestral graves, may be placed atop the nkisi’s head, in its belly (mooyo or life), on its back, or in any natural orifice and sealed in place with resin. Each nkisi figure has a special name, a specific pose, a particular function, and a ritual to activate it. The Dallas nkisi belongs to a class of minkisi called nkondi (pl. minkondi). The term is translated as “hunter” of wrongdoers in matters of civil law; the hunter is simultaneously chief, doctor, priest, and judge.19 The sculpted wood form of the nkisi nkondi is studded with nails or blades that indicate how often the nkisi had been used. This type of nkisi nkondi is intimidating: it stares at the viewer with teeth bared and stands with feet apart on separate blocks that symbolize the worlds of the living and the dead. With its arms akimbo (pakalala, hands on hips), it assumes an aggressive posture called vonganana or “to come on strong.” When oaths were sworn and bonds were sealed before the nkisi nkondi, a ritual specialist-cum-healer/diviner (nganga) hammered a nail, screw, or blade into its body. This activated the spirit and medicines contained within to ensure that those who swore an oath would honor it on pain of death. The white lines under the sculpture’s eyes refer to the eyes of those the nkisi will smite.20 This power figure is one of several large-scale sculptures brought to Europe between 1880 and 1910 (and now in public collections) that originated in a single workshop on the Chiloango River, which flows along the border of present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cabinda.21 The minkisi minkondi in this corpus were carved from a single piece of wood22 (fig. 38) and are characterized by the realistic modeling of the body with its massive shoulders, an akimbo pose that replaced the conventional threatening pose of one hand raised brandishing a knife, an ornate chief’s hat, a knotted or plain fiber skirt, staring eyes, a heavy resinous beard (a sign of seniority, wisdom, and related powers), a large cowrie shell covering the abdominal cavity containing medicine, knotted armlets squeezing the muscles just above the elbows, and feet placed on separate rectangular blocks. Most sculptures retain traces of the reddish pigment, made from pulverized camwood, that symbolizes the mediation between the living and the dead. The highly skilled and imaginative sculptors created a style for the nkisi nkondi that ensured it would fulfill another one of its functions—to astonish.


2 : af ric an art in t h e c yc l e of l if e three : art for security and well-being


Seated male power figure (nkisi) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kongo peoples, Yombe group Late 19th to early 20th century Wood, glass, mirror, and fiber 91/!6 × 4 × 311/!6 in. (23.02 × 10.16 × 9.37 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.27

This nkisi power figure of a man touches his face in a contemplative ­gesture and leans forward with his legs arranged in the fu-mani position, a sign of caring, competence, and responsibility. The sculptor has carefully and realistically depicted the nkisi’s prestigious knotted pineapple skullcap (mpu) and the jewelry he wears on his wrists and upper arms. The figure probably represents a chief, but perhaps a healer and/or diviner as well. The medicine that empowers this nkisi is hidden in the cylindrical container projecting from his torso. The imported mirror sealing the cavity enables him to see which supernatural forces are active, and the glass eyes allow him to “see through water to the wisdom of the other world”23 in order to solve the owner’s pathological or spiritual problem.


2 : af ric an art in t h e c yc l e of l if e three : art for security and well-being


Standing female power figure (nkishi) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Songye peoples Late 19th to early 20th century Wood, skin, cord, and metal 18½ × 45/!6 × 413/!6 in. (46.99 × 10.95 × 12.22 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.174


Standing male power figure (nkishi) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Songye peoples Late 19th to early 20th century Wood and metal 75/!6 × 25/!6 × 211/!6 in. (18.57 × 5.87 × 6.83 cm)

Mankishi (sing. nkishi), containers for potent medicines that protect ­families or individuals against sorcery, malevolent spirits, and diseases are said to be more important to the Songye peoples than are ancestor figures, which serve as vessels for the spirits of their ancestors. Songye man­ kishi are made in a variety of sizes according to their use, either personal or communal, and are figurative and nonfigurative. Figurative mankishi are carved by sculptors and activated by a ritual specialist (nganga) who places potent medicine in an animal horn inserted into the nkishi’s head, into a pouch worn by the figure, or directly into the nkishi’s head or abdomen. They were named and their reason for existence defined. This rare female nkishi (cat. 53) carries a pouch containing medicine around her waist. It is similar to one in the Barbier-Mueller Collection and probably originated in the same workshop of the northern Belande.24 This small male nkishi (cat.  54) studded with brass tacks may have protected an individual against smallpox.25 Clearly, the figure has been deactivated as evidenced by the hole atop his head that once held a small animal horn filled with potent medicines and the empty abdominal cavity that would have been packed with similar substances and sealed.

The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.181

CAT. 53


2 : af ric an art in t h e c yc l e of l if e one : art to aid conception and birth

CAT. 54


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Helmet mask (komo) Mali and Côte d’Ivoire, Senufo peoples Mid-20th century Wood, glass, animal horns, fiber, and mirrors 17 × 27 in. (43.18 × 68.58 cm) Gift of David T. Owsley, 1997.24

This mask, according to an exhibition catalogue, “gives fear a face.”26 Despite the presence of a small elegant female figure (see detail, below), the mask discourages one from getting too close. The sharp animal horns and tusks of various sizes pointing in all directions, the prominent zigzag teeth, and the overall encrusted surface give the mask a menacing appearance. The projecting glass eyes and reflective mirrors also add to its visual power. This mask originated among Senufo peoples living in close proximity to the Bamana, who use helmet masks with horrific animal imagery. Among the Bamana, such encrusted masks with long, horizontal muzzles are worn by high-ranking members of the male-only Komo association that is traditionally responsible for maintaining social, spiritual, and economic harmony in Bamana communities. A society of blacksmiths, its high-ranking members (komotiga) practice divination and are empowered to function as judges.27 The wooden komo mask is covered with all manner of animal and vege­table materials that make it powerful. Senufo’s kponyungo helmet masks are owned by the most senior members of the male-only Poro society that functions as a system of government, education, and economic control. Like the Bamana’s Komo, Poro has a spiritual function to serve as a medium for contact with the realm of deities and ancestors. Its associated helmet masks present a daggerlike image of concentrated aggression through animal imagery, including a long horizontal muzzle with bared teeth, antelope horns, warthog tusks, and fully realized chameleons and birds. The surface of the kponyungo is painted rather than encrusted with sacrificial material. Instead of a human figure crowning the mask, there is a cup to hold potent magical ingredients.28 The Dallas komo mask combines traits of both Senufo and Bamana helmet masks29 and derives its power from the accumulated sacrificial offerings that created the crusty surface instead of from the magical ingredients in a cup. The imported mirrors and base from a wine glass that form the eyes confirm the piece as a contemporary object.


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Helmet mask (gye) Côte d’Ivoire, Guro peoples Mid-20th century Wood, paint, and sheet metal 10 × 13½ × 32 in. (24.34 × 34.29 × 81.28 cm) The Otis and Velma Davis Dozier Fund, 1993.1

Yu masks, which are supposed to have been invented in antiquity and are owned by the oldest families in northern Guro communities, are highly revered and the recipients of sacrificial offerings. The most power­ful yu mask is gye, considered the highest judicial authority. They can judge disputes, negotiate peace treaties, and make momentous decisions on behalf of the community. They appear in public when the community celebrates an important event or at the funeral cele­brations of honored family members. The exceptionally large Dallas gye mask is an excellent example of the type. Gye are thought to be creatures that in ancient times belonged to the beasts of the forest and mountains. According to legend, a Guro hunter brought the creatures into the village to receive offerings—perhaps to ensure a successful hunt and appease the spirits of the animals that were killed. Eventually these apparently friendly beings were immortalized in sculpted wooden masks and costumes, dance steps, and musical accompaniment. Talented, athletic dancers perform the gye masquerade wearing a massive knotted fiber costume that is used to extinguish the burning coals on which they dance.30 The masks, which have both human and animal features, typically display the hairline of humans and the muzzle and horns of a bush cow or other large animal. This mask was repaired with sheet metal at some time during its decades of use.


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Helmet mask (kifwebe) and costume Democratic Republic of the Congo, Songye or Luba peoples Late 19th to early 20th century Wood, paint, fiber, cane, and gut 135/* × 8¾ × 7½ in. (34.61 × 22.23 × 19.05 cm) The Gustave and Franyo Schindler Collection of African Sculpture, gift of the McDermott Foundation in honor of Eugene McDermott, 1974.SC.42


Helmet mask (kifwebe) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tempe-Songye peoples Late 19th to early 20th century Wood and paint 23¾ × 13½ × 11½ in. (60.33 × 34.29 × 29.21 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 1971.12.McD

In the absence of precise field data, attribution and context can be ­difficult if not impossible to ascertain. These two helmet masks from the Democratic Republic of the Congo exemplify such a situation. The striated masks of the Songye peoples are known as bifwebe (sing. kifwebe) and have sagittal crests that extend from the top of the head to the tip of the nose. The female mask is white with a low sagittal crest (cat. 57) and is stylistically similar to the polychrome masks of the Luba peoples, the Songye’s neighbors to the north with whom they share a common origin. Male bifwebe of the Tempe-Songye peoples (cat. 58) have a raised crest or lateral projection and are often attributed to the Tetela peoples who do not have a masking tradition.31 Bifwebe, which have rarely been documented in situ, function within the context of the Bwadi Bwa Kifwebe, a men’s secret association that assures the well-being and continuity of its communities by enforcing societal laws and appealing to benevolent spirits. Although their forms, patterns, colors, and behaviors are inspired by and derived from human beings and animals, bifwebe are supports for supernatural beings. All Songye bifwebe, whether male or female, are worn by men. Gender is indicated by the height of the sagittal crest. A low sagittal crest designates a mask is female. The sagittal crest of a male kifwebe, on the other hand, can reach dramatic heights (fig. 39). The height of the crest is directly related to the strength of the mask’s character: the larger the crest, the greater the mask’s mystical knowledge and magical power. The male mask’s crest and overall size also indicate achievement levels within the secret society; for example, the progression from youth to elder. In contrast to the male mask whose eyes and mouth are protuberant, feminine eyes and mouths are carved in low relief. The striations on both male and female masks, which are a unique stylistic trait of all Songye masks, are derived from the markings and patterns of wild and dangerous animals, such as the zebra or striped antelope, crocodile, lion, porcupine, and snake. Bifwebe may be painted black, white, and red. The colors of black and white, however, refer to gender. Black is associated with masculinity. On male bifwebe, black signifies malevolence, aggression, violence, and evil magic, which are reinforced in the masked dancer’s aggressive and energetic performance. It is intentionally frightening. Female masks are predominantly white, if they are painted at all. Whiteness connotes purity, health, fertility, procreation and nursing, joy, wisdom, and beauty as well as moonlight, cassava flour, and sperm. The female kifwebe dancer’s performance is graceful and gentle.32 The contexts in which bifwebe appear are according to gender. Aggressive male masks supervise road and fieldwork and participate in policing activities during crises, initiations of male youths into adulthood, and preparations for warfare. Gentle female masks participate in lunar, funerary, and investiture rites that encourage benevolent spirits to

CAT. 57


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bestow fertility, the dead to enter the afterlife, and the peaceful transference of leadership. Both male and female masks are worn by male dancers who wear raffia costumes and are accompanied by singers and dancers.33 The kifwebe with the lateral crest was originally adorned with feathers, as suggested by the perforations and a photograph of a related mask, taken during a lunar activity in 1924.34

fig 39  The height of this kifwebe mask’s comb is indicative of the male gender. Democratic Republic of the Congo.

CAT. 58


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Drum Côte d’Ivoire, Senufo peoples 20th century Wood and hide 411/* × 18½ in. diam. (104.46 × 46.99 cm) Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Marcus, 1981.139.FA

fig 40  Senufo women dancing around drums, near Korhogo, Côte d’Ivoire, 1971.

The Senufo used tall drums supported on four bent legs not only as ­musical instruments (fig. 40) but also as a means of communication, much like a public address system. Drums, for example, were played when young men prepared the fields for planting. This laborious work was turned into a hoeing contest in which drums set the rhythm by which the men swung their hoes. Later, the drums accompanied the songs praising the champion cultivator. Drums were played at boys’ and girls’ initiations, to announce the death of important elders, and at funerals. Elaborately carved drums were considered prestige objects that only the best sculptors were commissioned to carve. Four-legged drums, like the Dallas example, also contributed to Senufo women’s mental health. Although women’s role in society complemented that of men and the mystique of procreation gave them power, Senufo women did not have equal rights. Women belonging to the Tyekpa women’s society dealt with gender conflicts and frustration by singing in a secret language that only they understood. Accompanied by drums and favoring call-and-response patterns, they raised their voices in song, daring to insult their men’s physical attributes or bad behavior.35 The motifs carved in low relief on the cylindrical chamber are not merely decoration. They symbolize important cultural concepts. The horned face, for example (seen in profile), represents the carved face masks that junior members of the Poro society wear at funerary masquerades. Animal imagery includes a serpent being attacked by two long-billed birds, perhaps cranes or herons, and may refer to the potentially dangerous competing powers in the universe. The U-shaped form probably represents a python, which is both a symbol for the world and the primary insignia of the female Sandogo society diviners, who are able to ascertain the cause of threatening circumstances through the divining ritual. The crocodile, or giant lizard, and quadrupeds (i.e., wild animals) are symbols of threatening or destructive forces. The fetters, or forged iron manacles, symbolize the suffering Senufo ancestors endured during the Sudanese wars (Islamic jihads) of the nineteenth century and because of the forced labor the French imposed during the colonial period. A tortoise (not visible) is a divine messenger. It is also a symbol for water and, in recognition of its longevity and endurance, for health. The scalloped collar beneath the raised band encircling the drum may be purely decorative, but the inverted shapes at the bottom of the drum represent small animal horns that contained potent medicine.


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african art in the cycle of life Part four: art for the afterlife

Notes 1. Lamp, in Turner 1996: vol. 3, 47; Lamp 2004: 222–25

15. Biebuyck 1985: 126–27

2. Drewal and Pemberton with Abiodun 1989: 189–206

16. Cornet 1971: 305–308; Mack, in Verswijver et al. 1995: 270, 387, cat. no. 240; Blier 1998: 37

3. Carroll 1967: 26 Compare to the Olosanyin priest depicted on the lidded bowl (p. 277) by Arowogun (Areogun) of Osi-Ilorin (c. 1880–1950). Father Kevin Carroll lived in Ekiti for several years and documented all the major sculptors, including Arowogun. He photographed this mask in the 1950s and published it in 1967. John Pemberton suggests, in a letter to Carlo Bello of Pace Galleries, New York City (February 21, 2006), that if Carroll had known the sculptor he would have noted it. The unknown master may have predated the known or living sculptors in Ekiti or he may have lived in a village or town unknown to Carroll. The author, in comparing the headdress to an Epa mask that William Fagg identified as the work of Oshamuko, attributes it to Oshamuko of Osi or his atelier; see Vogel 1981: 122–23.

17. Evans-Prichard 1937: 513

4. Lorenz, in Brincard 1982: 52–60; see also Peek, in Anderson and Peek 2002: 39–50

23. Thompson 2005: 84–85

5. Fagg 1963: 39–40; Fagg 1968: n.p., cat. no. 153 6. Kasfir 1982: 45–51, 91–92; Sidney Kasfir, personal communication, November 4, 2005; Nicholls 1984: 70–76, 92 Igede serves as a cultural corridor between Ogoja and Idomaland. The Igede peoples of Nigeria’s Benue State are located both culturally and geographically in the shatter zone north of the middle Cross River bordering on the tropical forest. The Idoma peoples live to the northwest. The Anjenu possession cult is common to both groups. 7. See Berzok 2005: 133, fig. 79, for a similar vessel 8. Hare 1983: 8 Longuda peoples call their ritual vessels kwanda­lowa; they are used in a similar fashion and are made by women. Writing in the late 1970s, Jonathan Slye noted that the Mwona made healing vessels; Slye 1977: 23. 9. Berns, in Roy 2000: 53–76 10. Hare 1983: 9 11. Jordan 1998: 31, cat. no. 2 12. Timmermans 1966: 17–18 13. Roberts and Roberts 1996: 17–20, 216–18, cat. no. 93 14. Felix 1987: 196–97

18. Ghent 1994: pp. 26 and 50, cat. no. 67 19. Thompson 1978: 206–21; Lehuard 1997: 22–23 20. MacGaffey, in MacGaffey and Harris 1993: 44 21. Bassani 1977: 36–40; Bassani 1998: 102–104 This count includes seven nail figures that Bas­sani identified in 1997 and an additional five identified in 1998. There are twenty figures according to ­LaGamma 2008: 40. 22. Like the Detroit nkisi nkondi (see note 19, above, citing Thompson 1978), the Dallas figure was carved from Canarium schweinfurthii. We acknowledge the assistance of Alton Bowman, who facilitated the analysis of the Dallas sculpture in July 2008. X-rays of the figure reveal that the cavity is filled with matter. 24. Neyt 2004: 308–309, plate 20 25. Smet 1999: 23 26. Roberts 1995: 95, cat. no. 94 27. McNaughton 1979; McNaughton, in Colleyn 2003: 175–83 28. Glaze 1981: 257 and 259; Boyer, Girard, and Rivière 1997: 24, plate 4 29. Till Förester, personal communication, March 2008 30. Fischer 2008: 142–57 The Dallas gye mask is reproduced in fig. 126, page 147. It was formerly in the collection of Loed van Bussel; Roy 1993: 78. 31. Heusch 1995: 176–194 De Heusch asserts that the Tetela do not have a masking tradition. 32. Hersak, in Turner 1996: vol. 29, 68–72 33. Hersak, in Verswijver et al. 1996: 176–77, cat. no. 85; Hersak, in Heusch 1995: 165–66 34. The photograph was taken by Major John Noble White and is housed at the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington. 35. Glaze 1993: 124; Weeks [1914] 1969: 105–106; McGuire 1980: 54–56, 88

The themes of death and the afterlife are universal in the visual arts. Found worldwide throughout time, depictions are diverse: from the tomb decorations of dynastic Egypt to the grave steles of ancient Greece, the reliquaries of the Christian tradition, and the crockery and other items arranged on the graves of African Americans in the southern United States. Throughout Africa, in traditional societies and among many cosmopolitan inhabitants, the belief is held that death is but a transition to another stage in the cycle of life. The Yoruba proverb “Earth is a marketplace we visit; heaven [or the afterlife], home” underscores this notion. The dead may be reborn. Yoruba names for newborns—Babatunde, “the father has come again,” and Yetunde, “the mother has come again”—echo the belief that an ancestor has returned to earth. Contented ancestors willingly intercede with the deities and other spiritual entities on behalf of their survivors. To ensure the departed can rest rather than cause mischief and misfortune, families must properly carry out the funeral rites. Before burial, the deceased’s debts must be paid and a funeral celebration befitting his or her station in life must be held. Family members must serve refreshments (which may be for a whole village or for a whole street in a town) during the all-night “wake-keeping” and funeral, dress the dead in special clothing, decorate the room in which the corpse will lie in state, and hire a band. In the past, the exigencies of a tropical climate dictated immediate interment.1 Nowadays the surviving family may, in the absence of Western-style funeral homes, have to cover the cost of storing the corpse in the air-conditioned mortuary of a hospital as well as finance a masquerade and videotape the funerary events for relatives unable to attend. The importance of this financial obligation cannot be underestimated. An individual unable to obtain a bank loan to start a business may well immediately receive a loan to pay for the funeral of a family elder. Moreover, because a commemorative event on the anniversary of the death is expected, the financial obligations continue. Traditional art is used extensively during the funerary rituals. Finely crafted divination objects ascertain the cause of death, elaborate objects made of rare and expensive materials are buried with the deceased or decorate the grave, locally woven or imported textiles wrap the body or dress the deceased’s family, and sculpted figures and masks are present during the funeral celebration and subsequent commemorative events. Relics associated with the dead are preserved in special ­containers guarded by sculpted ­figures, and other figures that memorialize the departed and serve as vessels for their spirits and a medium through which to communicate with them are placed on domestic shrines, in special memorial houses, or in cemeteries. The promise and expectation of their ancestors’ continued interest and support compel families to commission art that is both appropriate and beautiful so the ancestor will be attracted to them.



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Relief of a procession of offering bearers from the tomb of Ny‑Ank‑Nesut Egypt, Saqqara 2575–2134 bc, Old Kingdom, late 5th to 6th Dynasty Painted limestone 17½ × 66¾ × 3½ in. (44.45 × 169.55 × 8.89 cm) Munger Fund, 1965.28.M

Ancient Egyptians believed in the divine immortality of their pharaohs who were mummified and buried in tombs, such as the Great Pyramid at Giza, which was built during the Old Kingdom, to await resurrection into the afterlife. The burial chambers were lavishly decorated and furnished with essential items the royals would need upon their resurrection. This carved and painted limestone relief originally decorated a wall in the tomb of Ny-Ank-Nesut, who is believed to have been an important court official, possibly a high priest of Ra (Re). The artist conformed to the classic Egyptian convention for depicting the human form by combining the frontal and profile views of the eight male servants wearing short kilts. The offerings they carry for the departed include loaves of bread, cakes, geese, papyrus leaves, bowls of lotus flowers, a hedgehog in a cage, vessels of beer, and other things that would magically come to life upon Ny-Ank-Nesut’s resurrection.2


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Head and upper torso of Seti I Egypt 1303–1200 bc, New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty Granite 15 × 11¾ × 73/* in. (38.10 × 29.85 × 18.73 cm) Purchased in honor of Betty Marcus with the Art Museum League Fund, the Melba Davis Whatley Fund, and the General Acquisition Fund, 1984.50

Thousands of years ago, the ancient Egyptians built magnificent ­temples for the deities they worshipped and monumental pyramids for the mummified remains of their rulers, who were believed to be both mortal and divine and endowed with great magical as well as spiritual powers. The woven, striped headdress (royal nemes) and false beard, both divine attributes of the gods, indicate the sculpture is of a pharaoh. In fact, his identity—Seti I—is inscribed on the nemes and the elliptical cartouche at the rear of the bust. He appears to be youthful (although he was older at the time he was portrayed), handsome, and virile, and his facial expression is calm.3 One of the greatest Egyptian pharaohs, Seti was a successful military leader and a great patron of the arts. He waged wars against the Hittites, Phoenicians, Syrians, and Libyans, which resulted in his extending the boundaries of Egypt into other parts of North Africa and the Near East. Seti I restored neglected temples and shrines, and among his buildings is a temple at Abydos to honor the deity Osiris and his own magnificent tomb in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes.


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Coffin of Horankh Egypt, Thebes c. 700 bc, Late Period, 25th Dynasty Wood, gesso, paint, obsidian, calcite, and bronze 76¾ × 19 × 15 in. (195.00 × 48.26 × 38.10 cm) Cecil and Ida Green Acquisition Fund, 1994.184

Ancient Egyptian coffins housed an individual’s physical remains and ka (vital force or soul) during the journey to the afterlife. The decorations on the inside and outside of the coffins guaranteed the deceased’s survival. Such decorations included food and drink, servants, a pair of eyes to see the rising sun, spells, and other items that reflected religious beliefs and social practices. Anthropoid coffins, introduced during the 12th Dynasty (1985–1795 bc), replicate the form of a human body wrapped in a linen shroud and served as substitutes for the corpses in case the remains were lost or destroyed. The Dallas coffin was made for Horankh as indicated by the name inscribed on the base. Although the sculpted head is rendered in a naturalistic manner, the colors and beard are symbolic: the green face and plaited, upturned beard are attributes of Osiris, Lord of the Underworld and god of the resurrection. Horankh’s dedication to Osiris is evident in the invocation to the deity inscribed on the base of the statue.4 Horankh lived during the 25th Dynasty (747–656  bc), which is also known as the Kushite or Nubian Dynasty. Nubia was located along the Nile River between Aswan in southern Egypt and Khartoum in northern Sudan. There the ancient Nubians developed powerful, independent kingdoms beginning around 3100  bc and competed with Egypt for the use of the Nile River as a commercial highway and for the acquisition of land. While Egypt dominated Nubia on more than one occasion, the Nubians took advantage of a divided Egypt in 747  bc and ruled it for one hundred years.5 This outer coffin, with its lack of ornate decoration, is reminiscent of coffins from the Middle Kingdom (2055–1650  bc) and illustrates how the Nubians borrowed from the classic models of earlier dynasties (fig. 41).

fig 41  The nesting coffins of Tutankhamun, 18th Dynasty, fit neatly inside one another.


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Rhythm pounder Southeastern Mali, Sikasso district, Senufo peoples 19th to 20th century Wood, cowrie shells, and red abrus seeds 363/* × 8¼ × 6 in. (92.39 × 20.96 × 15.24 cm) The Gustave and Franyo Schindler Collection of African Sculpture, gift of the McDermott Foundation in honor of Eugene McDermott, 1974.SC.15

fig 42  Peers of the deceased striking rhythm pounders against the ground lead the way to the cemetery. ­Tyelikaha, Côte d’Ivoire, 1986.

