Ancestors and Dreams in African Art

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ANCESTORS AND DREAMS IN AFRICAN ART


ART AND ANTIQUES FROM AFRICA, OCEANIA AND THE AMERICAS

www.jacarandatribal.com dori@jacarandatribal.com T +1 646-251-8528 New York City, NY 10025

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© 2022, Jacaranda LLC and Everard Read Published May, 2022

PRICES AVAILABLE ON REQUEST

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ANCESTORS AND DREAMS IN AFRICAN ART

Everard Read and Jacaranda are delighted to present

collectors have enjoyed the accessibility and familiarity of

Ancestors and Dreams, an online exhibition of the finest

the contemporary African art market. However, African

contemporary art in South Africa in conversation with

collectors are largely geographically excluded from the

exceptional pieces of traditional African art.

traditional African art market, with major sales taking place

Culture and tradition are celebrated and preserved in

in New York and Paris annually. It is of deep importance to

most contemporary African societies. They inevitably

Everard Read that we support and enable African collectors to

morph and converge with our globalized sense of

engage with and acquire fine pieces of traditional African art

modernity, but historians and scholars across the African

that compliment and expand contemporary art collections.

continent endeavor to preserve traditional knowledge, art

Through our collaboration with Jacaranda, we hope that

and objects. Sadly, many of the finest examples of traditional

collectors who focus solely on contemporary art or traditional

African art are housed by museums outside of Africa and

art, realise the valuable conversations between them.

are largely inaccessible to African audiences. Museums and

This exhibition, pairing contemporary with traditional

private collections dedicated to traditional African art are

art, demonstrates the role of art as a record, a reflection,

commonplace in Europe and America, and yet only a few

and a projection of society in physical form. The aesthetic

South African museums, and even fewer private collectors,

similarities are abundant, but even more poignant are the

have obtained, and retained, exceptional collections of

converging conceptual frameworks in which these works

traditional African art.

were created. This exhibition demonstrates the history and

The objects sourced by Jacaranda demonstrate both the exceptional craftsmanship and the important societal functions of traditional art. They have been carefully studied and contextualized by Dori and Daniel Rootenberg (the Directors of Jacaranda, New York) alongside the invaluable scholarly contributions of Dr. Ndubuisi C. Ezeluomba, Curator of African Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Contemporary South African art has found an enormous audience both on the African continent and abroad, and

harmony of Ancestors and Dreams in both traditional and contemporary works of art. We do hope you enjoy it! Dori & Daniel Rootenberg – Jacaranda new york city, may 2022 Gina Mollé & Grace O’Malley – Everard Read johannesburg, may