Art makes a dramatic appearance at the funerals of important elders of Poro, an age-graded society that teaches boys their social, political, and spiritual roles as adult males. Masquerade costumes with fiber or wooden headpieces and carved wooden figures depicting a male and a female appear during funeral celebrations. Small figures are displayed on the ground or near the corpse, which is wrapped in layers of splendid, locally woven cloths. These cloths are gifts of condolence from the villagers. Large figures carved from a durable hardwood and standing on thick pedestals are used as pestles or pounders in a final ritual. During the funeral, the large figures are placed on either side of the corpse, which lies in state on a carved wooden bier or on mats cover­ing the ground. At the appointed time, a member of the occupational group to which the deceased belonged performs a ritual that initiates the deceased into the society of ancestral spirits. At the conclusion of the ritual, young initiates carry the corpse to the cemetery on their shoulders while elder Poro members, each carrying a figure by its arms, neck, or shoulders, lead the way. The figures are swung from side to side and periodically struck against the ground in time with the music of the funeral orchestra; hence, the popular name “rhythm pounder” (fig. 42). This action induces the ancestral spirits to continue to participate in the funeral rites. At a certain point in the ceremony, the procession stops and a pair of rhythm pounders is placed on top of the corpse. Afterward, the procession continues to the cemetery located at the edge of the village. Following the interment, the rhythm pounders are returned to the Poro sacred grove where they remain until their next appearance.6 The Dallas figure, which is a superb example of a rhythm pounder, depicts a slender woman with incised marks on her chest and traces of decoration around her navel. Clusters of snail shells, cowrie shells, and red abrus seeds originally adorned her coiffure, upper arms, and abdomen.7 Although she appears youthful, as is customary for traditional portraiture, the figure represents an ideal adult female who was initiated into the Sandogo society (the ­women’s equivalent of the men’s Poro), was married, and bore several children.


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Mask (Mukenga) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kuba peoples Mid-20th century Raffia, wood, cowrie shells, beads, parrot feathers, and goat hair 33½ × 22 × 26 in. (85.09 × 55.88 × 66.04 cm) Gift in honor of Peter Hanszen Lynch and Cristina Martha Frances Lynch, 1998.11

Among the Kuba peoples, as among most traditional African ­societies, the scale and duration of a funeral—from short and simple to days long and complex—is commensurate with the prominence of the deceased person during life. Masks with elephantine features appear at funerals of elders who were high-ranking members of a men’s secret initiation society (fig. 43). The masquerader performs a dance in honor of the deceased who, although not a Bushoong—the group from which the Kuba king (nyim) was chosen—belonged to a particular aristocratic clan. The mask is part of the Mukenga or elephant costume that personifies a high-ranking member of a secret society. The conical projection extending upward and over the front of the mask represents an elephant’s trunk, and the small beaded panels at either side are its tusks. The product of labor-intensive craftsmanship, the mask is lavishly adorned with valuable cowrie shells, imported beads arranged in complex patterns, and the red tail feathers of an African gray parrot. All these elements are symbols of wealth, title, and elite status. In Kuba society, ownership and control of elephant ivory rests with the king.8 The white cowrie shells, which were used as currency before coins and paper money were introduced, evoke death and signify mourning and the ancestors’ dry bones. Unlike most masks that cover the entire head, Mukenga Muykeem does not have eyeholes. Sighted attendants accompany the dancer wearing the “blind mask” as he performs ancient steps with pride, gravity, and dignity.

fig 43  The lavishly adorned elephant mask appears at funeral rituals for deceased members of the prestigious Mukenga society. Bushoong Village, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1981.


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Egungun costume Nigeria, Oyo or Ogbomoso area, Yoruba peoples 1920–1950 Cotton, silk, and wool fabric, metal, leather, mirrors, cotton, and wood 66 × 71 × 15 in. (167.64 × 182.88 × 38.10 cm) Textile Purchase Fund, 1995.35

An announcement in the Daily Times, a Nigerian newspaper distributed throughout the country, summoned the sons and daughters of the city of Abeokuta home for an Egungun festival in June 1970. The author of this volume attended the celebration, which lasted for several days. Dancing, drumming, and singing as well as feasting with family and friends contributed to a most festive atmosphere. Numerous public masquerades featured costumes made entirely of textiles; others highlighted carved wooden masks or headdresses in the form of human heads, animals, or combinations of both. Some events, such as worship activities and the appearance of masks bearing powerful, potentially lethal medicines, were not public. The Egungun masquerade annually calls the spirits of the ancestors and the recently departed back from the realm of the dead to visit their descendants and survivors. The ancestors, represented by masks always worn by male dancers, grant their survivors’ petitions for protection from harm, the gift of children and all good things that contribute to the family’s well-being, and they settle disputes over inheritance or other problems that have surfaced since their last visit.9 This colorful Egungun costume is composed of layers of Nigerian and European textiles that have been cut into panels and bound with contrasting fabrics and colors. The costume completely concealed the dancer and was probably accessorized with gloves and footwear, possibly to match the textiles used.10 There are panels of cotton velveteen, silk, wool, and cotton damask with a variety of figurative and geometric motifs, all expensive imports fit for a king or other high-ranking members of society. At its core is the initial layer that covers the dancer from head to toe. A rectangular mesh panel near the top of the costume allows for visibility. Each year family members add another layer of cloth, always continuing the symmetrical format, to refurbish the costume before the festival. The costume is adorned with mirrors, buttons, and metal coinlike forms. Despite its great size, the masker twirls around this way and that causing the layers to fly outward during the dance. The year this costume was created is not known precisely. Theoretically, one can ascertain how long a costume has been in use by counting the layers of cloth and consulting European trade catalogues to obtain the date particular fabrics arrived in Nigeria. This costume may offer an intriguing clue to its age, or at least contributes to the study of Yoruba commemorative cloths, which are used for the installation of a king or for other important public or private events. One panel made of pure cotton cloth carries a repeat pattern of a medallion motif. The upside-down image in the medallion is that of a white-wigged European male, who is identified as “Lawyer Wells Palmer” and to whom someone was grateful, as indicated by the word adupe (thank you) that is printed opposite his name (see detail, p. 193).


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A judgment of the British Court issued in March 1931 identifies Wells Palmer as counsel for the appellant who was His Royal Highness Eshugbayi Eleko, the king (oba) of Lagos from 1900 until 1925 when he was deposed.11 According to a genealogy of the obas of Lagos, Eshugbayi Eleko regained the throne in 1931 but served only one year before he died.12 In the absence of other cloths that thank other members of the king’s legal team, one can assume Palmer was the most deserving of recognition. The mystery remains to be solved.


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Standing female and male figures (ere ibeji) Nigeria, Oyo region, Yoruba peoples 20th century Wood, camwood powder, indigo, glass beads, and fiber Male: 13 1/* × 4¼ × 3½ in. (33.34 × 11.43 × 8.89 cm) Female: 13¼ × 4 1/* × 3½ in. (33.66 × 10.48 × 8.89 cm) Gift of the Dozier Foundation, 1990.274.1, 1990.274.2

fig 44  A shrine for deceased ibeji (twins) over several generations of a family. Imosan, the Ibeju area of Nigeria, 1982.

Among the Yoruba, who consider twins (ibeji) special, even sacred, the ­frequency of giving birth to twins is exceptionally high. Multiple births were seen as unnatural in the distant past and resulted in the practice of twin infanticide. For reasons not precisely understood, the Yoruba radically changed their attitude toward twins. An oral tradition associates twins with Shango, the thunder god and legendary Alafin (king) of Oyo who, in the days of twin infanticide, could not bear to destroy his own newborn twins. Instead, he banished them and their mother to a remote part of the kingdom where they remained and were regarded as dead. In time, the spirits of twins were venerated like those of the deities (orisha). In the event one or both twins die, an Ifa diviner (babalawo) may advise the parents to commission a sculpture called an ere ibeji, or image of the twins. The figure, posed frontally and standing with its hands placed at its sides, is an idealized portrait of the dead twin as well as a receptacle for its spirit.13 The mother of the twins symbolically cares for the twin figure as she does the living child. She feeds, clothes, washes, and adorns it and puts it to bed and serenades it with songs of praise. Ere ibeji are placed on domestic altars or kept in a basket in the mother’s room and periodically venerated in formal rituals (fig. 44). On market days, a mother tucks the ere ibeji in her wrapper and takes the surviving twin shopping. The vendors will give her extra food and adornments for the living twin and the ere ibeji. These attentions are believed to appease and encourage the spirit of the dead twin to remain in the spirit world instead of returning to earth to claim the surviving twin or cause misfortune that would affect the entire community. Indeed, to disrespect an ere ibeji could invoke the wrath of Shango, the twins’ patron saint. These ere ibeji follow the African principle of idealized portraiture and depict male and female twins as fully developed adults in the prime of life. Ere ibeji never portray sexually undeveloped children. The figures’ upswept hairstyle indicates they were carved in a style associated with the Ibuke area of the Oyo region. Traces of indigo in the hair and cosmetic camwood powder may suggest the twins were gifts of Shango. The figures’ eyes have been pierced to “open” them, and the vertical scarification on their forehead and cheeks identify their lineage. They are adorned with imported glass beads, which in the past were valued as currency. A nineteenth-century British explorer traveling in the Oyo region may have been the first to describe the diminutive sculptures carried by mothers who had lost a twin.14 Some indigenous religious practices are still observed, albeit without the traditional ritual objects, among the populations of present-day Nigeria, which is divided almost evenly between Christians and Muslims. Today, the photographer instead of the sculptor has become the maker of ere ibeji, which appear in the form of double photographs.15


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Standing male ancestor figure (ekpu) Nigeria, Cross River region, Oron peoples Late 19th century Wood 23½ × 45/!6 × 43/* in. (59.69 × 10.95 × 11.11 cm) The Gustave and Franyo Schindler Collection of African Art, gift of the McDermott Foundation in honor of Eugene McDermott, 1974.SC.31

Standing male ancestor figures dating from the mid- to late nineteenth ­century are among the oldest extant sculptures from Nigeria. Called ekpu, the figures contain the spirit of departed ancestors who were petitioned for the well-being of the community. Following the death of an elder and before his ceremonial burial (which could occur well after the actual burial), the family commissioned a sculptor to carve a figure that reflected the deceased’s importance and wealth. The figures were kept in the men’s meetinghouse (obio), out of the view of women and children. There animal sacrifices were made to the ekpu at the beginning of the planting season and at harvest time. In addition to being a means of communicating with the ancestral spirits, ekpu figures provided a visual record of a lineage’s history. Ekpu figures are conventionally posed frontally on short legs beneath a bulbous onion-shaped abdomen and portrayed wearing a distinctive cone-shaped hat or coiffure, a symbol of the ekpu or ancestors. They hold objects in each hand that may represent their status as elder lineage officers. Scarification marks at the center of the brows and along the sides of the faces and a narrow beard along the jawline that is styled into a plait at the chin also signify elder status. Some ekpu hold palm-wine drinking horns; the Dallas figure holds a pair of cylindrical staffs. The size of an ekpu figure and the elaborateness of the carving reflect the importance and wealth of the ancestor who is portrayed. A childless or junior member of a family, for example, would not be represented by a figure but by a plain stick. The modest size of the Dallas figure suggests it represents a family member rather than a lineage ancestor. Women were represented by a pot.16


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Reliquary guardian figure Gabon, Ntem region, Mvaï group, Fang peoples 1800–1860 Wood 21¼ × 5¼ × 5¾ in. (53.98 × 13.33 × 14.61 cm) The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 2000.3.McD

fig 45  The flexed-knee position and stem of sculptured guardian figures allow them to be set atop bark boxes containing sacred relics. Southern Cameroon, c. 1913.

In the belief that skulls and certain bones of great men retained their supernatural powers after death, the Fang, Kota, Sango, and Tsogo peoples venerated and preserved such remains. “Great men” included the founder of the lineage and successive lineages, clan or family heads, and extraordinary women who were believed to have supernatural abilities or who bore numerous healthy children. The relics, along with precious beads, potent substances with magical properties (medicine), and other spiritually charged objects were kept in containers made of bark or woven plant fibers. A post projecting from a carved guardian figure fastened it to the lid of the bark reliquary box (fig. 45), which was kept in special shelters or repositories. The sculpted guardians protected the relics from malicious humans and evil spirits and served as a point of contact between the ancestral relics and designated family members. This reliquary guardian is attributed to a master sculptor who lived on the upper Ntem River in northern Gabon and was active between about 1800 and 1860.17 The sculptor’s style is distinguished by the figure’s short, muscular body with raised pectorals above a barrel-shaped abdomen, arms held close to its sides, and hands joined at the base of the chest.18 Deep incised lines delineate the fingers, lattice scarification on a band that terminates just above the enormous navel adorns the abdomen, and vertical incised lines travel the length of the back. The figure, with rounded thighs and thick calves, is carved in a seated position. Its massive head has a high, rounded forehead, arched brows above squinting eyes pierced with metal, and a pouting mouth with exposed teeth. Its hair is styled into three large triangular plaits and a “duck tail” that replicate a man’s nlo-o-ngo hairstyle, which was still fashionable in the twentieth century. A headband with pompoms covers its ears. Feathers affixed to the headdress by metallic chains, earrings, iron or copper necklaces and bracelets, and glass beads originally adorned the figure.19 The feet have broken off. Reliquary guardian figures were also used as puppets in a ritual called mélan, a rite of appeasement. During the course of their initiation into adulthood, boys learned about the history of their people, which is marked by migrations and the need for portable objects, including the reliquaries. The practice of making reliquaries for ancestor worship ceased in the early twentieth century when the French colonial government banned the reliquaries and their priests.


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Janus reliquary guardian figure Attributed to Semangoy of Zokolunga Gabon, Franceville area, Kota peoples, Obama group Late 19th or early 20th century Brass, copper, iron, wood, and fiber 2413/!6 × 1911/!6 × 5 in. (63.02 × 50.00 × 12.70 cm) Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 2005.36.McD

fig 46  Ancestral skulls are removed from the reliquary and arranged before the sculptured guardian figure.

The Kota and related peoples preserved the relics of honored ancestral leaders in baskets guarded by reliquary figures (fig. 46). Affixed to the baskets, the figures were carved from a single piece of wood and covered in metal.20 In contrast to the figurative reliquary guardians of other African cultures, the Kota guardians appear abstract. A large ovoid head with minimal facial features rests on a lozenge shape that represents the arms of a truncated body. The forms projecting from the top and sides of the face correspond to men’s elaborate hairstyles or headwear, and some figures have iron accents and ear ornaments. Size may indicate function. Large, Janus-faced figures are thought to have guarded the relics belonging to an extensive lineage group, while smaller ones guarded those of families. It is unknown whether one side represents a female and the other a male. Similar to other double-faced reliquary guardian figures, each face on the Dallas guardian is unique in its conception. The face on one side is concave and clad in copper with bands of brass crossing the center. Its coffee-bean-shaped eyes protrude, its mouth is open to reveal teeth, and the crescent-shaped crest is decorated with crosshatching and bosses. The other face, clad in brass with a copper band placed across the eyes from temple to temple, is convex beneath a prominent forehead. Iron screws that pierce the eyes to form irises, parallel vertical iron bars under the eyes that may represent scarification, and a piece of red cloth inserted into its mouth are among its other features. The materials chosen to make the reliquary guardian figure may have been practical as well as symbolic. For example, the Kota may have thought the reflective quality of copper and brass could repel harmful spirits. While both iron and copper were available in limited quantities locally, copper was obtained solely through trade with Europe. The decorative knoblike motifs may reference the foreign source of the brass, which was also used in the creation of multisized basins called “Neptune’s caldrons” and wire.21 Thus, expensive materials projected the image of wealth and served as a repellent. The Dallas reliquary guardian figure is attributed to Semangoy, a Wumbu group artisan from Zokolunga, a small village near Moanda. He decorated one side of the crescent with a characteristic mark: an incised miniature crescent bisected by a line with a boss at each end.22


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Reliquary guardian figure (mbumba bwiti) Gabon, Sango peoples Late 19th or early 20th century Wood, brass, and bone 113/* × 3½ × 3N in. (28.89 × 8.89 × 8.30 cm) The Gustave and Franyo Schindler Collection of African Sculpture, gift of the McDermott Foundation in honor of Eugene McDermott, 1974.SC.36

The Sango peoples practiced a funerary tradition similar to that of their neighbors, the Kota. Sango reliquaries, which were also protected by sculpted wood guardian figures covered with metal, were associated with individuals rather than lineages and were expected to ensure safe and productive travel and trade.23 Kept in a special room in quarters belonging to the head of a family, they were present on occasions such as the end of mourning or at rituals concerning healing, hunting, or the search for evildoers.24 Reliquary guardian figures of this type typically have extremely stylized human heads with a high forehead. The arched brows, nose, and horizontal patterns represent scarification and are formed with metal; the staring eyes are made of bone. The ears are conceived as cylinders that project from the sides of the face. The Dallas figure is distinguished by a pair of barlike forms that extend downward beneath the ears as if to echo the shape of the “shoulders” of the lozenge-shaped body. The base of the figure would have been thrust into a reliquary made of beaten bark in which were preserved the ancestor’s bones as well as magical ingredients such as shells, forest fruits, and various charms or amulets.25


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Half figure of a man Gabon, Tsogo peoples Late 19th or early 20th century Wood, pigment, and metal 203/* × 8 1/* × 5¾ in. (51.75 × 20.64 × 14.61 cm) The Gustave and Franyo Schindler Collection of African Sculpture, gift of the McDermott Foundation in honor of Eugene McDermott, 1974.SC.37

The Tsogo used half figures similar to this one as reliquary guardians and as ritual objects. In the former context, they were placed in the reli­quary; in the latter, they were placed on the floor of a temple during “dramatic nocturnal rituals.”26 The Dallas half figure has an oval head, pronounced eyebrows, a long wedge-shaped nose, and open mouth. Its hands, typically placed at either side of the body, are above the navel. Distinguishing features include prominent ears, traces of white pigment (probably kaolin) on the body, and metal-covered eyes. Some half figures display a vertical strip of metal on the forehead as a means to empower the figure to repel evil spirits. Placing reflective metal in the eyes of the figure rather than on its forehead may be the artist’s innovation or it may be a convention that allows the vigilant sentry to see beyond this world.27


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Kneeling female figure with bowl and child Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola, Mayombe region, Kongo peoples, Yombe group Late 19th or early 20th century Wood, pigment, and glass 21½ × 10 × 9 7/!6 in. (54.61 × 25.40 × 23.97 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.22

fig 47  Bitumba (images) have been placed at the front of a memorial house in Boma, Lower Congo, 1908. © Royal Museum for Central Africa; Tervuren, Belgium, EPH 5833; photograph: H. Deleval.

Among the Yombe, carved wooden human figures portray individual ancestors who may have founded a lineage or otherwise made important contributions to their families and their communities. Enshrined in small memorial houses in cemeteries, these idealized sculptures guard the dead, including their own remains, and provide a means of contact with the ancestor and other spirits in the realm of the dead (mpemba). This kneeling female figure and child (pfemba) represents an important woman. She has a high, miterlike coiffure or headdress and wears five bracelets, which exceed the number worn by ordinary Yombe women, on her left wrist. Her filed teeth, visible through parted lips, indicate she was properly initiated into womanhood, and the painted marks may represent scarification. The white kaolin covering her body has the ashen quality of the dead, but it also refers to purity and moral correctness, both important Yombe values. She probably represents a clan founder. The figure leans slightly forward and kneels in an attitude of respect while balancing a male child on her left foot. Her left hand supports the child’s back as her right one rests of top of a bowl-shaped pot containing potent medicine that can cure illness or resolve social conflicts. Her palm is open in a gesture of generosity. Her glass-covered eyes afford her access to the worlds of the living and the dead.28 Taken together, the attributes of this figure—its coloring, posture, and gesture—and the presence of the child and the medicine indicate this woman’s contribution was that of a “spiritually imbued mother,” who was a great healer and protector of children.29 Many published accounts of sculptures of this kind depict the child with his arms across his chest as exemplified by figures in the collections of the Yale University Art Gallery and the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution.30 The child in the Dallas figure clings to his mother’s leg in the same way as that in an early twentieth-century photograph of a memorial enclosure (fig. 47).


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Kneeling male figure Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola, Mayombe region, Kongo peoples, Yombe group Late 19th or early 20th century Wood, porcelain, and white pigment 12½ × 4¾ × 4¾ in. (31.75 × 12.07 × 12.07 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.28

The precise context in which this kneeling male figure was used is not clearly understood, but it can be assumed that it was associated with ancestor veneration. The knotted pineapple-fiber skullcap (mpu) the figure wears identifies him as a chief or other person of elevated rank in Yombe society. He kneels on one knee in an attitude of respect while clapping his hands in honor of the one who is addressed or petitioned. His face is animated: he appears as if he is talking with the viewer at whom, or perhaps through whom, he stares with porcelain-covered eyes. Imported porcelain, like pieces of mirror, was rare and allows him to see to the other world. Enshrined in a memorial house in the cemetery, the figure—which contains the spirit of an illustrious ancestor—receives his descendants who appeal to him for protection, advice or answers, and good fortune. A medium between the world of the living and the world of the dead, the figure respectfully kneels before those spirits and deities who will aid his descendants.31


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Seated male figure (ntadi) Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola, Matadi region, Kongo peoples, Mboma group Late 19th or early 20th century Steatite 17 × 8 × 5 in. (43.18 × 20.32 × 12.7 cm) Gift of the Cecil and Ida Green Foundation, 1999.57

Mintadi (sing. ntadi) funerary figures were carved in soft gray ­steatite (soapstone) as well as wood and placed on graves or in memorial houses in Mboma cemeteries, where survivors could consult them. This figure portrays a chief. He wears the insignia of office—a knotted pineapple-fiber headdress (mpu) crowned with leopard claws—and is posed in a parallellegs position (fu-mani) with one arm leaning on his knee and supporting his head while the other hand rests on his hip. This gesture, called kyaadi, expresses sadness as well as caring and competence32 and is the position in which Mboma chiefs were buried.33 This ntadi is further distinguished by a hairstyle that encircles the ears. A similarly posed figure in the collection of the Institut des Musées Nationaux du Zaire has the same hairstyle.34


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Standing male ancestor figure (singiti) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Hemba peoples, Niombo group Late 19th to early 20th century Wood, beads, and hide 30¼ × 913/!6 × 9 in. (76.84 × 24.92 × 22.86 cm) The Gustave and Franyo Schindler Collection of African Sculpture, gift of the McDermott Foundation in honor of Eugene McDermott, 1974.SC.41

The Hemba peoples memorialized distinguished ancestors (e.g., chiefs, warriors, and heads of lineages) in sculpted wooden figures (singiti) that served as vessels for their spirits. A visual genealogical record, the figures were cared for by a designated member of the lineage, who arranged them in the order in which they lived. The caretaker periodically honored the singiti with animal sacrifices; in return, the ancestors protected their descendants. Although the singiti figures portray individual ancestors, their likenesses are universal. Each rendering is of a bearded male standing erect on a circular base with shoulders square, arms held close to the body, and hands resting on either side of a protuberant abdomen, which with its prominent navel, signifies family and continuity. With eyes closed, the ancestor figures display a calm, impassive expression that characterized polite social interaction in Hemba society. The crossed lobes of the cruciform hairstyle are arranged over a square of woven raffia35 and evoke the four cardinal points (directions) of the universe as well as the crossroads where the realms of the living and the dead intersect.36 This singiti is adorned with a necklace of expensive imported blue glass beads that served as currency before coins and paper money were introduced. His loins were probably covered with a woven plant-fiber cloth that was draped over the strip of leather that remains.37


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Notes 1. Traditional mortuary practices in sub-Saharan Africa are varied and include preservation of the remains without embalming or refrigeration. See Ray 2000: 97–106, and Mbiti 1970 for discussions about death and eschatology in sub-Saharan Africa. 2. Bromberg and Kilinski 1996: 17–19 3. Ibid., 20–23; see also Borgatta and Brilliant 1990: 29–73 and 105–25, for discussion and examples of portraiture in ancient Egypt and sub-Saharan Africa 4. Bromberg and Kilinski 1996: 24–25 5. See O’Connor 1993 for a reevaluation of Nubia vis-à-vis Egypt 6. Förster 2005: 54–67; Glaze, in Barbier 1993: vol. 2, 22 7. Early pictures of the Dallas rhythm pounder are reproduced in Goldwater 1964: fig. 87 and 87a. The figure was lavishly adorned with clusters of snail shells in the sagittal hairstyle, at the nape of the neck, in the center of the chest, around each elbow, and around the torso. Only the cowrie shell eyes remain intact. 8. Binkley, in Ross 1992: 284–86 9. For descriptions of contemporary Egungun masquerades, see Thompson 1973: 219–26; Houlberg 1978: 56–61, 99; Drewal 1978: 18–19, 97–98; and Lawal 2008: 76–81 10. See Greenfield 2005: 1–8 and 18, for a comparison with an Egungun costume from Ibadan, Nigeria, in the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, University of Wisconsin 11. International Centre for Nigerian Law (ICFNL), “Eshugbayi Eleko vs the Officer Administering the Government of Nigeria, No. 2,” Eshugbayi%20Eleko%20v.%20The%20Officer% 20administering%20the%20Government%200f% 20Nigeria%20No%202.htm (accessed July 7, 2009) 12. Lagos Now ‘n’ Then!, “Genealogy of the Obas of Lagos,” then_lagos_kings.htm (accessed May 28, 2006) 13. Chemeche 2003; see also Fakeye, in Chemeche 2003: 26–29, on the process as described by a thirdgeneration Yoruba sculptor 14. Thompson 1976: chap. 13, pp. 1–5

15. Houlberg 1973: 20–27, 91–92 16. Murray 1947: 310–14; Nicklin, in Gathercole and Lowenthal 1990: 291–301 17. Perrois, in Grunne 2001: 121–39 and 137, cat. no. 34; idem, in Christie’s 2003: 46–48 18. Other examples are found in the collections of the Léonce Pierre Guerre Collection, Marseille, France, and the Seattle Art Museum. See also ­LaGamma 2007: 164–70. 19. See the photograph reproduced in Perrois, in Grunne 2001: 123, as fig 14 20. Compare similar figures in Perrois 1985: 193, cat. no. 13; idem, in Herreman 2005: 102, cat. no. 69; LaGamma 2007: 252–53, cat. no. 78 21. Siroto 1968: 86 22. Dapper Museum 1986: 44, 69, and 81, fig. 6–9 23. Siroto 1995: 41, cat no. 34 24. Perrois, in Herreman 2005: 103, cat. no. 70 25. Ibid. 26. Siroto 1995: 41, cat no. 34; Perrois 1979: 214–36 27. Compare with examples in Siroto 1995: 41, cat. no. 34; Robbins and Nooter 1989: 350, cat. no. 907 28. Thompson and Cornet 1981: 145 29. Thompson 2005: 86–87 30. Ibid., 86, fig. 9; National Museum of African Art 1999: vol. 1, 118–19, cat. no. 80 31. Robert F. Thompson, personal communication, April 23, 2008 32. Thompson 2005: 84–85; Thompson and Cornet 1981: 235–36, cat. nos. 40, 42–44 33. Neyt 1981: 80 34. See the seated stone figure in chief’s headdress (fig. 109) in Thompson and Cornet 1981: 235, cat. no. 42 35. Neyt, in Verswijver et al. 1996: 185 36. Visonà et al. 2007: 408, fig. 12, 13 37. Compare to a Hemba figure from the Walt Disney– Tishman African Art Collection; Kreamer 2007: 143, cat. no. 40

chapter 3

african decorative arts

African Textiles and Decorative Arts in 1972 and African Furniture and Household Objects in 1980, exhibitions curated by Roy Sieber,1 brought attention to objects for the house and human body and demonstrated that the parameters of traditional African visual arts are not limited to masks, figures, and objects used in religious and prestige and/or leadership rituals and ceremonies. Although these personal objects can be quite modest in form and material, the professional sculptors and “artisans” who made them applied the same creativity, skill, and craftsmanship to their design and decoration as did the sculptors and metalsmiths who created objects for the court or shrine. African “decorative arts” encompass a broad range of objects, including architectural elements such as granary doors, door locks, tent posts, headrests (African “pillows”), containers for cosmetics and ointments, drinking vessels, musical instruments, clothing, and jewelry. Mundane but hardly ordinary, these objects reflect their owners’ “decided taste for the beautiful,” to quote William H. Sheppard, an African American missionary, who observed that the “natives of Africa . . . decorate everything.”2 The artworks also demonstrate the owners’ ability to compensate the best sculptors and artisans to create items to enhance the appearance of their homes and adorn their bodies. The decoration on utilitarian objects such as ritual objects is sometimes meaningful rather than simply appealing to the eye. The animals depicted on the Baule door, for example, refer to a proverb about human relations. Similarly, the highly stylized triangular patterns that represent pangolin scales on the Luba headrest are also found on royal emblems and objects used in religious rituals. Some decoration is practical. The appliqué on Kuba skirts originally served as patches to cover holes produced by pounding the woven raffia into supple cloth. The carved ivory miniature masks worn by Pende men and women are replicas of the masks that appear during healing rites and the mukuanda masquerades. Rather than “protective objects,” the mask pendants are considered adornment. Many of the objects presented in this chapter belong to the past and have been replaced by modern European devices and objects. Having said that, notice the metal keyhole on the Baule door, which clearly indicates that it was used after the lock and key were introduced. Textiles are still produced today in many parts of Africa. Cloth woven in this traditional manner is used for garments of “national dress,” which are worn during political events and on important occasions such as family weddings, naming ceremonies, and funerals. The Museum’s collection includes traditional clothing from the northern, western, central, and southern regions of Africa. As this chapter demonstrates, it is human nature to want to live in pleasing surroundings and to express and enhance one’s sense of style and beauty.



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Fragment of a granary door or shutter Mali, Dogon peoples Late 19th or early 20th century Wood 26 × 17 × 2 5/* in. (66.04 × 43.18 × 6.67 cm) Gift of Mr. James H. W. Jacks and Mrs. James H. W. Jacks in honor and memory of C. Vincent Prothro and Mrs. Margaret Bennett Cullum, 2000.396

fig 48  The door of a Dogon granary is decorated with the sun lizard motif and secured with a carved wooden lock. Before 1968.

Dogon blacksmiths also served as sculptors carving wooden doors for houses, granaries, and shrines and decorating them with symbolic motifs drawn from Dogon mythology and religious beliefs, including depictions of primordial ancestors (nommo) and animals, especially the lizard. This weathered hardwood fragment is from a door or a shutter for a free-standing granary made of puddled earth and topped with a thatchcovered roof. It is missing the posts that acted as hinges and were inserted into matching holes bored into the granary’s doorframe. Doors of such structures were secured with a bolt lock that was affixed to the door’s proper right side (fig.  48), or sealed with mud and pulled open with a knotted cord.3 The dimensions of this fragment and the hole just beneath the lizard’s elbow suggest the Dallas example was a shutter of the former type. This door is decorated with a pair of lizards carved in low relief. The motif gives life to the Dogon belief that humans are bisexual, like the primordial ancestral couple in their creation myth. In Dogon culture, gender is settled at the time of circumcision, which is part of a youth’s comingof-age rites. The shape of the sun lizard is likened to the male and female genitals and, as such, is a sexual symbol.4


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Door lock (anuan) Mali, Dogon peoples Late 19th or early 20th century Wood and iron 15¼ × 153/* × 2 1/* in. (38.71 × 39.10 × 5.40 cm) Gift of the Bezalel Foundation, Inc., and Gustave and Franyo Schindler, 1981.14.A–B

The Dogon peoples used wooden bolt locks (ta koguru) to secure the doors to houses, interior rooms, granaries, and some shrines. This type of lock was introduced to sub-Saharan Africa with the spread of Islam from the Near East and North Africa. The Bamana and Dogon peoples in Mali especially made them into works of art. The lock consists of three separate pieces: the vertical beam (ta koro); the crossbeam (ta dagu) that slides into a cut-out rectangle in the back of the vertical beam, which is furnished with metal prongs; and a ­toothbrush-­like key (ta i) that slides into a hollowed out part of the crossbeam (fig. 49). The key is outfitted with metal prongs that match those in the vertical beam. A hole bored into the doorframe opposite the mounted lock accommodates the rounded or tapered end of the horizontal beam. When the horizontal beam is pushed into this hole, the metal prongs of the vertical beam fall into the matching holes of the horizontal beam. To unlock the door, the dangling prongs of the vertical beam are pushed upward.5 Dogon, who were not converted to Islam, decorated their bolt locks with animal or human figures and geometric patterns inspired by Dogon religious beliefs. The figures, carved in styles ranging from representational to abstract, are either an integral part of the device or extend the vertical beam as in the Dallas example. The two figures carved on top of this lock depict the primordial couple (nommo) in an abstract manner. The nommo in Dogon mythology are the offspring of Amma (God) and the Earth. They were born bisexual and their bodies were jointless. Because the male element dominated in one and the female in the other, the original nommo were able to procreate and give birth to the four pairs of original ancestors of humankind.6 Geometric patterns carved in low relief on the vertical beam include zigzag lines and a square containing a cross. According to Dogon mythology and interpretations of other works of art displaying this motif, zigzag lines arranged horizontally represent the course along which an ark carry­ ing civilization traveled from the sky to the earth. The cross within the square may symbolize the cardinal points in space.7 The Dogon have used Western-style padlocks since the twentieth century to secure their doors. Where sculptors are still available to carve wooden locks, the locks are either devoid of carved decoration or are deco­rated with a carved lozenge that represents the head of a lizard or the Islamic symbol of the crescent moon.8

fig 49a (top)  This drawing illustrates the mechanism of a Dogon door lock (front view).

fig 49b (bottom)  Drawing to show mechanism of Dogon door lock (rear view).


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Door Côte d’Ivoire, Baule peoples Late 19th or early 20th century Wood, metal, and fiber 56¼ × 205/* × 1 5/* in. (142.88 × 52.39 × 4.13 cm) The Gustave and Franyo Schindler Collection of African Sculpture, gift of the McDermott Foundation in honor of Eugene McDermott, 1974.SC.25

Baule sculptors carved doors that may have been seen by passersby or that may have been seen by family members only. Whether entrances to houses or to interior rooms, the doors were decorated with secular imagery. The motif of a big fish devouring a smaller fish—a commentary on protecting rather than preying on one’s own—adorned a number of doors and may have been carved by the same sculptor or atelier.9 The Dallas door displays this motif. The big fish, which dominates the composition, is enlivened by the varied texture of its skin and scales and the placement of the smaller fish to one side of its head, as if it were being shaken from side to side. The two rectangular forms at either side of the larger fish probably represent mirror frames.10 Integral posts, instead of metal hinges, at the top and bottom of one side of the door were inserted in holes bored into the doorway. The bottom post from the Dallas door is missing. A cord to open and close the door once occupied the hole at the center of the fish. It was eventually replaced by a European-style, metal-covered keyhole. Because sacred sculptures were rarely viewed by the public, Baule sculptors used utilitarian objects, such as doors, heddle pulleys for looms, and ointment jars rather than sacred sculptures, to advertise their abilities and attract commissions.11


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Tent posts (ehel) Niger, Tuareg peoples 20th century Wood 49¼ × 7 in. (125.1 × 17.78 cm) Gift of Drs. Nicole and John Dintenfass, 1999.6.1, 1999.6.2

The Tuareg are a seminomadic people of Amazigh origin (also known as Berbers) who dwell in tents (ehen) that can, along with their furnishings and possessions, be disassembled, packed, and carried to their next destination. Continuing desertification of the Sahel has caused the Tuareg to move southward from Algeria into Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger as well as the northern regions of Ghana, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, and Benin. Tuareg tents are made of arched wooden frames covered with goatskins or straw mats. Upright poles are used to build the tent, to support the tent wall mats, and to hang leather bags and clothing. Tall tent poles (ehel) like this pair secure reed wall mats around the bed for privacy or for protection from the elements.12 Each pole is carved from a single piece of wood. Intricately carved geometric patterns create a symmetrical design that is surmounted by a semicircular panel topped with a finial, which may be a solid or an openwork geometric shape. Shorter poles were used as cushion supports.


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Headrest Democratic Republic of the Congo, Luba peoples Late 19th or early 20th century Wood 65/* × 415/!6 × 3¼ in. (16.83 × 12.54 × 8.26 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.109


Headrest supported by standing female figure Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lulua peoples Late 19th or early 20th century Wood 7 × 4¼ × 37/!6 in. (17.8 × 10.78 × 8.73 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 1978.48.McD


Headrest in form of storage box with carved heads Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zande peoples Late 19th or early 20th century Wood, fiber, bark, and metal 9 × 153/* × 313/!6 in. (22.86 × 39.05 × 9.68 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.212.A–B

African “pillows,” in contrast to the soft, stuffed Western pillow, are ­traditionally carved out of wood, a hard material such as ivory or stone or, although rare, fired clay.13 The basic form of two platforms separated by a vertical post is consistent throughout Africa from Egypt to South Africa, and throughout time, from antiquity to the present. Still used, this “pillow” is called a headrest because of the way it is used. While reclining on one’s back or side, an individual places the upper platform at the back of the head. Alternatively, the platform can be placed under one ear and along the chin to support the head (fig. 50).14 In addition to protecting elaborate hairstyles, headrests provide a good night’s sleep because the pressure of the headrest slightly numbs the nerves in the head resulting in a tranquilizing effect.15 Headrests sculpted by Luba, Lulua, and Zande artists demonstrate some of the different ways vertical posts may be decorated. Although Luba headrests typically incorporate a human figure, this Luba headrest (cat. 80) is a study of geometrical shapes. The vertical post is carved in the form of a lidded convex vessel—not a skeuomorph, but a hollow form— surmounted by a pair of opposing V shapes that cross at the center. The supports and ends of the upper platform are decorated with the nkaka pattern; that is, the scales of the pangolin (scaly anteater) that protect the animal from harm. Another rendering of the animal skin is depicted on the lower platform. The nkaka pattern is found on many important Luba royal emblems and objects used for rites that invoke spiritual aid.16 The vertical post of the Lulua headrest (cat.  81) is usually carved in the form of a standing female figure whose face and body are elaborately decorated with low-relief scarification. The female caryatid stands firmly on oversized feet and supports the platform on her head. Her hands are placed at the sides of her body as if to draw attention to her protuberant navel. This headrest may have been carved by the same sculptor who created a headrest in the collection of the University of Pennsylvania Museum that was collected before 1924 in the former Belgian Congo.17 This rare Zande headrest (cat. 82), which is decorated with two human heads and contrasting colors, was used for sleeping (or resting) as well as for storing the valuables belonging to a member of the Zande aristocracy.18 This headrest-box is one of only four extant examples. Of the others, one is in the collection of the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium,19 and two were formerly in private collections in Los Angeles and New York City.20 In addition to supporting the head while one is asleep, preserving hairstyles, and providing storage, African headrests have other purposes. For example, a personal headrest belonging to a Luba notable could be buried instead of the deceased if the corpse was irretrievable.21

CAT. 80


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fig 50  A Wanoe, Shona, man of southern Zimbabwe demonstrates how one sleeps on a wooden headrest; 1928. The Luba of southeastern Congo use a similar type of headrest.

CAT. 81

CAT. 82


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Comb (duafe) Ghana, Asante Late 19th or early 20th century Wood 9¼ × 37/* × 5/!6 in. (23.50 × 9.84 × 0.79 cm) Gift of Henry H. Hawley III, 1981.174


Comb with seated figure Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola, Chokwe or Lwena peoples Late 19th or early 20th century Wood 65/* × 25/!6 × 1½ in. (16.83 × 5.87 × 3.81 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.142

Artists use great skill and imagination when fashioning African combs in materials such as wood, bone, or ivory. The spines, or handles, are decorated with carved motifs and precious metals, including locally mined gold and imported brass. The earliest extant African combs were found in ancient Egyptian tombs and are thousands of years old. Several combs excavated at Dawu in Ghana date to the seventeenth century, which also corresponds to the earliest European accounts of African combs. Most wooden combs that have survived tropical climate conditions date from the nineteenth century.22 While both men and women use combs, women’s combs are usually the most elaborately decorated. This is especially true among the Asante peoples. Although an Asante woman may commission a sculptor to carve combs for her, she usually receives them as gifts from family, male admirers, or her husband to mark important events in her life such as coming of age, getting married, or giving birth. The carved decorations on Asante combs refer to Asante proverbs or other traditional sayings, a few of which can be identified on the Asante comb (cat. 83) . The spine is divided into two parts consisting of a rectangle with openwork motifs surmounted by a medallion with openwork motifs. Reading upward from the lower part of the rectangle, there is an incised drawing of a ceremonial state sword with a dumbbell-shaped hilt and curved blade that is associated with the proverb “No one challenges a lion unarmed,” which means one should be prepared. The stool flanked by a pair of knots at the center of the comb has great significance. The Golden Stool is the most important religious and political symbol of the Asante nation. According to Asante oral tradition, the Golden Stool descended from the heavens to land gently on the knees of Osei Tutu, the founder and first king of the Asante empire. This stool is the repository for the entire Asante nation. A personal stool is the repository of an individual’s soul in life and after death. Its significance is embodied in the Asante saying “There are no secrets between a man and his stool.”23 The two square knots are a symbol of intelligence and refer to the proverb “Only a wise man can untie a wisdom knot.”24 The hairstyle with upright plaits on the female bust in the medallion has been documented on a Fante woman photographed in the early twentieth century.25 The crosses projecting from either side of the comb are Christian symbols. This comb is as carefully detailed on the back as it is on the front. Combs were emblems of status among the Chokwe peoples. Those made of wood or ivory with spines decorated with carved figures and abstract patterns were more valuable than unadorned wooden combs or those made from cane or wires. Like Asante and Fante combs, elaborately decorated Chokwe combs were heirlooms handed down through the generations in the belief that the spirit of the original owner inhabited the object.

CAT. 83


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The Chokwe comb (cat. 84 and see detail, below) is decorated with a figure, of undetermined sex, seated with its elbows resting on its knees.26 Although the comb may have originated among either the Chokwe or Lwena peoples, the hairstyle is similar to those on Lwena face masks representing females.27

CAT. 84


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Ointment pot with effigy cover Côte d’Ivoire, Baule peoples Early to mid-20th century Wood 9¼ × 415/!6 in. diam. (23.50 × 12.54 cm) Gift of Henry H. Hawley III, 1981.175.A–B


Pigment box with peaked corners Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kuba peoples Late 19th or early 20th century Wood 43/* × 7 1/* × 7¾ in. (11.11 × 18.10 × 19.69 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.66.A–B

African women in traditional societies enhanced their natural beauty with scarification and cosmetic preparations. For example, they applied black kohl to their eyes, painted their faces and bodies with a reddish powder or paste, and moisturized their skin with shea butter. These and other cosmetic substances required containers for mixing and storage. Natural objects such as gourds and shells were available to all, but those who could afford to stored their cosmetics in pots, boxes, and bowls artfully carved by sculptors. Lidded containers, like the ointment pot illustrated on this page (cat. 85), were used to store shea butter, a traditional lubricant that has been a staple ingredient in Western brand-name moisturizers since the late twentieth century. Sculptors typically carved the lid in the form of a female head with carefully detailed hairstyle and facial features. This figure’s elaborate hairstyle, downcast eyes, scarification marks, and long neck reflect Baule ideals of feminine beauty and comportment. The bowl of the container resembles a type of water vessel Baule women once made. Religious sculpture in traditional Baule society was kept hidden. To advertise their skill and creativity, specialist artists and workshops produced utilitarian objects—such as loom heddle pulleys, doors, chairs, and ointment pots—in quantity, decorated them with the masks and figures found in religious art, and sold them publicly. The similarity in form and decoration in this ointment pot and three other published examples suggests they came from the same workshop.28 Kuba sculptors carved boxes in a variety of shapes—square, round, oval, semilunar—to store twool (or tool). This reddish powder, made from the inner bark of a hardwood tree (Baphia and Pterocarpus families), was mixed with vegetable oil to create a pigment the Kuba used to dye raffia cloth and to paint their faces and bodies. The Kuba decorated their wooden boxes extensively with incised and low-relief motifs that have names that were probably symbolic. The entire surface of the Dallas box (cat. 86) is covered with geometric and figurative motifs. The faceted lid transcends simple geometry with its peaked corners. Each corner is filled with a circle surrounding the sun (phila or itang, a scallop-edged circle), a raised vessel-like form that may be the most abstract rendering of a design known as Mutu Chembe (head of God), and cowrie shells on a ground of vertical lines. Multiple lines of chevrons (mbish angil) dominate the center of the slanted sides of the lid and heart shapes, which complement the hearts on the center of the lid, wrap around the corners. The heart motif along with traces of basket weave and interlace patterns also appears on the box’s well-worn bottom.29

CAT. 85

CAT. 86


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Cup in form of head Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pende peoples Late 19th or early 20th century Wood and pigment 5 7/* × 37/!6 × 313/!6 in. (14.92 × 8.73 × 9.68 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.161


Cup with handle in form of a hand (mbwoong ntey) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kuba peoples Late 19th or early 20th century Wood 513/!6 × 3¾ × 45/!6 in. (14.76 × 9.53 × 10.95 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.44


Cup in form of male figure Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pende peoples Late 19th or early 20th century Wood 6 × 315/!6 × 3 7/* in. (15.24 × 10 × 9.84 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.162

On ceremonial occasions, such as funeral celebrations, men and women in many parts of Africa consumed a low-alcohol beverage made from the raffia palm. Men would also drink palm wine in the evenings when they gathered in their retreats to discuss the affairs of the community. African sculptors carved special, elaborately decorated wooden drinking cups that expressed an owner’s status. The Pende cups depict female and male figures (cat. 87 and 89). They are distinguished by their facial features, which replicate those on carved wooden village masks (mbuyu). Both faces display the characteristic prominent eyebrows above downcast eyes in a triangular face. The eyebrows on the standing male figure are exaggerated by the multiple lines above the brow, and the lips form an inverted V that identifies the “hyper male” in the Pende visual vocabulary.30 The female’s smooth, high round forehead, lowered eyelids, and upturned lips express feminine modesty. Kuba drinking vessels (cat. 88) were carved out of wood or animal horn and decorated with geometric and figurative motifs derived from body scarification and textile designs. Some motifs reflected the status of the owner as a member of an association. Cups with handles carved in the form of a severed hand, for example, were owned by warriors. This refers to a time when Kuba warriors cut off an enemy’s hand as proof of their victory. This act admitted warriors to an elite organization and conferred the right to display its emblem.31 A nineteenth-century visitor observed that when Kuba men traveled or visited friends, they carried their personal cups with them, tied to the waist.32 The Wongo cup (cat. 90) portrays a standing female figure with arms akimbo, her face and torso decorated with raised scarification patterns. The lateral triangles formed by her bent arms echo the inverted triangle of her torso. Instead of being carved on a platform, she stands firm and perfectly balanced on her two feet. This cup, and two other examples— one of a standing female, the other, a seated female with outstretched legs—collected early in the twentieth century, are evidence of masterful innovation. They raise the question, however, For whom were they made: local client, missionaries, or foreign visitors?33

CAT. 87


Cup in form of female figure Democratic Republic of the Congo, Wongo peoples Late 19th or early 20th century Wood 8 7/!6 × 53/* × 43/!6 in. (21.43 × 13.65 × 10.64 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.49

CAT. 88


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CAT. 89

CAT. 90


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Ceremonial rice bowl Liberia, Grebo peoples Early to mid-20th century Wood 9 × 193/* in. (22.86 × 49.21 cm) General Acquisition Fund, 1974.6

Thanksgiving and other holiday feasts are occasions to adorn the dinner table with the hostess’s best serving dishes and platters. Before the introduction of enamel wares, housewives among the Dan, We, Grebo, and neighboring peoples in Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire displayed their large, highly prized wooden bowls before filling them with rice.34 Wooden serving bowls typically have a flat, narrow foot and straight or slightly flared walls. The outer wall of this bowl is decorated with incised diagonal lines arranged in separate or double rows that alternate with smooth, plain areas. The designs are symmetrical but differ from one side of the bowl to the other. When in use, the bowls were highly polished.


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Harp with human head (kundi) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zande peoples Late 19th or early 20th century Wood, leather, metal, and glass beads 11 × 41/* × 1611/!6 in. (27.90 × 10.48 × 42.39 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 1978.54.McD

fig 51  Itinerant Zande troubadors accom­panied themselves on decorated harps. Illustration made before 1891 by J. Boden.

Nineteenth-century Zande kings owned five-stringed harps that were played at the king’s pleasure by royal harpists residing in the palace (fig. 51). According to an Italian visitor of the day, itinerant singers took their harps to war, and those who owned figurative harps treasured them as precious possessions.35 The arched neck of the Dallas harp ends in a sculpted head with eyes made of precious imported blue beads. It has been suggested that the head alludes to the ancestors whose voices sound through the harp.36 The shape of the head is echoed in the lozenge-shaped sounding box covered with leather and decorated with geometric designs. Figurative pegs fitted into the arched neck tuned the strings stretched between the pegs and the sounding box. Both the tuning pegs and the strings are missing.


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Woman’s marriage or ceremonial veil Morocco, central Anti-Atlas mountain range, Amazigh (Berbers), Ida ou Nadif or Ida ou Zeddoute peoples 1900–1930 Wool and natural dyes, including henna 60 × 52½ in. (152.40 × 133.35 cm) Textile Purchase Fund, 2005.78

fig 52  A ceremonial veil. Anti-Atlas Mountains, Morocco.

Women among the Ida ou Nadif and Ida ou Zeddoute peoples of North Africa wear dye-decorated headcloths on special occasions (fig. 52).37 The rectangular or roughly U-shaped patterns, created by tying the cloth and dyeing it with henna, appear in tan, reddish brown, and bluish black on a natural ground. Patterns called mirrors are believed to protect the wearer against the evil eye. The cloth is draped so that the dramatic pattern cascades down the wearer’s back.38


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Overskirt with wavy edge (ntshakakot) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kuba peoples, Bushoong group Early 20th century Palm leaf fiber (raffia), cotton, wool, and vegetal fiber 30½ × 85½ × 2½ in. (77.47 × 217.17 × 6.35 cm) Textile Purchase Fund, 2005.41

fig 53  Although this drawing was made in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, the Kuba women have continued to wear appliquéd raffia wrappers into the present era.

Bushoong women wear a special overskirt made of appliquéd woven raffia cloth. Wrapped around the waist and worn with cowrie-­embroidered belts over a longer ceremonial skirt, the overskirt (which can measure more than five yards or four and a half meters long) has a cut-pile raffia border edged with an encased flexible reed (fig. 53). It is important to note that cowrie shells and woven raffia cloth were used as currency before the introduction of coins and paper money. Once an indicator of status and rank, the skirts, which were produced in stages by male weavers and female embroiderers, were expensive to obtain and were owned only by aristocratic women, who wore them on special occasions (fig. 54). This cloth is appliquéd with patches made of imported cotton ticking, which was used in Western countries to cover mattresses.39 The imported cloth’s blue-and-white pattern was probably deemed attractive and appropriate because Kuba beadwork designs were formed with blue and white beads. An early visitor to Kuba country noted the patches were both for ornament and to cover holes,40 some of which were created when the raffia cloth was pounded to make it supple. The patches were named according to their shapes. For example, the L or comma shape is called shina mboa, meaning “the tail of a dog,” and a circle is idingadinga.41

fig 54  Kuba women wearing appliquéd raffia wrappers dance during the Itul ceremony. Bushoong Village, Democratic Republic of the Congo, c. 1971.


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Cape (linaga) South Africa, Limpopo Province, Ndebele peoples Early 20th century Glass beads, cotton yarn, and goatskin 42½ × 57½ in. (107.95 × 146.05 cm) The Otis and Velma Davis Dozier Fund, 1991.24

fig 55  This traditional linaga is embellished with beads of red, green, orange, blue, and pink. The curved shape of the cape is a result of the way that the skins have been stitched together. Limpopo Province, South Africa, 1976–1982.

Ndebele women wear curved goatskin capes adorned with a wide rectangular strip of beadwork on ceremonial occasions (fig. 55). The Dallas linaga is an example of an old-style beadwork that is characterized by a predominantly white background and a row of open squares near the bottom of the cape. The abstract designs are made with red, green, orange, and blue beads. The beads were attached one bead at a time and reinforced by pulling the thread through each bead three times.42


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Man’s robe (dandogo) Cameroon, Gandura region, Hausa peoples 20th century Cotton and dye 107 × 50 in. (271.78 × 127 cm) Textile Purchase Fund, 2006.43

fig 56  A Yoruba man in Abeokuta, Nigeria, wears a robe of ikat cloth, 1963. This type of robe was traditionally worn by horsemen who lived in the more northern areas of Nigeria. As evidenced by this photograph, however, the prevalence of this garment has moved south.

Elaborately embroidered and voluminous men’s robes made of hand­ woven strips of cotton are distributed widely throughout Cameroon and Nigeria. This type of robe derives from the Hausa dandogo or “riding robe,” so called because of the vertical slitlike openings that allowed the wearer to hold the reins in his hands.43 Embroidered with Islamic patterns, it was introduced to the area with the southerly spread of Islam from northern Nigeria in the nineteenth century.44 While not all who encountered Islam converted to the religion, many people adopted the robe. In the southern areas where the environment could not support horses, the robe was modified to include pockets, as in the example shown in fig. 56. Making this type of robe requires the skills of spinners, dyers, weavers, tailors, and embroiderers. It is intentionally large so the man wearing it appears larger than normal, thereby projecting an image of prosperity and power. Now designated the national dress of Nigerian men, it is worn on formal occasions, traditional ceremonies (such as weddings, baby-­naming events, milestone birthdays), and funeral celebrations. The dandogo has also become a symbol of African identity and pride within Africa and the African diaspora. Collected in a Hausa enclave in the Gandura region of Cameroon, the Dallas riding robe is similar to one from northern Nigeria in the Venice and Alastair Lamb Collection.45 The wide sleeves of both are lined with red and white strip cloth, which in the Dallas cloth is made of cotton. The Dallas garment is distinguished by pinstriped strips that flank a dramatic red, white, and blue warp stripe (see detail, below). The blue and white “bleeding” effect is achieved by tying and dyeing the yarns before they were woven. This dyeing technique, known as ikat, has not been practiced by Hausa dyers since the 1970s.


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Pendant mask (gikhokho) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pende peoples Late 19th or early 20th century Ivory 17/* × 1¼ × 7/* in. (4.76 × 3.18 × 2.22 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.166

Pende men and women wear miniature replicas of the masks (sing. ­gikhokho, pl. ikhokho) used in village masquerades and healing rituals. Those carved from elephant ivory and hippopotamus bone—the preferred material being ivory—are worn as jewelry and considered prime aesthetic objects that enhance their owner’s sense of beauty and style (ginango). Pendant mask replicas are suspended from cords or strings of beads and worn around the neck.46 Close contact with the owner’s sweaty and red camwood-covered skin discolored this mask to an undesirable quality. To maintain the natural color of the ivory, owners wash their pendant masks as a part of their daily toilet. Because it was scrubbed with fine sand, the once sharply carved facial features of this mask have almost disappeared.


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Notes 1. Sieber 1972; Sieber 1980 2. Hultgren and Zeidler 1993: 6 3. Compare with examples from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in Ezra 1988: 92–93 4. Imperato 1978: 57 5. Ibid., 54 6. Griaule 1965 7. Calame-Griaule, in Bilot et al. 2003: 58–59; Ezra 1988: 92–93 8. Imperato 1978: 57 9. Vogel 1997: 278; J. Vogel, in Herreman 2005: 51, cat. 30; similar doors are found in Tishman 1966: n.p., cat. no. 42; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (acc. no. 1979.205.120) 10. Homberger 1999: 276, cat. no. 75 11. Vogel 1997: 278 12. Seligman and Loughran 2006: 93; Thomas Seligman, personal communication, September 13, 2006 13. Headrests made of hard materials are also used among East Asian and Oceanic/Pacific peoples; see Dewey 1993: 148–79 (Asia), 180–95 (Oceania). 14. Ibid., 16–17; Sieber 1980: 107–108. For another selection of headrests, see Sieber and Herreman 2000: 32–97. 15. Eugene Burt, quoted in Dewey 1993: 17 16. Roberts and Roberts 1996: 184–92; for example, the nkaka pattern is found on diviners’ beaded headdresses. 17. Wardwell 1986: 112; this headrest (acc. no. AF 5154) is attributed to the Pende peoples. 18. Cornet 1971: 330 19. Sieber and Walker 1987: 112, cat. no. 63 20. Sotheby’s 1991: lot 94; Sotheby’s 2006: lot 114 21. Nooter 1984: 62–63 22. Cole and Ross 1977: 48–51 23. Fraser 1972: 140–44 24. Cole and Ross 1977: 140–44 25. Photograph reproduced in Sieber and Herreman 2000: 12, as fig. 4 26. It is similar to one in the Corice and Armand P. Arman Collection; reproduced in Sieber and Herreman 2000: 139, cat. no. 133. 27. Ibid., 140, cat. no. 136

28. Vogel 1997: 283–84; Boyer, Girard, and Rivière 1997: 108, plate 110 29. Torday and Joyce 1910: plate 26, no. 18 Torday attributes an oil vessel with the heart-shaped motif to the Mbala. 30. Strother 1998: 114–15 31. Cornet 1971: 143 32. Hultgren and Zeidler 1993: 73 33. Mack, in T. Phillips 1995: 271, cat. no. 4.42; Robbins and Nooter 1989: 431, fig. 1111 The Wongo cup on which the standing female is depicted part of the permanent collection of the Buffalo Museum of Science. 34. Fischer and Himmelheber 1984: 135 35. Casati 1891 36. Maquet 1956: 50 37. Paydar and Grammet 2002: 269, 273 38. Picton and Mack 1989: 48 39. Trowell 1960: n.p., plate 24 A similar appliqué cloth at the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, has patches of imported prints with a floral motif. 40. Hultgren and Zeidler 1993 The Presbyterian missionary William H. Sheppard, an African American, and his party were the first foreigners to enter the Bushoong royal court in 1890. The paramount king of the Kuba peoples came from the Bushoong group. During the twenty years Sheppard lived among the Kuba, he amassed a col­lection of objects that was deposited at Hampton Institute, now Hampton University, Virginia; Darish, in T. Phillips 1995: 276, cat. no. 4.48b. Another early example collected by Emil Torday on the Torday Congo Expedition, 1907 to 1909, was deposited at the British Museum. 41. Picton and Mack 1989: 175–76; Darish, in Weiner and Schneider 1989: 117–40 42. Knight and Priebatsch 1983: 8 43. Compare with examples from northern Cameroon and northern Nigeria: Zerbini 2002: cat. no. 310, and Eicher 1976: pl. 19, respectively 44. Clarke 2005: 8–12; Bravmann 1983: 86–101 45. Lamb 1975: 39 The Lamb cloth is made from native Nigerian silk yarns obtained from the Anaphe infracta moth. 46. Strother, in T. Phillips 1995: 262, cat. no. 4.32

chapter 4

african art and the influences of foreign trade Arabs and Europeans came to Africa in search of trade, to spread their ­culture and the teachings of their religions, and to extend their territory and politi‑ cal power. Their experiences were recorded and provide useful, sometimes invaluable, information. Muslim travelers, historians, and geographers in the tenth century described what they found in Bilad al‑Sudan, “the land of the blacks,” which they reached by trade routes across the Sahara Desert. The Portuguese, whose mission was to divert the gold trade from the Arab monopoly and find a direct route to the source of the highly desirable Asian spices, were the first Europeans to explore Africa. Beginning in 1434, they traveled southward on the Atlantic Ocean until they rounded the Cape of Good Hope and reached East Africa. On successive voyages they stopped at Cape Verde (1444), the Gold Coast (modern Ghana, 1471), the Benin king‑ dom (in modern Nigeria, c. 1476), the mouth of the Congo (1483), and the Cape of Good Hope (in modern South Africa, 1488). They were followed by the Castilians and Flemish in the mid-fifteenth century; the French, English, and Dutch in the sixteenth century; and the Danes, Swedes, and Brandenburgers in the seventeenth century.1 Some early European travel‑ ers’ accounts are referenced in discussions of the African works of art in the Museum’s collection, especially those from the Benin kingdom. African trade goods—pepper, ivory, animal hides, wax, amber, indigo, tex‑ tiles, gold, and slaves—were exchanged for European horses, silk, copper and brass, clothing, beads, tobacco, alcohol, and firearms. Slaves for the overseas trade, which the Portuguese initiated in 1441 with twelve cap‑ tives, became the major export by the nineteenth century. After slavery was abolished around 1850, legitimate trade was established, and palm oil and other raw materials were exchanged for factory-made textiles (“trade cloth”), utensils, beads, doors, paint, and weapons. Trading with Africans was not enough. Europeans, who desired to own and control the sources of Africa’s wealth, colonized the regions in which they had been trading partners. By 1914, the continent was owned by Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. Only Ethiopia remained an inde‑ pendent nation. Africans recorded their experiences, actual or received, orally and in the visual arts. They sculpted figures and masks that depicted European slave traders, missionaries, soldiers, clerks, and men, women, and children in various mediums for use in traditional African contexts and for the export trade.2 Adoption of Christianity provided an outlet for creativity as demon‑ strated in the variety of Ethiopian crucifixes. An ivory waist pendant from the Benin kingdom references the sea on which the Portuguese, the ini‑ tial source of Benin’s wealth, traveled. Trade with Portugal also resulted in having more copper to make “bronze” sculptures for ancestral altars, items of royal regalia, and architecture. Although a few ­sculptures, such as the lidded bowl by Arowogun (Aerogun) of Osi-Ilorin and the figurative vessel by Voania Muba, depict foreigners and their belongings (horses, bicycles or motorcycles, articles of clothing, weapons), most of the ­holdings in the 261


fig 57  Dorothea Tanning, Pincushion to Serve as Fetish, 1979. Black velvet, wood, metal, paint, and copper. Collection of Deedie and Rusty Rose and the Dallas Museum of Art, 2005.27.

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Museum’s collection display Africans’ use of imported materials and objects including glass beads, cowrie shells, mirrors, porcelain, various types of trade cloth, copper and brass, and even wine glasses. The Muslim/Islamic presence is referenced in horse-and-rider and turbaned figures. Muslim influences are also evident in the geometrical patterns in beadwork and embroidery, the leather amulets depicted on a Mende sowei helmet mask, a Yoruba bead-embroidered ile ori, and a Hausa man’s robe from Cameroon.3 Olowe of Ise (c. 1875–c. 1938), the famous Yoruba sculptor to kings, used imported European paints as well as local pigments to color the sculptures he carved out of wood. This chapter is about not only what Africans received from foreigners and how they used and applied the ideas, beliefs, and materials in their own lives, but also Africa’s contributions to the cultural heritage of mankind. For example, around the turn of the twentieth century, African sculpture was instrumental in shifting “modern art from styles based on visual per‑ ception to those based on the artist’s particular view of the world.”4 Derain, Vlaminck, Picasso, Modigliani, Païlès (who once owned a Baule seated figure now in the Museum’s collection), and others may not have known about the cultures in which the African masks and figures originated or their significance, but they felt the power of their forms. The influence of African sculpture on Western artists has continued, as evidenced by such works as Pincushion to Serve as Fetish (1979) by Dorothea Tanning (fig. 57) and Fetish #2 (1988) by Renée Stout (fig. 58), a work that was inspired by Kongo minkisi (power figures). The art of the African weaver has undoubtedly made an impact on American popular culture, fashion, and furnishings. Two textiles, one from Ghana and the other from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the Museum’s collection exemplify this assertion. African designs and patterns are reproduced wholesale or stylized but are rarely identified as such by the manufacturers. That omission is corrected here.

fig 58  Renée Stout, Fetish #2, 1988. Mixed media (plaster body cast). Dallas Museum of Art, Metropolitan Life Foundation Purchase, 1989.27.


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Processional cross Ethiopia Probably 18th to 20th century Cast copper alloy 11¾ × 8¼ in. (29.85 × 20.96 cm) Gift of Dr. Hebe Redden and Dr. Kenneth Redden, 1991.352.43


Standing figure of a religious Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kongo peoples Late 19th century to c. 1930 Wood 14½ × 3 × 35/* in. (36.83 × 7.62 × 9.21 cm) African Collection Fund, 2008.38.2

Christianity has an extensive history in Africa. It was first ­introduced in the fourth century to the ancient and prosperous Axumite kingdom in present-day Ethiopia. The Axumites traded far and wide, exporting incense, ivory, rhinoceros horn, tortoiseshell, apes, and slaves through the port of Adulis on the Red Sea and importing goods and ideas from Syria, Egypt, and other lands. St. Mark (or Frumentius), a Syrian from Alexandria, Egypt, is usually credited with introducing Coptic Christianity to the Axumite king Ezana, who established the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. During the period between the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, King Lalibela desired to build a new Jerusalem. The churches in the capital of Lalibela were cut out of rock and are the largest monumental structures in Africa.5 Portuguese navigators in the late fifteenth century took Roman Catholic priests on their exploratory voyages to coastal West, Central, and East Africa. Initial efforts to convert the king (oba) of the Benin king‑ dom failed but mutually beneficial commercial trade—the trafficking of European luxury goods, firearms, and brass in exchange for salt, pepper, and slaves—was established. During the early sixteenth century the reigning Edo king also refused to be baptized, but he allowed his son to do so and to learn Portuguese, thereby enhancing diplomatic relations. Missionary efforts had ceased by 1540, probably as a result of unprofitable commercial transactions, and were not attempted again until the seven‑ teenth century. The first Christian state in sub-Saharan Africa was the Kongo kingdom in present-day northern Angola. João I and his nobles were baptized in 1491,6 and hundreds of Kongo subjects and Portuguese carpenters built a Catholic church. By the time João died in 1509, he had lost interest in Christianity. His son and successor Afonso I Mvemba Nzinga (reigned 1506–1543) was a devout Christian, however, and re-founded the Kongo kingdom with Christianity as its state religion.7 Although Afonso thought the Portuguese partners were not adhering to Kongo laws governing the slave trade, he sent his son Henrique Kinu a Mvemba to Portugal to be educated. Henrique eventually became a bishop. The Dutch seized Portuguese trading establishments in the early sev‑ enteenth century and supplanted the Portuguese in the Atlantic slave trade. The Dutch were followed by the Danes, and they by the British. Each reintroduced European Christianity to Africa as part of their commercial and colonial agendas. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, repatriated Christian slaves helped spread the Word. When European powers divided sub-Saharan Africa among themselves and created colo‑ nies in the late nineteenth century, conversion to the Christian religion availed one of Western education and with access to the requisite skills for survival in a changed world.

CAT. 98


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Representing the crucified Christ, crosses are the most important symbol of Christianity. Artists made them in different sizes for use in different contexts. For example, large elaborately decorated crosses are mounted on poles that raise them above the heads of the worshippers in processions during feast days (fig. 59). During worship, processional crosses are used to bless the congregation, baptismal water, sacra‑ ments, and the four corners of the church. They are commonly made of copper alloys and cast by the lost-wax process (cire perdue), which makes each one unique. Processional crosses made of iron and silver are more uncommon.8 The Dallas Museum of Art’s collection of over two hundred examples also includes handheld crosses made of wood or metal and small metal pendants for necklaces. Kenneth Redden, a founder of Ethiopia’s first law school in the late 1960s, assembled the collection. Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974, allowed Redden to export the crosses on the condition that they be displayed publicly.9 Tradition-based artists in West and Central Africa also found new patronage in the Christian church.10 In addition to crucifixes and other devotional objects, they carved figures of religious. The Dallas figure posed in prayer may depict a monk or a nun wearing a pith helmet or a veil. Because both men and women wore habits that concealed their bodies from head to toe, gender identification is difficult. The observant artist carefully depicted the knotted leather or fiber belt with ends that terminate in a cross, the folds of the garment, and the shoes.

fig 59  Priests of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church carry large brass crosses hung with colorful cloths during the Timkat (Epiphany) festival. Lalibela, Ethiopia, 1999. © Dave Bartruff / corbis.

CAT. 99


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Horse-and-rider figure (elesin Shango) Nigeria, Owo, Yoruba peoples 17th to 18th century Ivory 6½ × 1¾ × 2¼ in. (16.51 × 4.45 × 5.72 cm) The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 1994.197.McD

This exquisite sculpture depicts one of the most important imports: Equus caballus, the domestic horse. Introduced circa 1640–1532 BC to ancient Egypt by western Asian conquerors, horses were initially used to draw chariots in military campaigns.11 Subsequently, horses were introduced to western Sudan (northern region of West Africa) via the Sahara Desert in about AD 1000 by Muslim Arab and Amazigh (also known as Berber) trad‑ ers. Mounted armies enabled the medieval Sudanese kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai to be established and flourish. Despite the inhospi­ table, humid climate and deadly tsetse flies, it appears that horses—or the knowledge of horses—reached as far as the southern area of present-day Nigeria. The evidence is a tenth-century AD bronze hilt cast in the form of a horse and rider that was excavated from a royal burial chamber in IgboUkwu village. This sculpture predates the horses Portuguese mariners and merchants brought to coastal West Africa in the mid- to late fifteenth cen‑ tury.12 During the centuries that followed, northern traders and invaders continued to supply horses while successive European voyagers brought new breeds to sub-Saharan Africa. Horses bearing foreign goods were welcome, but horses carrying war‑ riors on their backs were “fearful bearers of power”13 that facilitated con‑ quests of other peoples and territorial expansion. Equine speed, physical strength, ability to elevate their riders above even the tallest standing person, and the cost to acquire, sustain, and replace them made horses, and by association their owners, symbols of power and prestige. In African art, horse-and-rider imagery generally connotes prestige, wealth, and power. Among the Yoruba, carved wood elesin (literally “horse owner”), horseand-rider figures, serve as supports for divination bowls, as superstruc‑ tures on staffs and Epa masks, and as freestanding figures on altars dedicated to various deities (e.g., Shango, the god of thunder and light‑ ning; Ogun, the god of iron; Erinle, the hunter; Orisha-oko, god of the farm; or Eshu, the divine messenger/­trickster).14 Carved ivory horse-andrider figures like this one are prized because elephant ivory was reserved for the king (oba) and the hunter who killed the animal. Such objects are found among the divining paraphernalia owned by highly successful Ifa diviners and by rulers who install the figures on private or communal altars in shrines dedicated to Shango (the deified fourth king of the old Oyo kingdom in northern Yorubaland, who is believed to have reigned in the seventeenth century, and who was a brilliant military general and a master horseman). According to his praise poem (oriki), Shango had a stable of ten thousand horses!15 Religious rituals and indigenous oral traditions, which include oriki and owe (proverbs), can be used to interpret the meaning of equestrian figures for Shango shrines. During worship activities, for example, favored devotees are “ridden” or “mounted” by Shango; hence, horse-and-rider


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imagery symbolizes the state of being possessed. In an oriki about the deity, the horse symbolizes lightning that Shango learned to attract using a powerful charm: Fire in the eye, fire in the mouth, fire on the roof You ride fire like a horse.16 The concept that the power of words is equal to the strength and speed of a horse is expressed in the adage “Proverbs are the horses of communication.”17 This elesin Shango was carved in the Owo kingdom located in the tropi‑ cal forest region and famous for the fine ivory carvings that were made from the sixteenth to eighteenth century. It would have been difficult to sustain horses in Owo, so this rendering may not be based on actual experience, but on oral descriptions or the carved altarpieces that trav‑ eled with Shango worship. The unknown sculptor carefully and skillfully depicted the details of the rider’s costume and the horse’s tack as he cre‑ ated a highly stylized and esoteric image. The rider is taller than the horse, which could indicate that the artist had no firsthand experience of horses. The horse depicted could be one of the small breeds, but it is more likely that the artist was emphasizing the importance of the rider, Shango. The single-reined, bitless bridle and the absence of saddle and stirrups prob‑ ably reflects early West African horsemanship before the introduction of saddles.18 Equestrian figures carved during the nineteenth century or later portray the rider seated on a saddle and his feet in stirrups. The rider’s tailed cap is decorated with a geometric pattern that is per‑ forated, probably for inlaid pieces like those used to form his pupils. His bulging eyes follow stylistic conventions of Yoruba art and contain char‑ acteristics, such as the notched lids that may represent eyelashes, associ‑ ated with Owo artistry. The lines, carved in relief and extending from his temple to his mouth, may represent a scarification pattern, albeit one that is found among the Ijebu-Ode Yoruba to the south.19 The clientele of Owo ivory carvers extended far beyond the artisans’ hometown. In another interpretation, the rider has a gag to echo the curved bridle on the horse.20 If the rider is indeed Shango, as either king or deity, however, he would not stand to be gagged.


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Four-faced helmet mask (ñgontang) Gabon, Ogooué River and Woleu-Ntem Province, Fang peoples, Betsi or Ntumu group 1920–1940 Wood and pigment 1015/!6 × 815/!6 × 89/!6 in. (27.78 × 22.70 × 21.75 cm) The Gustave and Franyo Schindler Collection of African Sculpture, gift of the McDermott Foundation in honor of Eugene McDermott, 1974.SC.33

fig 60  Representing Europeans, ñgontang masks were originally used in the context of ancestor worship and social control. By the 1960s they were principally for entertainment. Gabon.

The Betsi and Ntumu call this type of helmet mask ñgontang, a term that is a contraction of nlo ñgon ntañga, which means “face of the daughter of the white man.” When the Betsi and Ntumu peoples first encountered the Europeans, they believed the Europeans were spirits returned from the world of the dead. Introduced in the 1920s, the mask has multiple faces with eyes that see everything, and it was a ritual object that fought against malevolent forces such as witchcraft.21 Eventually the traditional beliefs were abandoned and the masks were used for entertainment pur‑ poses (fig. 60). It is thought the ñgontang replaced the ngil mask, which policed the Fang communities and was banned by the French colonial government. The faces on the ñgontang are not identical (see the two-dimensional rollout photograph, pp. 274–75). They have different measurements, ana‑ tomical details, and scarification. The Dallas mask has two large and two small faces. The larger faces have brows formed with perforations and a black line drawn from the forehead to the tip of the nose. The mouths on these faces differ—one is upturned in a smile while the other is pursed. The male dancer who wore the mask looked through a pair of horizontal openings carved in the bottom of the mask under one of the faces.


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Bowl with lid (opon igede) Attributed to Arowogun (Areogun) of Osi-Ilorin (c. 1880–1954) Nigeria, Yoruba peoples 1920–1940 Wood and patination 20¾ × 17 9/!6 in. diam. (52.71 × 44.61 cm) Gift of Carolyn C. and Dan C. Williams, 1984.57.A–B

This sculpture is attributed to Arowogun, a celebrated master sculptor who was a contemporary of Olowe of Ise (see pp. 90–93). Born around 1880 in the village of Osi in the Ekiti area of northern Yorubaland, Arowogun was known by his praise name Arowogun, which refers to his occupation and is a short form of Areogun-yanna—“one who gets money with the tools of Ogun and spends it liberally.” Ogun is the patron saint of those who use iron tools, including blacksmiths, carvers, hunters, soldiers, and in today’s world, truck drivers and all who use machinery. Arowogun did not come from an artistic family but was allowed to pursue carving. He was apprenticed to Bamgbose of Osi (known for multifigured Epa masks, oloju foforo face masks, figurative house posts, and palace doors) for six‑ teen years and to Fasan of Isare for some years before he was qualified to be his own master with apprentices. Toward the end of his life, Arowogun carved Christian themes for the Roman Catholic Church in Oye-Ekiti.22 He was about seventy-five years old when he died in 1954. Foreign people and objects are depicted on this elaborately decorated lidded bowl that was used to store ritual paraphernalia. Carved in relief on the lid are a turbaned Muslim chief riding a horse and holding in one hand a rope tied around a captive and in the other, a weapon; a uniformed soldier displaying an imported firearm; and a British district officer wear‑ ing a pith helmet and riding a motorcycle. Muslim traders from the north and Portuguese merchants introduced horses to sub-Saharan Africa many centuries ago. In the context of this container, the Muslim horseman may symbolize the slave raids that occurred during the nineteenth century. The bowl, which has three compartments, also bears indigenous ref‑ erences. For example, a priest of the healing deity Osanyin is portrayed on the lid. In one hand he holds a staff surmounted by a bird and in the other a medicine horn; he is flanked by attendants or clients. A standing male figure on the bowl represents either a priest or a devotee of Shango, the god of thunder and lightning. He carries a dance staff (oshe Shango) in one hand and a gourd rattle (shekere) in the other. Other figures include musicians playing a pressure drum and a flute and a soldier brandishing bladed weapons. The visual references to the presence of North African Muslims and Europeans on the lid indicate the Yoruba’s changed world, but those on the bowl suggest that indigenous religion and customs still prevailed.


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Torque Nigeria, Yoruba peoples 18th century Cast bronze 10½ × 10 × 3½ in. (26.67 × 25.40 × 8.89 cm) Gift of The Cecil and Ida Green Foundation, 1999.63

Heavy castings like this one were used as currency in West Africa prior to the introduction of coinage. Also worn by women in certain ritual dances, torques are considered “stored wealth” because they are composed of the metal from numerous manillas (open bracelets that served as another form of pre-coinage currency). Individuals took their amassed manillas to blacksmiths to be melted down and recast into the much larger torques. Manillas, which were introduced by foreign merchants, circulated in West Africa from the fifteenth to the early twentieth century. Royal brasscast‑ ers in the Benin kingdom in present-day Nigeria melted down manillas obtained from the Portuguese and recast them as plaques (for example, see fig. 18, p. 44).23 The ideal form is said to be a near perfect circle with the two pointed finials meeting, as displayed in the Dallas torque.


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Hat with hornlike projections (misango mayaka) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yaka or Suku peoples 20th century Coiled basketry, glass beads, palm splints, and palm fiber 7¼ × 22 × 14 in. (18.40 × 55.88 × 35.56 cm) Gift of Linda and Stanley Marcus, 1992.20

fig 61  Hats covered with expensive, imported beads project the wealth and status of Yaka and Pende chiefs. Democratic Republic of the Congo.

This hat was originally part of the regalia worn by a Yaka or a Suku regional chief (mfumu misala) or overlord, who is the second ­highest-ranking politi‑ cal leader (fig. 61).24 The form and materials of Yaka and Suku beaded hats resulted from the complex political relationships that existed between the ancient Lunda empire and the peoples they conquered (upon whom they imposed their political structures and leadership symbols) and from contact with Europe. Around 1940 Yaka chiefs began wearing a beaded pillbox-style hat they purchased from their eastern neighbors, the Pende, who were also Lunda conquests. Chiefly regalia among the Pende included beaded hats—one with an avian finial and knoblike forms projecting from its sides and one with two hornlike appendages—that were borrowed from the Lunda.25 The Yaka and Suku both appropriated the latter hat. Museum collections and field documentation record masks adorned with animal horns among the chiefly insignia of the Yaka in 1910. Buffalo (mpakasa; Syncerus caffer) are the largest African bovine; their horns in particular symbolized their strength and bulk. To personalize the borrowed hat, the Yaka incorporated an important element from their indigenous leadership regalia—a pompom of white feathers that ordinarily surmounted a miniature cone-shaped basketry hat (tsala). The colors of the feathers on the misango mayaka varied to indicate the wearer’s rank—for example, that of a paramount, regional, or other chief. The colored glass beads used to decorate the hats prob‑ ably came from Czechoslovakia, which has been exporting beads to Africa since the early twentieth century when the bead trade was associated with the latex industry in the former Belgian Congo.26


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Pipe in the form of a seated female figure Angola, Ovimbundu peoples 1900–1950 Wood, stain, metal, and beads 83/!6 × 25/!6 × 33/!6 in. (20.70 × 5.88 × 8.10 cm) Gift of Gustave and Franyo Schindler, 1980.44.A–B


Water pipe in the form of a seated female figure Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kanyok peoples Late 19th or early 20th century Wood, hide, plant fiber, and glass beads 151/* × 53/* × 4 1/!6 in. (38.42 × 13.65 × 10.32 cm) The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.18

The Portuguese introduced tobacco (Nicotiana tobacum and Nicotiana ­rustica) to West Africa in the seventeenth century after they discovered it in the Americas.27 Tobacco usage in sub-Saharan Africa is recorded on an elaborately decorated Ifa divination tray that originally belonged to a Yoruba king of Adra, in present-day Benin, and was taken to Ulm, Germany, before 1659. Among the motifs is a standing male figure smoking a longstemmed pipe that was probably made of terracotta and is an example of the earliest type of pipe that has been excavated.28 Other explorers and merchants, including the Dutch and Arabs, reintroduced tobacco at differ‑ ent times and at various points along the west and east coasts from which it spread to the interior of the continent. Access to tobacco, whether in the form of leaves or snuff, was a preroga‑ tive of African rulers. Chokwe sculptures, for example, portray rulers hold‑ ing snuff containers, other tobacco paraphernalia, and beautifully carved containers for storing the substance; for an extraordinarily large terracotta pipe belonging to a Bamum ruler, see p. 95. Because imported tobacco was too expensive for ordinary people to obtain, they resorted to substitutes. According to a late nineteenth-century visitor, it was not unusual to see the Chokwe smoke lighted charcoal in place of tobacco.29 Tobacco usage inspired artists to create pipes for their patrons, who may have been African or European. These two pipes are excellent ex­ amples of this type of object. The Ovimbundu pipe (cat. 105) in the form of a seated female figure is carved in the characteristic light colored wood used by sculptors. Her head was constructed separately and serves as a cover for the pipe bowl. The details of the figure’s coiffure, facial scarifica‑ tion, and hands are pyro-engraved. The stem, which is missing, fitted into the hole in the figure’s abdomen.30 The rare Kanyok water pipe (cat. 106), of which only three are known, is carved in the form of a seated woman with a swollen abdomen, which serves as the water chamber in which the smoke is cooled before being in‑ haled. The large covered hole at the center originally held the pipe stem.31 Water pipes were used by bilumb women who were possessed by ancestral spirits and functioned as diviners. They sat on the chief’s stool while per‑ forming the divining ritual.32

CAT. 105

CAT. 106


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Male figure effigy vessel Voania Muba (died 1928) Democratic Republic of the Congo, Woyo peoples Late 19th or early 20th century Ceramic 191/* × 8¼ in. diam. (48.58 × 20.96 cm) Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene McDermott, 1975.75


Palm wine vessel Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mangbetu peoples Early 20th century Terracotta 25 × 8 in. diam. (63.50 × 20.32 cm) Gift of The Junior Associates, 1995.20

African artists have supplied the European expatriate and export mar‑ kets with merchandise for at least five centuries. Such artistic production began in the fifteenth century on Africa’s west coast, where Portuguese explorers and seamen first encountered Africans. Europeans’ curiosity about the voyagers’ exotic souvenirs from Africa may have encouraged trade. Whatever the catalyst, in the late fifteenth and the sixteenth cen‑ tury, Portuguese merchants commissioned Sapi and Bini (Edo) ivory carvers in present-day Sierra Leone and present-day Nigeria, respectively, to produce objects to sell in Europe. These objects included elaborately decorated ivory spoons, shoehorns, saltcellars, hunting horns, and other objects that found homes in the curiosity cabinets and on the banquet tables of the European nobility.33 During the late nineteenth century, when the European presence was constant, a Woyo potter named Voania (Voanya) Muba made figura‑ tive vessels exclusively for the European market. Voania was the chief of Muba, a village on the Atlantic Coast and a three-day walk from the towns of Boma and Banana.34 He became a potter although he lived in a village where pottery had not previously been made. Men in Muba carved wooden lids with high-relief figures to cover the bowls imported from pottery-making villages. Although the Muba villag‑ ers believed Voania had lieya liambu, or talent, and was self-taught because he never left the village to become an apprentice, Voania probably learned how to model clay and make pots from men (who customarily worked in isolation) in a pottery-making village. Whatever the source of his knowl‑ edge, Voania created his own formula for the clay body and perfected his skills. Voania’s only assistant was a nephew who neither helped to mix the materials or to form the vessels. He served instead as the middleman in selling Voania’s vessels. Voania’s pottery typically depicts Europeans alone, as a couple, as eques­trians, or as a family group standing or sitting on top of a globular vessel. He occasionally portrayed an African male or a female figure. Some pots have only a human head for decoration. The hollow vessels have an opening, usually in the head of a figure. The figures’ hats sometimes have two parts—the hat with an opening and a lid to cover it. None of Voania’s vessels ever functioned as pitchers. The Dallas vessel depicts a seated European male wearing a hat and jacket with carefully detailed buttons and buttonholes. There is an open‑ ing in the top of the hat. The figure holds a flask for liquor in one hand and a drinking cup or glass in the other. During the nineteenth century, Europeans imported alcoholic beverages that became African symbols of prestige; their consumption was a ­privilege of rulers, who were the first to be introduced to the foreign imports.35 The Woyo use proverbs to offer a compliment, appeal to principle, or settle an argument. Carved pot lids that visually illustrate proverbs can

CAT. 107


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silently convey messages when covering bowls containing food. Voania’s vessels, on which the imagery on pot lids was not duplicated, were clearly not intended for this kind of communication nor were they sold to Muba villagers. They were meant for European customers, who probably found them amusing. Still the one and only male potter from Muba village, Voania died in 1928. During the late nineteenth century, European explorers penetrated far inland to Mangbetu country in the northeastern part of the former Belgian Congo (the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo). The Mangbetu vessel depicts a woman with an elongated head (the result of binding the forehead at infancy) wearing a classic, fanlike coiffure that identifies her as royal (fig. 62). European taste for figurative art encour‑ aged Mangbetu sculptors to create objects in this style.36 The figure’s hair‑ style, which in real life required an armature to stand upright, serves as the spout of the vessel. This particular type of Mangbetu vessel, of which only a few are known,37 is unusual because it is double-chambered and is buff colored instead of black. In Mangbetu society, male artists made terracotta “head” vessels as well as vessels of carved wood and cast or forged metal. Women traditionally made nonfigurative pottery strictly for domestic purposes. In addition to European influence on artistic production, interethnic mar‑ riages between peoples who observed gender-specific rules in making pot‑ tery may have also resulted in men and women working together to make these vessels.

fig 62  The flaring hairstyle Mangbetu women wore during the 19th and early 20th centuries is reproduced on palm wine vessels. Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1929–1937.

CAT. 108


4 : af rican art and t h e Inf l ue nce s of f or ei gn t r a de


Cut-pile and embroidered raffia textile Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kuba peoples, Shoowa group Early 20th century Raffia with natural dyes 19¾ × 18½ in. (50.17 × 46.99 cm) Anonymous gift in honor of Professor Roy Sieber, 2007.50.6

fig 63  Pablo Picasso, Bust, 1907–1908. Oil on canvas. Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of Joshua L. Logan, Loula D. Lasker, Ruth and Nathan Cummings Art Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Edward S. Marcus, Sarah Dorsey Hudson, Mrs. Alfred L. Bromberg, Henry Jacobus, and an anonymous donor, by exchange, 1987.399.FA. This study for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon shows the begin­ nings of the influence of African masks in Picasso’s work.

African visual arts have undoubtedly inspired Western artists and ­textile, furniture, household, and fashion designers to create works of art and con‑ sumer products. Numerous instances come to mind: Picasso’s Bust (1907– 1908; fig. 63) borrows elements from a Baga D’mba mask (see p.  141),38 Cosima von Bonin’s Rorschachtest #4 (2006; fig. 64) incorporates a kikoi cloth worn by East African coastal peoples,39 Pierre-Emile Legrain’s art deco seating replicates ceremonial chairs and stools of the Ngbombe, Fon, and Chokwe peoples,40 and Norma Kamali’s and Emmanuel Ungaro’s day and evening wear of the 1970s and 2000s, respectively, integrates bologon textile designs of the Dogon peoples (Mali). Kuba textiles, exemplified by this cut-pile panel, have long captured the imagination of a host of designers since at least the early twenti‑ eth century. For example, Kuba textiles included in a 1923 African art exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum (then called the Brooklyn Institute Museum) inspired textile designs for ­women’s dresses sold by Bonwit Teller and Company.41 The dresses were displayed in the store’s window and a duplicate set was installed at the museum (fig.  65). The cloths— which the Kuba and related groups traditionally used as currency, ele‑ ments of ceremonial dress, and shrouds for the dead—reappeared in the European and American art markets in the 1960s during the clashes between various African peoples in the then Congo. This was also the period of Black Is Beautiful in the United States, and the cloth became one of the symbols of Black Pride. Fashionable again and again, stylized Kuba textile designs have been reproduced on stationery and house‑ hold linens and furnishing, such as those manufactured by Canon in the 1960s, Martex in the 1970s, Tufenkian carpets, and Ralph Lauren’s elabo‑ rate African Collection in the 1990s and 2000s.


4 : af rican art and t h e Inf l ue nce s of f or ei gn t r a de

4 : a f r i ca n a rt a nd t h e I nf l u ences of f or ei gn t r a de


“Kasai velvets,” as Kuba cut-pile and embroidered textiles were known when first introduced to foreign markets at the turn of the twentieth cen‑ tury, are so described because they feel like velvet. The men wove the plain raffia panels and women, during their pregnancies, embroidered them. Gifted embroiderers specialized in this laborious and time-consuming needlework. The shapes were filled in by threading the [iron] needle under one strand of the weave and pulling the fiber through until only about 2 mm were left on the far side of the stitch. The fiber was then cut off at the same height on the near side, and when this stitching had been repeated closely over the whole area, the result was a smooth, unknotted, brushlike surface resembling a pile velvet. The work was so finely done that the embroidery fibers did not appear on the wrong side.42 The geometric motifs on the surface of the plain-weave mat were out‑ lined or filled by various means to create different textures. For example, a single row or multiple rows of black or colored stem stitching outlined the form, and sometimes the pile was left as loops rather than being cut. Kuba textiles have retained their cultural importance and are still being made for local use as well as for sale abroad.

fig 64  Cosima von Bonin, rorschachtest #4, 2006. Cotton and linen. Dallas Museum of Art, dma/amfar Benefit Auction Fund, 2007.56. This work of art makes use of an African textile as its ground cloth.

fig 65  A Bonwit Teller advertisement for fashions inspired by Kuba cut-pile cloth and Bushoong raffia cloth textile designs. “Women’s Wear” section of the New York Times, April 14, 1923.


4 : af rican art and t h e Inf l ue nce s of f or ei gn t r a de


Textile (kente) Ghana, Bonwire town, Asante peoples c. 1925 Silk and dye 125½ × 67 in. (318.77 × 170.18 cm) African Collection Fund, 2006.45

fig 66  Kente-patterned tippet worn by R ­ everend Elzie Odum Jr., senior pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church, in the Arts District, Dallas, Texas, 2008.

Strip-woven kente from Ghana is undoubtedly the best-known African textile in the world. Adopted by Americans, especially African Americans, kente gained worldwide attention in 1957 when Kwame Nkrumah, then president of Ghana, the first independent country in sub-Saharan Africa, wore it for his official portraits and during an official visit to the United States. Kente cloth subsequently became a symbol of pan-African iden‑ tity and a symbol of Black Pride. A half century later, handwoven kente remains a successful export product that is used as is or to make Westernstyle clothing and accessories. African Americans wear kente to celebrate their African ancestry; Americans wear it as a sign of solidarity.43 It is not unusual for African American clergymen to wear a tippet made entirely of or simply decorated with handwoven or printed kente (fig. 66). At com‑ mencement exercises, high school and college students wear colorful kente strips that display the initials or insignia of their school or social organization with their cap and gown. Factory-printed cloths are used for everything from domestic linens to haute couture; for example, a ­woman’s suit with peplum design by the late Patrick Kelly was also derived from a Ghanaian model.44 Kente has probably been woven in Ghana since at least the sixteenth century, when cotton yarns dyed with natural indigo were used. Silk kente dates from about the eighteenth century, as indicated by the first pub‑ lished account by a Danish envoy to the court of King Opoku Ware I. The envoy reported that the African “artists” unraveled imported taffeta cloth to obtain the silk threads, which they wove into cloth.45 Among the Asante, kente is a prestigious cloth that has traditionally been worn by kings and chiefs. The king, who reserves certain kente designs for himself, can grant the privilege to others. Kings wear kente made of silk, rayon, or cotton on state occasions, are transported to the events in kente-covered palanquins, and shielded from the sun under giant umbrel‑ las decorated with kente accents. Asante kings are traditionally buried in this presti­gious cloth.


4 : af rican art and t h e Inf l ue nce s of f or ei gn t r a de

Notes 1. For more information about African history and exploration, see Fage with Tordoff 2002; Oliver and Oliver 1965; Levenson 2007 2. National Museum of African Art 1982; Lips 1966 3. Bravmann 1983: 86–101 4. Myers 2006; NDiaye 1995; Robbins, in Robbins and Nooter 1989: 23–34 5. Grierson 1993: 8; Mark, in T. Phillips 1996: 17–18 6. Pigafetta [1881] 1970, 70–78 7. MacGaffey 2000: 214 8. Moore, in Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen 1973: 67–90 9. Louise Cantwell to Anne Bromberg, personal communication, August 14, 1992 10. Lips 1966: 164–88; see Carroll 1966: 137–53, for the most noteworthy examples of African Christian art found among the Yoruba of Nigeria and various peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the former Belgian Congo); Lehmann 1966; National Museum of African Art 1982 11. Quirke and Spencer 1992: 21

29. Walker 1991: 21–23 30. Comparable examples of both types of pipes are reproduced in Jordan 1998: 180, cat. no. 139, and Petridis 2001: 178, cat. no. 85 31. Smet 1999: 114–21 describes design of water pipes: “Real water pipes are employed for smoking tobacco and hemp in many parts of Central and Southern Africa. Basically, these pipes consist of a large con‑ tainer holding water or some other liquid, a bowl with a stem dropping into the liquid, and a stem from the large chamber from which the smoker draws the smoke. One of the main reasons for using such pipes is that the process of bubbling the smoke through the liquid makes it cooler and less harsh. This latter effect is particularly useful when there has not been enough time to remove the harshness of tobacco by sun-drying.” See Cache, Paudrat, and Stéphan 1988: 450, and Petridis 2001: n.p., cat. no. 83, for two anthropomor‑ phic water pipes by different sculptors in the collec‑ tions of, respectively, the British Museum and the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium. 32. Petridis 2001: n.p., cat. no. 83

12. Shaw 1977: 56–58, fig. 4–11; 92

33. Plass 1963: 38–41; Bassani and Fagg 1988 provide a survey of the first works of art to reach Europe

13. Cole 1989: 126

34. Volavka 1977: 61–62

14. Lawal 1970: 124

35. See Smet 1999: 107, for a similar vessel

15. Thomas Jefferson Bowen, quoted in Lawal 1970:116 n. 375

36. Schildkrout and Keim 1990: 109–12, 247

17. Abiodun, in Pemberton 2000: 182–92

37. See Olderogge and Forman 1969: 19 and 155, for similar figural terracotta vessels in the Tartu Museum in Estonia; they were collected in the 1920s and 1930s by I. P. and D. P. Solomentsevs.

18. Law, in Pezzoli 1995: 179–80

38. Rubin 1984: vol. 1, 277

19. Joubert, in Musée des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie 1997: 259, fig. 89

39. Museum of Contemporary Art 2007

20. Okediji 2000: 16 21. Perrois 2006: 45–46, 134, plate 56

41. New York Times, “Women’s Wear” section, April 14, 1923

22. Carroll 1967: 55–57

42. Trowell 1960: 30–31

23. National Museum of African Art 2000: 8; T. Phillips 1995: 428; Eyo 1979: 61–63 24. Biebuyck and Abbeele 1984: 72–73

43. For example, the former New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman wore kente cloth at an inaugural event at the Newark Museum of Art; photograph in Ross 1998: 247.

25. Bourgeois 1982: 30

44. Ibid., 150–289

26. Ibid.

45. Ludvig Rømer, quoted in ibid., 151; see also Rømer [1706] 1965

16. Ulli Beier, quoted in Abiodun, in Pemberton 2000: 187; Beier 1970

27. Laufer, in Laufer, Hambly, and Linton 1930: 16–38 28. This divination tray is reproduced in Sieber and Walker 1987: 73, cat. no. 30

40. National Museum of African Art 1998


peoples of africa Peoples located on the Map

























Lower Niger





Democratic Republic of the Congo






Democratic Republic of the Congo






Democratic Republic of the Congo






Democratic Republic of the Congo






Mozambique and Tanzania






Democratic Republic of the Congo



Côte d’Ivoire



Democratic Republic of the Congo



Burkina Faso



Democratic Republic of the Congo



Democratic Republic of the Congo



Sierra Leone


Cham / Mwona




South Africa and Zimbabwe



Angola and Democratic









Democratic Republic of the Congo











26 44

47 9









25 34 50




27 46 39

43 48


42 30





24 29







Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire


Djennenke / Soninke










Democratic Republic of the Congo



Gabon and Cameroon






Côte d’Ivoire






Democratic Republic of the Congo



Democratic Republic of the Congo



Democratic Republic of the Congo






Democratic Republic of the Congo






Democratic Republic of the Congo



Democratic Republic of the Congo



Democratic Republic of the Congo



Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, and Angola



Amazigh (Berbers)

Republic of the Congo

























40 Sango




Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Mali



Democratic Republic of the Congo



Democratic Republic of the Congo






Algeria, Libya, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger

and Republic of Congo 51


Nigeria and Republic of Benin



Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, and Sudan


pe opl e s of af rica

Amazigh (Berbers)  1


p eop l es of a f r i ca

Bamum  6

for nearly four hundred years. By the twentieth century, they

called their land, language, and themselves Edo. Portuguese

Amazigh peoples (Imazighen, “the free people”; also known as

The Cameroon Grasslands is also home to the Bamum ­peoples,

expanded their territory into the present-day Democratic Republic

explorers arrived in the Benin kingdom at the end of the fifteenth

Berbers), who live in North and West Africa (see Tuareg), comprise

their capital at Foumban in the Northwest Province of Cameroon.

of the Congo and the northwestern part of Zambia. Chokwe cul-

century to find a vast kingdom ruled by a divine king. Copper alloy

between 40 and 60 percent of Morocco’s population of thirty-one

The one hundred thousand Benue-Congo-speaking Bamum are

ture peaked in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, during

(brass or bronze) and ivory were the prestigious materials for art

million. The Ida ou Nadif and the Ida ou Zeddoute live around

farmers and herders who live in villages presided over by heredi-

which time luxurious art was produced for the courts of chiefs.

commissioned by the king for his regalia, palace, and shrines. The

Igherm village in the central region of the Anti-Atlas mountain

tary headmen. They are among the few African peoples to have

Figures, stools, thrones, and ceremonial objects were carved out

city-state was destroyed during the British Punitive Expedition

range, which extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Sahara, and

developed their own system of writing, which is largely ideo-

of wood, especially for the leadership.

of 1897. Today there are approximately one million Edo people.

speak the Chleuh dialect. They use henna to decorate cloth woven

graphic or pictographic. Bamum sculptors emphasize depth and

from lamb’s wool for women’s ceremonial garments.

roundness in their wooden masks and other objects.

Cat. 93

Cat. 24

Although artistic production declined during the twentieth

Cat. 3–5

century in the wake of famine, war, and disease, Chokwe cultural traditions have persevered. Today the Chokwe number nearly one

Ekonda  16


The Ekonda, who number approximately three hundred thousand,

Asante  2

Baule  7

The south-central forest of Ghana is home to the Twi-speaking

In the savannah between the Bandama and N’zi rivers (the “Baule

Asante peoples, who number about two million. Their expansive

V”) in central Côte d’Ivoire, the Baule peoples raise crops and ani-

Dan  12

ern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An account of

territory has three distinct regions, each organized into a king-

mals to sell at markets run by the village women. Today, the Baule

The Dan peoples are part of the Mande linguistic group and live in

the Ekonda written in 1944 describes the by-then defunct prac-

dom. An agrarian peoples, the Asante make art that varies widely

number 1.5 million. Their villages are ruled by notables, some of

northeast Liberia and the neighboring areas of Côte d’Ivoire and

tice for choosing the ritual chief who embodied Ekonda political

in both subject and form. Asante art—whether religious, political,

whom are descended from those who left Ghana in the eighteenth

Guinea. Farmers and warriors, the Dan, who number about five

authority. According to the report, a group of village elders selected

or pertaining to daily life—is infused with symbolic meaning that

century. Baule artists work in wood and brass to create anthropo-

hundred thousand, have no central authority; rather, they live in

a wealthy outsider who paid the village in exchange for the title of

derives from the human or natural world.

morphic masks and figures related to the afterlife. Although the

independent villages made up of different clans grouped around

chief. Following his installation, the chief was responsible for divi-

practice has waned since the 1960s, the Baule also carve wooden

a chief. Secret societies are important to the organization of Dan

nation, ceremonial activities, and acted as a spiritual mediator. He

Baga  3

doors. Some Baule art is stylistically similar to that of their

society, especially the Poro society, which is common to all ethnic

had the exclusive right to wear the tiered fiber hat decorated with

The Baga peoples, who reside in villages along the coast of Guinea

neighbors, the southern Mande, the Malinke, and the Senufo.

groups of the region. Masks are perhaps the most important works

brass plates.

and now number a hundred thousand, were once divided into

of art created by the Dan. Artists also carve figural sculpture and

Cat. 33, 83, 110

Cat. 12, 26, 78, 85

Cat. 19, 46, 84

are a group of Mongo-speaking peoples who live in the northwest-

spoons and make pottery.

small villages. Each village was governed by a council of elders,

Cat. 35

Cat. 14

Fang  17

who derived their powers from specialized knowledge only they

Bobo  8

possessed and their interactions with spiritual beings. The reli-

The Mande-speaking Bobo peoples are a group of clans in Burkina

Djennenke / Soninke  13

Equatorial Guinea and was home to the Fang ­peoples whose culture

gious regalia and ritual objects used by elders in ceremonies and

Faso and Mali. They are farmers who live in compact and autono-

Djennenke and Soninke are cultural designations for ancient and

thrived in the nineteenth century. Fang villages and communities

male initiation rites were central to Baga artistic traditions, which

mous villages. The Bobo use natural materials such as leaves,

rare wooden statues collected in the region of the Bandiagara

were organized around families and clans with common ances-

persisted for several hundred years. A variety of religious and

wood, and fiber to create masks that are typically angular in shape

Escarpment in Mali. Figures that have been subjected to scientific

tors. Indeed, the cult of ancestors was central to Fang religion,

sociopolitical disturbances in the 1950s, however, have gradually

and used in various ritual contexts. Nearly eight hundred thou-

analysis are dated as early as the eleventh century AD. The wooden

and artists made reliquary figures to guard the bones and skulls

caused the Baga culture, and thus artistic production, to disappear

sand people make up the Bobo ethnic group.

sculptures, some of which have an oily patina, represent human

of deceased relatives. Fang artists also carved wooden masks. As a

figures detailed with scarification, jewelry, and clothing.

migratory group, the Fang continually absorbed the cultural and

in most areas.

The forested area that extends from Cameroon to Gabon includes

Cat. 34

Cat. 41

Cat. 2

Boma  9

artistic traditions of the peoples with whom they came in contact.

Bamana  4

The Bantu-speaking Boma peoples (also called Buma) live in the

Dogon  14

European influence in the 1910s and 1920s resulted in a decline in

The Bamana peoples are the largest ethnic group in the Republic of

central savannah region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Dogon farmers in the rocky plateau and plains of Bandiagara in

the interest in the cult of ancestors, which was eventually replaced

Mali with a population of about 2.5 million. Primarily farmers, the

Their small hunting and farming society, numbering about

Mali established their villages under vertical cliff faces to pro-

by Western religion, thereby causing Fang artistic production to

Mande-speaking peoples of the Niger savannah strongly resisted

twenty-five thousand, is organized into chiefdoms. Boma art-

tect themselves from invasion. The Gur-speaking Dogon peoples

die away. Today this ethnic group numbers two hundred thousand.

Islam and were known as bambara, or pagans, by the Muslim invad-

ists carve angular wooden figures that provide protection against

migrated to this area in the fifteenth century to escape the Mande,

ers. Bamana artists work in mud-dyed cloth, wood, iron, bronze,

adverse forces in the universe.

and they developed an architectural style to fit their defensive

and brass to make ritual objects, masks, and tools.

Fig. 4, p. 17

Cat. 55

Cat. 68, 101

geography. The cult of ancestors is important to the Dogon, who

Grebo  18 In the tropical rain forests of southeastern Liberia, the Grebo

Cham / Mwona  10

craft various sculptures and instruments for these ceremonies and

Bamileke  5

The Adamawa-speaking Cham peoples of northeastern Nigeria,

other initiation rites. Figural sculptures are carved in a stylized

­peoples make their living through agriculture, fishing, hunting,

The nearly seven hundred thousand Bantu-speaking Bamileke

of which there are about fifteen thousand, inhabit the southern

manner as are the wide variety of masks also made by the Dogon

and gathering. Rice is the principal crop, but cotton, okra, millet,

peoples live within the Cameroon Grasslands, a mountainous

region of the Gongola River Valley. Agriculture and small-scale

peoples, whose present population is nearly two hundred and fifty

and sorghum are also grown. The Grebo are ruled by a chief, who

region in western Cameroon made up of many different kingdoms.

herding as well as hunting sustain the Cham. Best known for the


lives in absolute isolation. Grebo villages consist of cone cylinder

Although the Bamileke peoples share artistic traditions with their

terracotta vessels that are used to invoke spirits in divination and

Bamum and Kom neighbors, they produce works with distinct

healing rituals, Cham artists also work in iron and brass, decorate

Edo  15

characteristics. Much of the art created by the Bamileke is for the

gourds, and create architectural decoration.

Benin City in present-day southern Nigeria was the capital of the

Cat. 45

Cat. 76, 77

huts grouped in family compounds around a central plaza. Today there are approximately three hundred thousand Grebo. Cat. 91

Benin kingdom, which was established around AD 900 and flour-

Guro  19

Chokwe  11

ished until the end of the seventeenth century. The name of its

Originally known as the Kweni, the Guro are a group of Mande-

The Bamileke also create commemorative figural sculptures and

The Chokwe peoples have lived as hunters, farmers, and pastoral-

capital city has caused some to refer to the kingdom and the art

speaking agricultural peoples who live in central Côte d’Ivoire. The

zoomorphic masks for use in ceremonies.

ists between the Kwango and Kasai rivers in northeastern Angola

produced there as Benin. The people of this kingdom, however,

two hundred thousand Guro live in independent villages with no

king or ruler. Royal portraits and stools carved in wood are sometimes covered with beads, a prestige medium limited to royal use. Cat. 13


pe opl e s of af rica


p eop l es of a f r i ca

central authority, but form alliances for the purpose of war. The

Kanyok  24

Lega  28

realistic-looking human heads with similar elongated heads and

direct descendant of the village founder, known as the “master

The Kanyok are agricultural peoples who live in the Democratic

The Lega, a Bantu-speaking cluster of farmers who also pan for

flared hairstyles. Although Mangbetu art is made primarily for

of the earth,” controls the distribution of agricultural lands. Guro

Republic of the Congo, along the eastern side of the Luba king-

gold, inhabit the east-central area of the Democratic Republic of

the ruling class, artists also create prestige objects, such as knives

art is produced by specialists and often takes the form of wooden

dom with which they were associated politically. The population

the Congo. The Lega, who now number around four hundred thou-

with ivory handles, harps with figural motifs, and trumpets. Today

animal masks that are valued as sacred objects. The Guro received

amounts to about ninety thousand, and they produce a variety of

sand, immigrated to this area from Uganda in the seventeenth

the Mangbetu peoples number about five hundred thousand.

their present appellation in the early twentieth century when they

artworks including decorated prestige items and narrative sculp-

century. Instead of a centralized government, the Lega have the

were aggressively colonized by the French.

tures. Sculptors carved wooden stools, water pipes, staffs, and

Bwami, an age-graded association in which leadership is vested.

ritual containers for the king and other titleholders. Older Kanyok

Lega artists work ivory, wood, and bone to create masks and fig-

Mbala  33

Hausa  20

art forms were very angular, but their carvings have evolved to be

ures that symbolize moral principles.

Related to the Pende peoples, the Mbala have been present in the

With a total population of over twenty-two million, the Hausa live

more rounded and portraitlike in appearance.

Cat. 56

Cat. 10, 11, 17, 18

Cat. 106

Cat. 108

Democratic Republic of the Congo since the seventeenth century.

Luba  29

The two hundred thousand Mbala are agriculturalists who live in

Kongo  25

Founded in 1585 by King Kongolo, the Luba kingdom of the

villages ruled by chiefs. They weave baskets, carve figures in wood,

in a variety of media, including leather, metal, ceramics, and fiber,

The Kongo are a group of related Bantu-speaking peoples—

­present-day southeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo,

and, if rarely, produce masks. A red pigment (tukula) is used to

in which African and Islamic characteristics are often combined.

which includes the Yombe, Woyo, Boma, and Mboma—who live

peaked in the seventeenth century when it controlled a federa-

color sculpted figures in a variety of forms.

Hausa men both weave and embroider the voluminous prestige

in the adjacent areas of the Republic of Congo, Angola, and the

tion of kingdoms. Luba art is made for the cult of ancestors, secret

gowns that have become the masculine national dress in Nigeria.

Democratic Republic of the Congo. They are known for their carved

societies, and the king’s court. The frequent depiction of women

Mboma  34

wood power figures that invoke the spirits. The Kongo also create

in Luba art, particularly on prestige objects, attests to the iconic

The Mboma, of which there are about thirty thousand, one of the

stone and ceramic funerary art, wooden masks, and regalia. An alli-

status of women in this matriarchal society. The empire began to

Kongo-related groups, live in the area of Boma-Matadi on the Zaire

Hemba  21

ance with the Portuguese enabled the Kongo peoples to prosper

collapse in the 1860s as a result of raids, slave traders, and Belgian

River. They subsist on farming, hunting, fishing, and trading. In

Previously considered part of the Luba peoples, the Bantu-speaking

and gain immense political power in the fifteenth century. During

consolidation. Today the Luba number over four million people.

addition to wood, the Mboma used soft steatite to carve funerary

Hemba create art that is somewhat similar in style to that of the

this time the king and many of the Kongo peoples converted to

figures distinguished by various attitudes—e.g., head-on-hand,

Luba, but represents a culture that is independent from the Luba.

Christianity. Slavery and war eventually led to the demise of

Today, the eighty thousand Hemba are farmers and hunters in the

the Kongo kingdom in the eighteenth century. Today the Kongo

Lulua  30

eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where they

number over five million people.

In the eighteenth century, a group of farmers and hunters of Luba

Mende  35

origin, known as the Lulua peoples, migrated from West Africa

The Mende are rice farmers who migrated to Sierra Leone from various African territories in the sixteenth century and number about

primarily in northwestern Nigeria and throughout West Africa, including Niger, Cameroon, and Ghana. Hausa artists create work

Cat. 96

Cat. 99

live in large clans of families with a common ancestor. The cult of

Cat. 20, 40, 48, 80


Cat. 32

Cat. 74

ancestors plays an important role in the Hemba’s matriarchal soci-

Kota  26

to the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The

ety, and most art is produced for this cult. Sculptors carve wooden

Before settling in northeastern Gabon and the bordering areas

three hundred thousand Lulua live in independent villages ruled

two million today. Within Mende chiefdoms, boys and girls are

ancestor figures and masks for ceremonies dedicated to the cult.

of the Congo, the Kota peoples—forced by the Fang peoples—

by a local chief in conjunction with a council of elders. The Lulua

initiated into secret societies and remain members for life. These

migrated across Africa for years. Kota society comprises several

are known for crafting masks that are performed during initiation

secret societies, Poro for males and Sande for females, serve as

smaller groups that are governed by village chiefs. Kota religion,

rites. Their culture underwent extreme changes in the late nine-

educational institutions that impart and preserve Mende morals

Igbo  22

like that of the Fang, is based on the cult of the ancestors, whose

teenth century when the Lulua king prohibited the tradition of

and customs. Artworks, especially wooden masks, are created for

The Igbo peoples of Nigeria believe that every piece of art has value,

power is thought to reside within their skulls and bones. Reliquary

drinking palm wine, encouraged ritualized smoking of hemp, and

initiation and healing ceremonies. The masquerade for the Sande

and they are known for the masks and sculpted figures of wood

figures, the most common objects of Kota artwork, guard these

burned all cult images.

society provides a rare instance of African women as maskers.

associated with shrine architecture. Although the earliest extant

bodily relics. The Kota also created masks and sculptures, many of

works of Igbo art date to the tenth century, most extant Igbo art

which were destroyed in the twentieth century by Christian mis-

Makonde  31

was made in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Igbo,

sionaries. Today, the Kota peoples number around one hundred

There are two groups of Bantu-speaking peoples called Makonde,

Ndebele  36

who number between seventeen and twenty million, are primarily

and twenty-five thousand.

totaling about two million people. One group lives in northern

The Ndebele, a Nguni-speaking peoples, are divided into two

Mozambique, the other in southeastern Tanzania. Before the

groups: those who live in Zimbabwe, called the North Sotho; and

Cat. 75

Cat. 69

farmers. They are not ruled by a chief or king, but rather by a coun-

Cat. 47, 81

Cat. 22, 38

Kuba  27

Portuguese colonized the Makonde in the early twentieth cen-

those who live in the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces in

of Afikpo are a subgroup of Igbo which lives near the Cross River.

The Kuba kingdom of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

tury, the most important artistic works they created were carved

South Africa. Ndebele women of South Africa create beadwork that

probably began to develop in the sixteenth century, when people

wooden ancestor figures and masks. Tanzanian Makonde artists

decorates clothing and items related to initiation, weddings, and

migrated from the north to settle between the Sankuru, Kasai,

create facial and body masks, while the Makonde of Mozambique

healing rites. They are also renowned for the murals they paint on

Igede  23

and Lulua rivers. The kingdom peaked in the mid-nineteenth cen-

carve wooden helmet masks for boys’ initiation rituals. These

the walls of their houses. The Ndebele number nearly three hun-

In the Benue State of central Nigeria, the Igede peoples live in

tury as the trade center for ivory, exported textiles, and other art.

helmet masks are usually decorated with hair, wax facial scarifica-

dred and thirty thousand today.

farming villages of cone-cylinder huts. The Igede speak a language

Although the Kuba kingdom comprises many ethnic groups, each

tions, and pointed teeth. Makonde artists also make decorative

of the Kwa subfamily that is distinct from that of their northern

one with its own leader, the king over all of Kuba is a member of

objects such as pipes, combs, canes, and bark boxes.

neighbors, the Idoma, with whom the Igede are associated. The

the Bushoong group.

cil of elders whose power is balanced by secret socie­ties. The Ada Cat. 36, 39

Cat. 37

Cat. 95

Oron  37 According to some scholars, the Oron are related to the Ibibio; the

Mangbetu  32

Oron insist they are not. Estimated to number over one hundred

farmers and fishermen. Art objects created by the Kuba demon-

The Mangbetu settled in the northeastern part of the Democratic

thousand, the Oron peoples live on the west bank of the Cross

strate a preference for geometric patterns. Kuba works include

Republic of the Congo in the nineteenth century and remained

River in southeastern Nigeria. Village elders rule their Oron com-

funerary use and for the cult of ancestors. Today the Igede number

vegetal fiber textiles, wooden figures, and masks, often used to

a political force until slave traders from North Africa arrived in

munities while the Ekpe socie­ties (secret associations of which

around three hundred thousand people.

demonstrate prestige and ­leadership.

the region in 1880. Many Mangbetu artworks are decorated with

only the men are members and charged with maintaining social

Igede are farmers, who also raise small herds of livestock, and

The two hundred thousand Kuba sustain themselves today as

traders. The funeral is perhaps the most important event of the life cycle for the Igede; consequently, much art is produced for Cat. 44

Cat. 15, 16, 64, 86, 88, 94, 109


pe opl e s of af rica


p eop l es of a f r i ca

Songye  42

Kongo. Woyo power figures and other statuary resemble those of

trays, and brass and terracotta sculptures, which are frequently

the distribution of wealth. The Oron peoples create ancestor fig-

Thirty-five individual chiefdoms make up the Songye territory

other Kongo groups, but their polychrome masks, pot lids with

dedicated to the spirits and ancestors. Besides sculptural works

ures, many of which were destroyed or stolen in the 1970s during

west of the Lualaba River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

figures carved in relief, and figurative ceramic vessels by Voania

and masks, the Yoruba make a variety of beaded objects and woven

the Biafran War.

The Songye are historically related to their Bantu-speaking neigh-

Muba are unique.


and political control) enforce the rules of the village and control

Cat. 67

Cat. 107

Cat. 6–9, 23, 27–30, 42, 65, 66, 100–103

bors, the Hemba and Luba peoples, though their society and artis-

Ovimbundu  38

tic styles are unique. The one million Songye peoples, who farm

Yaka  48

Zande  52

High on the Benguela Plateau of Angola live the approximately

and hunt, are renowned for their visual arts, especially expressive

The Wamba River that flows along the southwest area of the

During the eighteenth century the Zande peoples began to emerge

4.6 million Ovimbundu peoples. They farm and raise livestock.

masks for the ­kifwebe secret society.

Democratic Republic of the Congo and northern Angola is home

from groups of people who were moving from the west toward

to one million Yaka. The Bantu-speaking Yaka migrated to this

the forests of central Africa. Today, the Zande inhabit an area that spans the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African

Cat. 53, 54, 57, 58

Although Ovimbundu art was inspired by Chokwe forms, contact with Europeans probably informed the naturalism evident in some

Suku  43

region in the sixteenth century. Their highly structured hunting

Ovimbundu works. Depictions of Ovimbundu women are charac-

The Suku peoples, of which there are about eighty thousand, have

and farming society is ruled by a chief of Lunda origin. Like the

Republic, and southern Sudan. Although Zande art is very similar

terized by their braided hairstyles. Other artworks, predominantly

had a complex history in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Suku, the Yaka believe their chiefs are superhuman and create

to that of the neighboring Mangebetu peoples, it is not intended

statuary, may have been enacted in ritual settings. Today, there are

With the Yaka, they invaded the Kongo kingdom and, years later,

royal regalia for their use. Yaka artists craft masks for initiation

for royal use. Rather, Zande artists create musical instruments and

more than two million Ovimbundu peoples.

were themselves overtaken by the Yaka. Suku society is matrilineal

ceremonies, statuettes, and prestige objects. Although the Yaka

carved statues for secret societies. The Central Sudanic-speaking

and ruled by regional chiefs. Most Suku art is created as regalia

have been influenced by the Suku, Kongo, Holo, and Teke peoples,

Zande number about one million.

Pende  39

for these chiefs. The Suku also craft power figures, masks, and

their art can be identified by its distinctive features, such as the

The Bantu-speaking Pende peoples of the Democratic Republic

wooden sculpture for ritual and everyday use.

upturned nose and the pigments applied to the surface of carved

Cat. 105

Cat. 104

wooden objects.

of the Congo were at one time overwhelmed by the Chokwe, but

Cat. 104

regained their independence with the rise of colonialism in the

Tsogo  44

twentieth century. Pende art, which varies by region, shows sty-

The Tsogo are a small ethnic group originally located in the area of

Yanzi  49

listic similarities with the Chokwe and the Luba. Chiefs use carved

the Upper Ngoume River in Gabon and numbering about thirty-

The Yanzi, a trading community in the Democratic Republic of the

objects, such as stools and staffs, as symbols of their power, and

seven thousand. They are neighbors of the Sango with whom they

Congo, are organized by a caste system. The Yanzi peoples have a

wooden or fiber masks are made for initiation and healing cer-

share a tradition of ancestor worship and the production of carved

tradition of exchanging artistic styles and borrowing forms from

emonies as well as for masquerades that entertain and reinforce

wood figures that guarded ancestral relics preserved in baskets or

neighboring cultures. However influenced by their neighbors the

social norms. Although carved figures are rare, Pende artists


Yanzi may be, their figures are recognizable by their elongated

Cat. 71

carve ivory pendants in the form of miniature masks. The Pende

and angular forms. Today, the Yanzi peoples number around forty

peoples number five hundred thousand and sustain their villages

Tuareg  45

through agriculture, selling the harvests at markets run by women.

Numbering over one million, the Tuareg are seminomadic pas-

toralists who inhabit the Sahara Desert, southern Algeria, south-

Yombe  50

western Libya, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. They are grouped

Two hundred thousand Yombe peoples live in the mountain-

Sango  40

into politically autonomous federations that, on occasion, join

ous forests and savannahs of western Republic of Congo and

The Sango live in the regions of northern Lastourville and

together for purposes of trade and defense. Continuing droughts

the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their society is based on

Kulamoutou, along the course of the Sebe River in Gabon. The

since the 1980s have caused some Tuareg to become sedentary

a matrilineal line of inherited power and ruled by male chiefs.

total population is estimated to number about fifty-four thou-

agriculturalists and city dwellers. They are renowned for carved

The Yombe subsist by farming, hunting, and raising animals. The

sand people. Like the Kota, they make reliquary guardian figures

wood household furnishings, metal and leatherwork, and jewelry

Yombe create animal masks for ceremonial traditions related to

that are decorated with brass. Sango figures are, however, carved

with simple shapes and decoration that combines linear and geo-

their agricultural and herding pursuits. Perhaps best known for

with smaller, more ovular heads and lack the elaborate hairstyles

metric motifs.

their “power figures,” which hold ritual medicines and are embel-

of Kota figures.

Cat. 21, 87, 89, 97


Cat. 79

Cat. 49

lished with mirrors and nails, the Yombe also forge iron, carve

Cat. 70

Wongo  46

wooden masks, and weave raffia.

Cat. 31, 51, 52, 72, 73

Senufo  41

The Wongo are a small ethnic group of about ten thousand who

The Senufo peoples, who now number three million, have inhab-

live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where they are neigh-

Yoruba  51

ited areas of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Côte d’Ivoire since the fif-

bors of the Pende and Kuba peoples. They subsist on farming and

One of the largest ethnic groups in Africa, now numbering approx-

teenth century. Senufo villages are organized according to family

fishing. Their art includes raffia weaving and woodcarving, the

imately twenty-five million, the Yoruba, comprised of several dif-

lineage and age and are governed by a council of elders. All men

styles of which resemble that of their neighbors.

ferent groups that speak the Yoruba language, trace their origins

Cat. 90

belong to the Poro society in which they learn their social, politi-

to the city of Ife in present-day Nigeria, where according to their

cal, and spiritual roles. Similarly, women belong to the Sandogo

Woyo  47

story of the Creation, the world began. Today, most Yoruba people

society. Senufo art includes wooden sculpture and masks for ini-

One of five groups that originally made up the Kongo kingdom, the

are farmers who live in Nigeria and the neighboring areas of the

tiation and funeral ceremonies as well as dye-decorated textiles

Woyo (residing in the western part of the present-day Democratic

Republic of Benin and Togo.

and pottery.

Republic of the Congo and Cabinda, with a population total of

The Yoruba believe in an extensive pantheon of deities, deified

about twelve thousand) are considered a cultural subgroup of the

kings, ancestors, and nature spirits. They create masks, divination

Cat. 25, 55, 59, 63

Cat. 50, 82, 92


pe opl e s of af rica

Cultures or Sites

Egypt, ancient Located in the northeastern corner of modern Africa and along the Nile River, ancient Egypt was bounded by the Mediterranean to the north, the First Nile Cataract to the south, and desert to the east and west. The ancient Egyptian kingdoms (Old, Middle, and New) prevailed for three and a half thousand years, from c. 3000 BC to AD 395 (from the First Dynasty to the Ptolemaic period), as evidenced by the extant monuments and treasures as well as hieroglyphic texts. Ancient Egyptian art was essentially religious and made for tombs and temples.

Cat. 60–62

Ethiopia As early as the first century AD, the East African country of Ethiopia was part of a prosperous trade network from the Horn of Africa (modern Ethiopia, Djibuti, and Somalia) to Egypt, South Arabia, Persia, India, and Ceylon. There arose the kingdom of Axum— consisting of Sabean and indigenous African Cushite cultures—in the regions of ­present-day Tigray and Eritrea. It thrived from the fourth to seventh century AD. Along with trade came new religions. Judaism was introduced first and, by the fourth century AD, Egyptians in Alexandria were practicing Christianity. During the seventh century, Islam rose, conquered, and prevailed along the Red Sea, depriving Axum of its control over trade and religion. Yet Christianity survived, especially in Highland Ethiopia, where it is practiced today.

Cat. 98

Lower Niger The term Lower Niger is a geographic designation assigned to works of art that have been attributed to ancient Nigeria, but are stylistically divergent from works that have been confirmed as having an ancient Nigerian origin.

Cat. 43

Sokoto Sokoto is the name of both a state and its capital, as well as the designation for terracotta sculptures that have been found in the region since the late twentieth century. Characterized by a heavy brow, delicate features, and lack of ornate accessories, the Sokoto terracottas seem severe in comparison with those discovered at Nok, a village located near the confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers. Separated by a vast distance, the Nok and Sokoto cultures date from about the same time, between about the fifth century BC and the third century  AD, but a relationship between the two remains to be established.

Cat. 1

p eop l es of a f r i ca





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i ndex


Notes: Page references in italics denote illustrations; page references in boldface italics denote principal illustrations of catalogued objects. Abbreviations used here: DMA: Dallas Museum of Art DMFA: Dallas Museum of Fine Arts DRC: Democratic Republic of the Congo Abua (Nigeria), headdress, 23–24 Ada (Igbo, Nigeria), 126, 302 adze, Pende ceremonial, 84–85 Afonso I Mvemba Nzinga, 264 African American Museum, Dallas, Tex., 22 African Art Acquisition Fund, DMA, 24 African Art Acquisitions Endowment, DMA, 26 African Collection Fund, DMA, 24 afterlife, art for the, 179–213 Agbonbiofe of Effon-Alaiye, 24, 90, 90 Ajala (Yoruba deity), 62 Akan (Nigeria), miniature brass figures, 24 Alafin of Oyo (legendary king), 194 alafin (king), 110, 194 Alfred and Juanita K. Bromberg Collection, Dallas, Tex., 24 Allison, Philip, 32 altar, Yoruba copper, 24 altarpiece, Spanish 15th-cent., 29, 29 Amazigh (Berber), 226, 268, 300 marriage or ceremonial veil, 246–47 American Federation of Arts, New York, 17 American Museum of Natural History, New York, 20 Amma (Dogon: God), 222 ancestors ceremonies for, 144, 150 as channeled by diviners, 282 Dogon primordial (nommo), 18, 220, 222 importance of, 66, 179 infants as reincarnations of, 179 masquerading and, 139, 142, 190 sculptures of. See figure symbols of, 176 worship of, 198, 208, 272 animals head (Cuanza River, Angola), 29–30, 31 symbolism of, 68, 78, 176, 219 anonymity, as issue in African art. See artists Arabs, influence of, 261, 282 see also Islam; Muslim Areogun. See Arowogun Arhuanran, prince of Benin, 50, 52, 54 “ark,” Dogon, 19 Armstrong, Robert Plant, 20 Arowogun (Areogun) of Osi-Ilorin (c. 1880– 1954), 19, 32, 35 n.13, 142, 178 n.3, 261, 276–77 art, African Christianity and, 232, 233, 261, 264–66, 276, 302 dating, 13–14, 29–31, 31, 35 n.9, 42 decorative, 219–57 European art and, 261–62, 262, 263, 290, 290 uses of, 29, 39, 42, 94, 101, 121, 139, 179, 219 see also sculpture Art Center, La Jolla, Calif., 13 Art Museum League Travel Fund, DMA, 19

artists, African anonymity of, as issue, 18, 27 n.13, 31–32, 90, 178 n.3 apprenticeship for, 32, 276 Asante (Ghana), 118, 300 comb, 19, 232–33 doll, 18, 19, 101, 118–19 kente, 18, 28 (det.), 294–95, 296 n.43 Austin, Ramona, 22–23, 25 Axum kingdom, Christianity in, 21–22, 264, 306 Azevedo, Warren d’, 32 Baga (Guinea), 300 D’mba headdress, 18, 140–41 masks, 139 Bamana (Mali), 168, 222, 300 Bamgbose of Osi (Yoruba sculptor), 276 Bamileke (Cameroon), 300 elephant mask and hat, 70–73 Bamum (Cameroon), 300 prestige pipe, 94–95, 282 Barbier-Mueller, Ann, 25 Barbier-Mueller Museum, Geneva, 20, 164 Barnes, Edward Larrabee, 19 Bascom, William R., 32 Basden, G. T., 134 basketwork, 22, 60, 74–75, 78–79, 280, 281 Bassani, Ezio, 178 n.21 Baule (Côte d’Ivoire), 68, 300 crown, 68–69 door, 219, 224–25 ointment pot, 19, 236, 236 seated figure, 20, 23, 104–105, 262 Belande (DRC), 164 bell, Lower Niger Bronze Industry, 18, 139, 144–45 Benin kingdom (Nigeria), 14, 25, 144, 264, 278, 301 figure of chief, 23, 52–55 plaque, bronze, single-figure, 2 (det.), 25, 44–46, 45, 54 four-figure, 44, 44, 278 waist pendant, 23, 30, 38 (det.), 48–51, 49, 261 see also Edo Berber. See Amazigh; Tuareg Bezalel Foundation, 18 Bini (Edo), Nigeria, 19, 286 Blondiau, Raoul, 15 Bobo (Burkina Faso and Mali), 121, 122, 300 Nwenka mask, 18, 19, 101, 121, 122–23, 139 Boma (DRC), 300, 302 standing figure, 15, 16, 33 Bonin, Cosima von, RORSCHACHTEST #4 (2006), 290, 292 Bonwit Teller and Co., New York, 290, 293 Borgatti, Jean, 32 Boti (Côte d’Ivoire), 35 n.14 bowl Grebo ceremonial rice, 242, 243 Yoruba lidded (opon igede), 19, 178 n.3, 261, 276–77 Yoruba offering (olumeye) by Agbonbiofe, 24, 90, 90 by Olowe, 24, 90–93 (det.), 91 Yoruba (or Edo) terracotta ritual, 19 bowl carrier (arugba Shango), 19, 112–13 box, Kuba pigment, 236, 237 see also headrest; pot, ointment

Bragaline, Edward A., 25 Brancusi, Constantin, 20 Brettel, Richard, 20 Brister, Bernard, 17 British Colonial Administrative Service, Nigeria, 148 British Empire Exhibition, 92 British Museum, London, 17, 46, 92, 111, 256 n.40 British Punitive Expedition, 44, 46, 50, 305 Bromberg, Mr. and Mrs. Alfred L., 17 Bromberg, Anne, 22 Bromberg, Juanita K., 24 Brooklyn Institute Museum, New York, 290 Brooklyn Museum, New York, 17 Budja (DRC), bird-form headdress, 25 Buffalo Museum of Science, 20, 50, 256 n.33 Buli Master, 35 n.13 Bundu. See Sande society Burton, Sir Richard, 82 Burundi, tambour drummers, 6 Bushoong (Kuba, DRC), 76, 188, 248, 248, 256 n.40, 303 Bussel, Loed van, 178 n.30 buttons, as decoration, 4–5, 78, 79, 190–93 Bwa (Burkina Faso), standing male figure, 19 Bwadi Bwa Kifwebe (Luba, Songye, and Tempe-Songye society), 172 Bwami (Lega society), 64, 66, 78, 303 Bywaters, Jerry, 14 Cameron, Verney Lovett, 82 Cameroon Grasslands, 24, 300 see also Bamileke; Bamum camwood powder, 74, 114, 134, 156, 160, 194, 236, 254 cape, Ndebele linaga, 250–51 Carlebach Gallery, New York, 13, 15 Carroll, Father Kevin, 32, 178 n.3 Cecil and Ida Green Foundation, DMA, 24 Center for African Art, New York, 20, 22 chair, 290 Chokwe traveling throne as, 80–81 see also stool Cham/Mwona (Nigeria), 301 divination vessel, 148–49 children, 101, 110, 152–53, 179, 190 Chokwe (Angola, DRC, and Zambia), 15, 39, 94, 150, 282, 301, 304 comb, 232, 234–35 ritual container, 150–51 Christianity, 306 and African art, 232, 233, 261, 264–66, 276, 302 Coptic, 21–22, 264 City of Benin (engraving, 1668), 47 Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, 15, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20 clothing, 219 Kuba overskirt (ntshakakot), 7, 219, 248, 248, 249, 256 n.39 Ndbele cape (linaga), 21, 250, 250, 251 Nigerian national dress (dandogo), 219, 252–53, 302 see also textiles coffin, ancient Egyptian, 184–85 Cole, Herbert M., 18


colonialism, 261 Belgian, 14, 15, 158, 280, 304 British, 44, 46, 50, 148, 192, 264 French, 104, 176, 198, 272, 302 Portuguese, 303 color, symbolism of, 32, 130, 172 comb Asante (duafe), 19, 232, 233 Chokwe/Lena, 232, 234–35 coming of age, ritual and, 121–37, 176, 220 conception and birth, art for, 101–119 costume, masquerade, 170, 174, 175, 186, 188 Yoruba, 142 Egungun, 4–5 (det.), 139, 190–93 (det.), 191 cross, Ethiopian processional, 7, 21–22, 264–66, 265 crown Baule, 68–69 Yoruba royal (ade), 60, 60–61 cup divination (agere Ifa), 106 Kuba handled, 238–39 Pende figural, 19, 238–40 Wongo figural, 238, 241, 256 n.33 see also vessel Dallas Arts Association, 14, 27 n.1 Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, 19 Dallas Museum of Art (DMA), 18, 19 Dallas Museum of Art League, 24 Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (DMFA), 13, 19, 27 n.3 see also exhibitions Dan (Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, and Liberia), 32, 301 ceremonial bowls, 242 masks, 25, 121, 124–25 sculptors ( glen ye meh), 124 dance, 6, 70, 70, 122, 170, 174, 176, 188, 188, 272, 272, 278 dance wand (Yoruba oshe Shango), 110–11, 276 Dapper, Olfert, 44 Dawu, Ghana, combs excavated at, 232 death. See afterlife; funeral Delabano, Barney, 18 Derain, André, 262 divination Cham or Mwona, 148 container for paraphernalia. See bowl, Yoruba lidded display figures for, 102, 104, 106–109, 139, 268 Mbala, 116 Senufo, 102, 176, 186 tray, 94, 282 Yoruba (opon Ifa), 106–108, 107, 144 vessel for, 148–49 diviner, 104, 106, 160, 168, 194, 282 Djennenke/Soninke (Mali), 30, 42, 301 female figure, 18, 30, 35 n.9, 42–43 D’mba (Baga headdress), 140–41, 290 Dogon, Mali, 42, 301 “ark,” 19 door, 24, 219, 220–21, 257 (det.) door lock, 18, 219, 220, 222–23 nommo figure, 18 textiles, 290 see also pre-Dogon

doll (Asante akua’ba), 18, 19, 101, 118, 118–19 door, 219 Baule, 224, 225 Dogon granary, 24, 220–21, 257 (det.) Yoruba, by Olowe, 92 door lock Dogon (anuan), 18, 219, 220–23 Dogon bolt (ta koguru), 222 mechanism of, 222 Dozier, Otis, 16, 21 Dozier, Velma Davis, 17, 20–21 Dozier Foundation, 20 drum Burundi tambour, 6 Senufo, 19, 139, 176, 176–77 Yoruba, 276 Dutch, influence of, in Africa, 264, 282 Dwo (Bobo deity), 122 dye. See camwood; henna; ikat Edo, Nigeria, 19, 39, 44–46, 301 see also Benin kingdom; Bini education, sub-Saharan traditional, 121 Egypt, ancient, 35 n.4, 268, 306 bust of pharaoh, Seti I, 182–83 coffin, 184–85 combs found in, 232 limestone relief, 180, 180–81 Ekonda (DRC), 301 hat, as regalia, 74–75 Ekpe society, 304 Elefon. See Epa Eleko, HRH Eshugbayi, 192 elephant mask (Bamileke), 6, 70, 71 mask (Kuba), 188, 189 as symbol, 68, 78 elephant tail, as decoration, 78, 78 Emobo ceremony, 48, 50 Epa (Elephon), Yoruba festival, 142 Erinle (Yoruba hunter deity), 268 Eshu (Yoruba deity), 106, 108, 144, 268 Esigie, prince of Benin, 48, 52, 54 Espalargucs, studio of Pere, Altarpiece Section: Angels and Gabriel (15th. cent.), 29, 29 Ethiopia, 261, 306 processional crosses, 7, 21–22, 264–66, 265 The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 18, 19, 23, 24, 25, 26 Eugene McDermott Foundation, Dallas, 17, 20, 23 Europeans influence of, on African art, 261, 304 as spirits of the dead, 272 as subject matter for African artists, 261, 272–76, 286, 287 Ewua, Nigeria, standing figure, 14, 14 exhibitions of African art, 13–24 passim, 35 n.2, 219, 290 Ezana, king of Axum, 264 Fagg, William, 32, 111, 144, 178 n.3 Fakeye, Akobi Ogun, of Ila Orangun, 19, 32, 112–13 Fakeye, Lamidi Olonade, 35 n.16, 112 Fang (Cameroon and Gabon), 198, 301, 302 four-faced helmet mask, 20, 272–75, 273 ngil mask of, 272 reliquary figures, 8 (det.), 101, 198–99 Farr, Steve, 17 Fasan of Isare (Yoruba sculptor), 276 feathers, as decoration, 174, 178 n.34, 188–89, 198, 280 fertility, 101, 140, 148, 158 figure Akan miniature cast-brass, 24 Dogon nommo, 18 equestrian, 23, 102–103, 260 (det.), 262, 268–70

female on Cham/Mwona divination vessel, 148, 149 Djennenke/Soninke, 18, 30, 35 n.9, 42–43 Igbo initiation, 18, 134–35 shrine, 19 Igede seated shrine, 146–47 Luba initiation, 33, 136–37 Lulua caryatid for headrest, 228, 230 Mbala fertility (pindi), 15, 116–17 Songye power (nkishi), 164–65 as symbolic, 121 Yanzi ritual (mbem), 156–57 Yombe, pfemba, 100 (det.), 114–15 ancestral (pfemba), 206–207 see also rhythm pounder female and male, Yoruba twin (ere ibeji), 62, 194–95 guardian, 198–99 Kongo, of a religious, 266–67 Lega four-faced half (Sakimatwematwe), 20, 64–65 male Baule seated, 20, 23, 104–105, 262 Benin kingdom, chief (iyase), 23, 52–55 Boma standing, 15, 16, 33 Bwa standing, 19 Chokwe ritual container as, 150–51 Ewua, Nigeria, 14, 14 Fang reliquary guardian, 8 (det.), 198–99 Hemba ancestor (singiti), 18, 33, 212–13 Ibibio ancestor (ekpu), 196–97 Igbo shrine (ikenga), 19 Kota Janus reliquary guardian, 25, 200–101 Luba shrine, 15, 154–55 Lulua protective (mbulenga), 19, 152–53 Mbala drumming (pindi), 116 Mboma seated funerary (ntadi), 210–11 Sango reliquary guardian (mbumba bwiti), 202–203 Senufo equestrian, 102–103 Sokoto, 23, 25, 26, 40–41 Songye power (nkishi), 164, 166–67 Tsogo reliquary guardian, 204–205 Yombe kneeling ancestor, 208–209 power (nkisi), 23, 160–63, 178 n.21 Yoruba horse-and-rider (elesin Shango), 23, 260 (det.), 268–71 maternity, 114, 115 miniature fertility, 19 Mumuye standing, 18 power, 23, 139, 160–67 reliquary, 8 (det.), 101, 179, 198–99, 201–205 shrine, 15, 19, 112, 139, 146–47, 154–55, 194, 268 Zande nazeze-type (yanda), 18, 158–59 Fischer, Eberhard and Barbara, 32 Fogelson, Mr. and Mrs. E. E., 17 Foundation for the Arts, DMA, 19, 23 Fowler Museum, University of California at Los Angeles, 108 Foxworth, Mr. and Mrs. Walter, 17 Friends of African and African-American Art, DMA, 22 funeral, 76, 179, 180–81, 186, 188, 196, 214 n.1, 228 Gao empire. See Songhai empire Gates, Jay, 22 Ghana empire. See Wagadu empire Giacometti, Alberto, 20 Golden Stool (Asante symbol), 232 Greaves, Donald W., 17 Grebo (Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia), 302 ceremonial bowls, 242–43 Greece, figure from funerary relief (c. 330 BC), 29, 29

Guerre, Léonce Pierre, Collection, Marseille, 214 n.18 Guro (Côte d’Ivoire), 302 helmet mask, 22, 170–71, 178 n.30 Gustave and Franyo Schindler Collection of African Sculpture, 17, 20, 25 Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia, 21–22, 266 Hammer, Deborah Stokes, 111 Hammer, Jeffrey, 111 Hamon, Nancy, 25 Hampton University, Virginia, collection of African art at, 20, 256 n.40 Hare, J. N., 148 harp, Zande (kundi), 19, 218 (det.), 244–45 hat for Bamileke elephant mask, 6, 70–73, 97 (det.) Cameroon Grasslands, 24 Ekonda tiered (botolo), 22, 74–75 Kuba prestige (kalyeem; mpaan), 76–77 Lega regalia (mukuba; sawamazembe), 78–79 Pende regalia, 280 Yaka/Suku regalia (misango mayaki), 22, 280–81 see also headdress; skullcap Hausa (Cameroon, Ghana, and Niger), 302 man’s robe, 252–53, 262 Hawley, Henry W. III, 19 head, Yoruba “inner” house of (ile ori), 24, 62–63, 110, 112, 262, 307 (det.) ibori, as symbolic soul, 24, 62, 62 ori, 108 headdress, 18 Baga D’mba, 18, 140–41 Bamileke feathered, 70–73, 97 (det.) Benin iyase, 52 Budja bird-form, 25 Cham/Mwona divination figure, 148, 149 Egyptian royal (nemes), 182, 183 Igbo masquerade, 18, 126, 126 Ijo water-spirit, 25 Luba diviner’s beaded, 256 n.16 Yombe ancestor figure, 206, 207 Yoruba Epa, 25, 142–43, 178 n.3, 268, 276 see also hat; mask headrest (African “pillow”), 219, 256 n.13 Luba, 19, 219, 228–29 Lulua, 228, 230 Pende, 228, 256 n.17 Shona (Wanoe), 231 Zande, with storage box, 228, 231 Heeramaneck Collection, New York, 13 Hemba (DRC), 302, 304 male ancestor figure, 18, 33, 212–13 henna, as textile dye, 246, 247 Henrique Kinu a Mvemba (Kongo prince), 264 High Museum of Art, Atlanta, 20 Himmelheber, Hans and Ulrike, 31 Holland, Edwin, 92 Holo (DRC), 305 Hondt, Gustave de (d. 1952), 15 Horankh (25th Dynasty Egyptian), coffin of, 184, 185 horn animal, 130, 131, 144, 168, 169, 170, 171, 238, 280 and ritual medicine, 142, 164, 176, 276 Mende side-blown, 23, 86–89 (det.), 87 horses, in West Africa, 102, 268, 276 Ibibio (Nigeria), 304 iconography Bamileke elephant mask, 72 Baule ointment pot, 236 Benin kingdom, 48, 144

Luba, 82 Yoruba, 56–59, 106, 144 Ida ou Nadif, 246, 300 Ida ou Zeddoute, 246, 300 Idoma (Nigeria), 178 n.6, 302 Ifa ritual, 106, 144, 194 Ife, Nigeria, 34, 58, 305 Igbo (Nigeria), 144, 302 figure female initiation, 18, 134–35 female shrine, 19 male shrine (ikenga), 19 headdress, 18 mask (igri), 24, 126–27 Igede (Nigeria), 146, 178 n.6, 302 shrine figure, 146–47 Ijebu kingdom (Yoruba), 56 Ijo (Nigeria), water-spirit headdress, 25 ikat (dyeing technique), 252, 252 Ile-Ife, Nigeria, 34, 54, 60, 144 infanticide, 194 infertility, 102, 104, 108 ritual objects to alleviate, 101, 139, 156 initiation. See coming of age installations, DMA, 13, 15, 18–19, 22, 23 Institute des Musées Nationaux du Zaire, 210 instruments, musical, 219, 276, 305 see also drum; harp; horn Islam and African art, 262, 268, 270, 302 spread of, 42, 222, 252, 261, 268, 300, 306 ivory Afro-Portuguese, 86, 88, 286 Kuba kingdom and, 303 sculpture of, 23, 48–51, 86, 106, 108, 109, 228, 232, 254, 268–71 as status symbol, 188, 232, 268 Jacks, Mr. and Mrs. James H. W., 24 Jenne (Jenne-Jeno; Old Jenne), 42 jewelry, 219 João I, king of the Kongo kingdom, 264 Junior Associates, DMA, 24 Kagoro clan (Soninke), 42 Kamali, Norma, 290 Kan, Michael, 17 Kanyok (DRC), 302 water pipe, 15, 282, 284 (det.), 285 Kelland, Private William, 50 Kelly, Patrick, 294 kente. See textiles kingship, 39, 48, 56, 60, 154, 282, 303 Klee, Paul, 20 Kom, Cameroon, 300 Komo association (Bamana), 168 Kongo (DRC), 302, 305 figure of a religious, 266–67 see also Mboma; Yombe Kongo kingdom, 264, 302, 304, 305 Kongolo, king of the Luba, 303 Kota (Gabon and Congo), 302, 304 reliquary figures, 25, 101, 198, 200–201 Kuba (DRC), 31, 39, 188, 303, 305 ceremonial cup, 238–39 funeral mask, 24, 188–89 Itul ceremony, 7, 248 king, 188, 256 n.40 overskirt, 7, 19–20, 219, 248–49, 256 n.40 pigment box, 236–37 prestige hat, 76–77 textiles, 290, 293, 293 cut-pile embroidered raffia, 19–20, 290–91, 297 (det.) see also Bushoong Kuosi (Kwosi) (Bamileke society), 70 Kweni. See Guro Kwosi. See Kuosi

318 LaGamma, Alisa, 178 n.21 Lalibela, king of the Axum, 264 Lamb, Venice and Alastair, Collection, United Kingdom, 252, 256 n.45 Lamp, Frederick, 140 Lane, John R., 24 Leakey, Dr. Louis, and Mary, 31 Ledbetter, Huddie “Leadbelly,” 33, 33 Ledbetter, Mr. and Mrs. James, 17 Leff, Jay C., 13 Lega (DRC), 39, 64, 78, 303 four-faced half figure, 20, 64–65 hat, as regalia, 78–79 mask, insignia, 66–67 ritual among, 66, 66, 78 Legrain, Pierre-Emile, 290 Lobi, Ghana, 18 lock. See door lock Lower Niger Bronze Industry, bell, 18, 144–45 Luba (DRC), 302, 303, 304 figure female initiation, 33, 136–37 male, shrine, 15, 154–55 headdress, 256 n.16 headrest, 19, 228–29 masks, 12 (det.), 172–75, 215 (det.) stool, 82–83 Lulua (DRC), 303 headrest, 228, 230 protective figure, 19, 152–53 Lunda empire, 280, 305 Lunsford, John, 14, 15, 18 Luwe (Eastern Luba hunting spirit), 154 Luyties, Frederic A., III, 24 Lwena (DRC and Angola), comb, 232, 234–35 Lydenburg, South Africa, terracotta heads, 29, 31 Lynch, Cristina, 24, 25 Lynch, Peter Hanszen, 24 Makonde (Mozambique and Tanzania), 121, 128, 303 helmet mask, 24, 128–29 Mali empire, 42, 268, 286 Malinke (West Africa), 300 Mande (West Africa), 300 Mangbetu (DRC), 303, 305 vessel, palm wine, 286, 288–89, 296 n.37 Mani society (Zande), 158 manilla (bracelet as currency), 278 Manowulo (Mende sculptor, act. 1935–1960), 25, 32, 121, 130–33, 262 mantle, Teke, 20 map, of Africa, 298–99 Marcus, Billie, 13, 17, 18 Marcus, Linda, 19, 22 Marcus, Stanley, 13, 17, 18, 19, 22 Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art Endowment Fund, DMA, 27 n.26 Marks, Mr. and Mrs. Richard K., 17 mask, 25, 139, 170 Bamileke elephant (mbap mteng), 6, 70–72, 71 Bamum, 94 Bobo Nwenka, 18, 19, 101, 121, 122–23, 139 Chokwe Cihongo, 80 crown as, 60–61 Dan face, 25, 124–25 Fang four-faced helmet (ñgontang), 20, 272–75, 273 Fang ngil, 272 Guro helmet gye, 22, 170–71, 178 n.30 yu, 170 Igbo face (igri), 24, 126–27 Kuba Mukenga Muykeem, 24, 188–89 Lega insignia (lukwakongo), 66–67 Lwena, 234, 234

ind e x Makonde helmet (muti wa lipiko), 24, 128–29 Mende gbini, 86, 88 helmet (sowei), 25, 32, 130–33, 131, 262 Pende miniature pendant (gikhokho), 219, 254–55 village (mbuyu), 238 Senufo helmet (komo), 23, 27 n.28, 168–69 Songye/Luba helmet (kifwebe), 172–74, 173, 215 (det.) Tempe-Songye helmet (kifwebe), 12 (det.), 172, 172 (det.), 174, 174, 175 Vagala, 18 Yaka horned, 280 Yoruba Epa, 142–43, 178 n.3 see also headdress Master of the Owu Shrine (c. 1850–c. 1925), 110–11, 111 Mbala (DRC), 303 figures (pindi), 15, 116–17 oil vessel, 256 n.29 Mbidi Kiluwe (17th-cent. Luba ruler), 82, 154, 155 Mboma (Angola and DRC), 302, 303 seated funerary figure (ntadi), 210–11 Mbra (Baule deity), 104 McDermott, Eugene, 14, 17, 18 McDermott, Margaret (Mrs. Eugene McDermott), 14, 17, 18, 25, 25, 27 n.26 McDermott Fund. See Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc. McKinney, Alma L., 24 Meadows, Mr. and Mrs. Algur H., 18 Meadows Foundation Inc., Dallas, 18 medicine, ritual, 130, 136, 139, 142, 150, 152, 158, 160–64 passim, 176, 198, 206, 276 men art objects made by, 31 clothing for, 252 masquerade and, 121, 122, 124, 126, 128, 130, 172, 174, 272 Mende (Sierra Leone), 32, 130, 132–33, 303 gbini mask, 86, 88 helmet mask, by Manowulo, 25, 32, 121, 130–33, 131, 262 side-blown horn, 23, 86–89 (det.), 87 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 27 n.7, 256n n.3, 9 Milwaukee Art Museum, 20 Moba, Ghana, 18 Modigliani, Amedeo, 20, 262 Moore, William, 13 Mosier, Madelon, 17 Muba, Voania (Voanya; d. 1928), 18, 261, 286–88, 305 Mukenga society (Kuba), 188 Mumuye, Nigeria, standing figure, 18 Murray, Kenneth C., Archives, Lagos, Nigeria, 111 Musée de l’Homme, Paris, 17 Musée Dynamique à Dakar, Senegal, 22 Museum of Cultural History, University of California at Los Angeles, 18 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 22 Museum of Modern Art, New York, 15, 20, 219 Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 13, 17, 27 n.7 Museum Rietberg, Zurich, 110 music. See instruments, musical Muslim holy men (mori), 130 horsemen, 42, 102, 268, 276 jihads, 176 Mwona (Nigeria), 178 n.8 divination vessel, 148–49 see also Cham/Mwona

Nafana, Ghana, 18 Nasher, Mr. and Mrs. Raymond D., 17 National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 35 n.2, 206, 214 n.37 National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, 50 Ndebele, South Africa, 304 cape (linaga), 21, 250–51 New York World’s Fair (1939), 15 Niger, Lower, 306 see also Lower Niger Bronze Industry Nigeria ancient. See Niger, Lower horses in, 268 national dress in, 252–53, 256 n.45, 302 see also Benin kingdom Nigerian National Museum, Lagos, 50, 111 Njoro, Kenya, vessel (c. 850 BC), 29, 31 Nkrumah, Kwame, 294 Nok (Nigeria), sculpture from, 29, 30, 40, 306 North Sotho (Ndebele), Zimbabwe, 304 Ntumu (Fang, Gabon), 272 Nubia, ancient, 184 Ny-Ank-Nesut (Egyptian official), decoration from tomb of, 180, 180–81 Oba Akenzua II (1933–1978), 48, 51 Oba Eleko, 192 Oba Erediauwa, 46 Oba Esigie, 50 Oba Overami, 48 Oba Ozolua, 52 Oba William Adetona Ayeni, 60 oba (king), 42, 46, 47, 48, 52, 54, 60, 108, 192, 264, 268 Obatala (Yoruba deity), 62 Oduduwa, the Supreme Being (Yoruba), 34, 60 Odum, Rev. Elzie, Jr., 294 offerings containers for, 19, 24, 90–93 (det.), 112–13 Egyptian funerary, 180, 180–81 for masks, 170 for yanda figures, 158 Ogboni society (Yoruba), 56 Ogoga of Ikere, 92 Ogun (Yoruba deity), 56, 268, 276 oil, use of, on wooden sculptures, 42, 76, 136 Olbrechts, Frans (1899–1958), 15, 27 n.13, 31, 35 n.13 Old Jenne. See Jenne Olodumare or Olorun (Yoruba Creator God), 62, 106 Oloko (Yoruba ancestor figure), 142 Olokun (Benin kingdom and Yoruba deity), 52, 54, 60 Olorun. See Olodumare Olosanyin (Yoruba ancestor priest), 142, 178 n.3 Olowe of Ise (c. 1875–c. 1938), 24, 32, 90–93, 106, 262, 276 Oni of Ife (Yoruba king), 56 Opoku Ware I, king, Ghana, 294 Orisha-oko (Yoruba deity), 268 Oron (Nigeria), 304 ancestor figures, 196–97 Orunmila (Yoruba deity), 106, 108 Osanyin (Yoruba deity), 142, 276 Osei Tutu, first Asante king, 232 Oshamuko of Osi (act. c. 1920–c. 1950), 32, 142–43 Oshugbo society (Yoruba), 24, 58 Oshun (Benin and Yoruba deity), 144 Osiris (Egyptian deity), 182, 184 Otis and Velma Davis Dozier Fund, 20, 22 Ovimbundu, Angola, 304 figural pipe, 18, 282–83


i ndex Owen, Michael G., Leadbelly (1943), 33, 33 Owo kingdom, Nigeria, 34, 270 Owsley, David T., 23 Oyo (king), 110 Oyo, Nigeria, 60 Oyo Yoruba empire, 110, 194, 268 Païlès, Isaac, 104, 262 Palmer, Wells, 190, 192 pangolin imagery of, 52, 219 pattern (nkaka) derived from, 228, 229, 256 n.16 Parker, Harry S. III, 17, 18, 19 parrot, African gray, feathers of, 70, 72, 73, 97 (det.), 152, 188, 188, 189 Pelrine, Diane, 23 Pemberton, John, 178 n.3 pendant, ivory waist (Benin kingdom), 23, 30, 38 (det.), 48–51, 49, 261 Pende (DRC), 219, 280, 303, 304, 305 ceremonial adze, 84–85 ceremonial palm-wine cups, 19, 238–40 headrest, 256 n.17 masks, 25 miniature pendant, 254–55 village, 238 Pereira, Duarte Pacheco, 44 Perutz, Mr. and Mrs. George, 17, 24 Phillips, Ruth B., 132 Picasso, Pablo, 20, 25, 262 Bust (1907–1908), 290, 290 pillow. See headrest pipe Bamum prestige, 94–95, 282 Kanyok water, 15, 282, 284 (det.), 285 Ovimbundu figural, 18, 282–83 water, described, 296 n.31 Pitman, Bonnie, 24 plaque, bronze four-figure, 44, 44, 278 single-figure, 2 (det.), 44–46, 45, 54 Poro (secret society), 130, 168, 176, 186, 301, 303, 304 Portugal influence of, 44, 261, 264, 278, 282, 301, 302 ivories commissioned by, 86, 88, 286 pot, ointment, Baule, 19, 236, 236 praise poem, Yoruba (oriki), 32, 268, 270 pre-Dogon culture, Mali, 18, 30, 42 Redden, Hebe, 21 Redden, Kenneth, 21–22, 266 regalia, 68–69, 74–75, 78–79, 84–86, 88, 136, 144, 280, 280 relics, customs pertaining to, 101, 179, 198, 198, 200, 200, 202 relief Benin bronze, 44–46 Egyptian funerary, 180, 180–81 Greek funerary, 29, 29 rhythm pounder (Senufo), 18, 186–87, 214 n.7 ring, Yoruba ritual sacrifice, 24, 56–59 (det.), 57 Robbins, Carol, 19, 21, 26 robe, Hausa man’s (dandogo), 252–53, 262 Robinson, Judith, 17 Robinson, Linda, 17 Rose, Deedie, 27 n.26 Ross, Doran H., 18 Roy, Christopher D., 22 Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium, 14, 15, 17, 228, 256 n.39 Rubin, Ida and Jerry, 14 Sabean culture, 306 saltcellar, Portuguese ivory, 86, 88 Sande (Bundu) society (Mende), 86, 130, 132–33, 303 Sandogo (Senufo society of women diviners), 176, 186, 304

Sango (Gabon), 198, 304 reliquary guardian figure, 200–203 Sapi (Sierra Leone), as ivory carvers, 86, 286 Schindler, Gustave and Franyo, 17–18, 19 sculptor(s) advertising by, 224, 236 Dan glen ye meh, 124 of reliquary figures (Ntem River, Gabon, act. c. 1800–1860), 198, 214 n.18 see also Arowogun; Buli Master; Manowulo; Master of the Owu Shrine; Muba; Olowe; Oshamuko; Semangoy sculpture conventions of African, 32–33, 62, 104, 194 imoju-mora (imagination) in, 142 as influence on European art, 262 naturalism in, 34, 124, 304 see also art; figure; mask Seattle Art Museum, 214 n.18 Semangoy of Zokolunga, reliquary figure by, 32, 200–201 Senufo (Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, and Mali), 300, 304 divination among, 102, 176 drum, 19, 139, 176, 176–77 equestrian figure, 102–103 mask, helmet, 23, 27 n.28, 168–69 rhythm pounder, 18, 186–87, 214 n.7 Seti I, Egyptian pharaoh, bust of, 182–83 Sewa-Mende. See Mende Shango (Yoruba deity), 110, 112, 194, 268, 269, 270, 271, 276 Sheppard, William H., 219, 256 n.40 Sherbro (Sierra Leone), 86 Shona (Wanoe), Zimbabwe, headrest, 231 Shoowa (Kuba, DRC), 20 shrine, as memorial, 179, 194, 206, 206, 208, 210 see also figure, shrine Shyaam-a-Mbul Ngwoong (Kuba king), 76 Sieber, Roy (1923–2001), 35 n.2, 219 silk, 256 n.45, 294, 295 Singleterry, Mr. and Mrs. Lee M., 19 skullcap, pineapple fiber (mpu), 162, 163, 208, 209, 210, 211 slave trade, 261, 264, 302 Slye, Jonathan, 178 n.8 snake, imagery of, 44, 52, 54, 144, 176 Sokoto culture, Nigeria, 30, 306 male figure, 23, 26, 40–41 Songhai (Gao) empire, 42, 268 Songye (DRC), 19, 304 masks, 172–75, 178 n.34 power figures, 164–67, 178n n.21, 22 Songye-Tempe (DRC), masks, 12 (det.), 172–73 Soninke. See Djennenke Sotho. See North Sotho St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, Tex., 22 staff, Yoruba ritual (opa orere), 142, 143 status, art as symbol of, 39, 94, 232, 238 Stillman, Clark, 14, 15, 18, 27 n.6, 35 n.13 Stillman, Frances, 14, 15, 35 n.13 Stillman Collection. See Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture Stolper Galleries of Primitive Art, New York and Los Angeles, 13 stool Asante symbolism of, 232 Baule, 104 Kanyok chief’s, for divination, 282 Luba throne (kipona), 82–83 as regalia figure, 64, 82, 82, 232 for shrine figure, 146, 147 see also chair; Golden Stool Stout, Renée, Fetish #2 (1988), 262, 263 Suku, DRC, 304, 305 regalia hat, 280–81 sword hilt (10th-cent. bronze), 268

Tada, Nigeria, sculpture from, 34 Tanning, Dorothea, Pincushion to Serve as Fetish (1979), 262, 262 tapper, Yoruba divination (iro Ifa), 19, 106, 108, 109 Tayewo (Yoruba master sculptor), 112 Teke (DRC), 20, 305 Temne (Sierra Leone), harp, 86 Tempe. See Songye-Tempe tent, Tuareg (ehen), 226 tent post, Tuareg (ehel), 219, 226–27 Tetela (DRC), 172, 178 n.31 Textile Fund, The , DMA, 26 textiles, 219, 252, 262 Asante kente, 25–26, 28 (det.), 294–95, 296 n.43 as currency, 248, 290 Dogon bologon, 290 East African kikoi, 290 European, for masquerade costume, 190–93 Kuba cut-pile and embroidered raffia, 19–20, 290–93, 291, 297 (det.) see also clothing; mantle; veil Thompson, Robert Farris, 32 throne. See chair tobacco, use of, in Africa, 94, 282, 296 n.31 tomb, Egyptian, 180, 180–81, 182 tongs, Yoruba Oshugbo ritual, 24 tools, for sculpture, 32, 32 torque (Yoruba), 278–79 trade beads, 20–21, 21 tray, Yoruba divination (opon Ifa), 106–108, 107, 144 Tsogo (Gabon), 198, 304 reliquary guardian figure, 204–205 Tuareg, 304 tent posts, 219, 226–27 Tutankhamun, nesting coffin of, 184 twins (Yoruba: ibeji), 110 figures of (ere ibeji), 194–95 patron saint of, 110, 194 sculpture of primordial, as ritual objects, 102 Tyekpa (Senufo women’s society), 176 Udo (Benin, Nigeria), 50, 52 Ungaro, Emmanuel, 290 University of Arizona, 35 n.9, 96 n.3 University of Pennsylvania Museum, 228 University of Virginia, 22 Vagala (Ghana), mask, 18 Vandenhoute, P. J. L., 32 veil, Amazigh (Berber), marriage/ ceremonial, 246, 246, 247 vessel Baule water, 236 Cham/Mwona divination (itinate), 148–49 drinking, 219 Longuda ritual (kwandalowa), 178 n.8 Mangbetu palm wine, 286, 288, 289, 296 n.37 Mwona healing, 178 n.8 Njoro, Kenya, 29, 31 Woyo effigy, 18, 261, 286–87 see also bowl; bowl carrier; cup Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, 20 Vlaminck, Maurice de, 262 Vogel, Susan Mullin, 20–21, 32 Vurungura clan, Zande, 158 Wagadu (Ghana) empire, 42, 268 Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 14 Walschot, Jeanne (1896–1977), 15 wand. See dance wand Wanoe. See Shona Wardlaw, Alvia, 20 We (Côte d’Ivoire), ceremonial bowls, 242 weaving. See textiles


well-being, art to promote, 139–76 wheel, form of, as imagery, 86–89 Williams, Mr. and Mrs. Dan, 17, 19 Wingert, Paul S., 13 women ancestor figures of, 196, 206, 207 art objects made by, 20, 31, 94 authority figures for, 156 clothing for, 20, 246–51 combs for, 232 dances of, 176 divination and, 108, 176, 186, 282 initiation for, 128, 130, 134–36 as makers of ritual vessels, 178 n.8 masquerade and, 121, 126, 130–33, 172, 174, 303 matrilineal society and, 116, 118, 302, 304, 305 mental health of, 139, 176 regalia for, 76, 77 status of, in Luba society, 303 as symbol, 82 Wongo (DRC), 305 ceremonial cup, 238, 241, 256 n.33 wood, for sculpture, 30, 32, 42, 64, 178 n.22 oiled, 42, 136, 140 World Festival of Negro Arts (Dakar, Senegal, 1967), 22 Woyo (Angola, DRC, Republic of the Congo), 302, 305 effigy vessel, 18, 261, 286–88, 287, 305 writing, Bamum, 300 Wunderman, Lester, 18 Wuro (Bobo Creator God), 122 x-ray, of Yombe power figure, 160, 178 n.22 Yaka (DRC), 304, 305 mask, horned, 280 regalia hat, 22, 280–81 Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn., 206 Yanzi (DRC), 305 ritual figure, 156–57 Yombe (DRC and Republic of the Congo), 206, 302, 305 ancestor figure kneeling, 208–209 maternal, 206–207 headdress, ancestor figure, 206, 207 pfemba, fertility cult, 100 (det.), 114–15 power figures, 23, 160–63, 178 n.21 Yoruba (Nigeria), 39, 60, 62, 179, 282, 305 ancient kingdom of, 54, 144 bowl lidded, by Arowogun, 19, 178 n.3, 261, 276–77 offering by Agbonbiofe, 24, 90, 90 by Olowe, 24, 90–93 (det.), 91 terracotta ritual, 19 copper altar, 24 crown, 60–61 dance wand, 110–11, 276 divination tapper, 19, 106, 108–109 divination trays, 94, 106–108, 107, 144 door, by Olowe, 92 Egungun festival costume, 4–5 (det.), 139, 190–93 (det.), 191 Epa headdress, 25, 142–43, 178 n.3 festivals, 142, 190 figures horse-and-rider, 23, 260 (det.), 268–70, 269 twin, 194–95 head, “inner,” as symbolic soul, 24, 62, 62 house for, 24, 62–63, 110, 112, 262, 307 (det.) masks, 139 Epa, 142, 143, 178 n.3 Oloko, 142

Olosanyin, 142–43 ring, ritual sacrifice, 24, 56–59 (det.), 57 staff, ritual, 142, 143 tongs, ritual, 24 torque, 278, 279 Zande (Central African Republic, DRC, and Sudan), 305 harp, 19, 218 (det.), 244–45 headrest-box, 228, 231 nazeze-type figure, 18, 158–59

illustration and copyright credits

All photography, unless otherwise noted below, is © 2009 Dallas Museum of Art. Fig. 2: Carlebach Gallery, New York; fig. 13: © National Museums of Kenya; fig. 14: © Museum of South Africa / University of Cape Town; fig. 16: Photograph: Roslyn Adele Walker; fig. 17: © Estate of Michael G. Owen Jr.; fig. 18: Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz / Art Resource, NY. Photograph: Dietrich Graf, Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin; fig. 19: Courtesy of William Fagaly and the New Orleans Museum of Art; fig. 20: Werner Forman Archive; fig. 21: Photograph: John Pemberton III; fig. 22: Dr. Daniel P. Biebuyck; fig. 23: Photograph: Eliot Elisofon, EEPA EECL 1546. Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; fig.  24: © Photo SCALA, Florence / Musée du Quai Branly. Photograph: Frank Christol; fig. 26: Photograph: David A. Bink­ ley; fig. 27: Verney Lovett Cameron, Across Africa, Harper, New York, 1877; fig. 28: D. K. Flickinger, History of the Origin, Development and Condition of Missions among the Sherbro and Mendi Tribes in Western Africa, United Brethren Publishing House, Dayton, Ohio, 1885; fig. 29: Photograph: Henrietta Cosentino; fig.  30: Photograph: courtesy of Alain de Monbrison / Monbrison Archive; fig. 31: Photograph: Stephen Petergorsky, courtesy of John Pemberton III; fig. 32: Archives mission 21: Basel Mission, E-30.31.043. Photograph: Eugen Schwarz; fig. 33: © National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria. Photograph: Philip A. Allison; fig. 34: © ­Herbert M. Cole; fig. 35: © Simon Ottenberg and The University of Washington Press; fig. 36: Photograph: Lydia Puccinelli, 1976. Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; fig. 37: The Secret Museum of Mankind,Manhattan House, New York, 1935; fig. 38: X-ray: courtesy of Claire M. Barry, Chief Conservator, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas; fig. 39: ©  abm-Archives ­Barbier-Mueller; fig. 40: Photograph: Eliot Elisofon, 1971, EEPA EEng 02271. Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; fig. 41: Christine El Mahdy, Mummies, Myth and Magic,Thames & Hudson Ltd., London, 1989. Drawing: Philip Winton; fig. 42: Photograph: Till Förster; fig. 43: Photograph: David A. Binkley; fig. 44: Photograph: John Pemberton III; fig. 45: Karl Zimmerman, Die Grenzgebiete Kameruns im Sudem und im Osten, Mitteilungen aus den Deutschen Schutzgebieten, 9a and 9b, Berlin, 1914. Photograph: Hans Gehne; fig. 46: Charles Stéphen-Chauvet, L’Art funeraire au Gabon, Immaculée, Castres, France, 1933; fig.  48: © Michel Huet / ­HOA-QUI /  Eyedea; fig.  49: © Russell Sublette; fig.  50: © ­Froebenius-Institut; fig.  51: Gaetano Casati, Ten Years in Equatoria and the Return with Emin Pasha, transl. J. Randolph Clay and I. Walter Savage Landor, F. Warne, London, 1891; fig. 52: © Lucien Viola; fig. 53: Emil Torday and T. A. Joyce, Notes ethnographiques sur les peuples communément appelés Bakuba, ainsi que sur les peuplades apparentées, Les Bushongo; aquarelles par Norman H. Hardy, Ministry of the Colonies, Brussels, 1910; fig. 54: Photograph: Joseph Cornet; fig. 55: © Natalie Knight Productions, CC.; fig. 56: Photograph: David Radmore; fig. 57: © 1979 Dorothea Tanning / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; fig. 58: © Renée Stout, Washington, D.C.; fig. 60: © Archives du Musée Gabon; fig. 61: © Gelbard Photographic Archives of African Expressive Culture; fig. 62: Photograph: Casimir Zagourski, EEPA Zagourski Collection, 1987-241055, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; fig.  63: © Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; fig. 64: © Cosima von Bonin; fig. 66: Photograph: Brad Flowers; pp. 98–99: Bruno de Hogues / Stone / Getty Images We greatly respect the protected status of all copyrighted material. We have endeavored, with due diligence, to identify and contact each copyright owner. In some cases we have been unable to trace current copyright holders. We welcome notification and will correct errors in subsequent editions.

Copyright © 2009 by Dallas Museum of Art. Except for what Section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976 permits as “fair use,” no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the copyright holders, aside from brief quotations embodied in critical reviews. Dallas Museum of Art Bonnie Pitman, The Eugene McDermott Director Roslyn A. Walker, Senior Curator, The Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific / The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art Tamara Wootton-Bonner, Director of Exhibitions and Publications Eric Zeidler, Publications Coordinator Jessica Beasley, Curatorial Administrative Assistant, Ancient and Non-Western Art Giselle Castro-Brightenburg, Manager, Imaging Department Brad Flowers, Photographer Distributed by Yale University Press, New Haven and London Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Dallas Museum of Art. The arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art / Roslyn Adele Walker. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. isbn 978-0-300-13895-5 (hardcover : alk. paper) 1. Art, African­—Catalogs. 2. Art—Texas—Dallas—Catalogs. 3. Dallas Museum of Art—Catalogs. I. Walker, Roslyn A. II. Title. 7380.5.d36 2009 n 709.6'0747642812­dc22 2009029308 Front cover: Janus reliquary guardian figure, front view, cat. 69, p. 201; back cover: Janus reliquary guardian figure, rear view, cat. 69, p. 201; frontispiece: Plaque with single figure, detail of cat. 3, p. 45; pages 4–5: Egungun costume, detail of cat. 65, p. 191; page 6: Members of the elephant society, fig. 24, p. 70; Tambour drummers, Burundi, pp. 98–99; page 7: Kuba women dancing, fig. 54, p. 248; Priests of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church carrying brass crosses, fig. 59, p. 266; page  8: Reliquary guardian figure, detail of cat. 68, p. 199; page 12: Helmet mask (kifwebe), detail of cat. 58, p. 175; page 28: Textile (kente), detail of cat. 110, p. 295; page 38: Waist pendant, detail of cat. 4, p. 49; page 97: Hat for elephant mask, detail of cat 13b, p. 73; page 100: Seated female figure with child (pfemba), detail of cat. 31, p.  115; page  215: Helmet mask, detail of cat. 57, p. 173; page 218: Harp with human head (kunde), detail of cat. 92, p. 245; page 257: Fragment of a granary door or shutter, detail of cat. 76, p. 221; page 260: Horse-and-rider figure (elesin Shango), detail of cat. 100, p. 269; page 297: Cut-pile and embroidered raffia textile, detail of cat. 109, p. 291; page 307: House of the head (ile ori), detail of cat. 9, p. 63 Principal photography by Brad Flowers Designed by Jeff Wincapaw Edited by Migs Grove and Frances Bowles Proofread by Sharon Rose Vonasch Map by Jeremy Linden Typeset by Marie Weiler in Enigma 2 and Fedra Sans Color management by iocolor, Seattle Produced by Marquand Books, Inc., Seattle Printed and bound in China by Artron Color Printing Co., Ltd.

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The art of africa  

the art of africa

The art of africa  

the art of africa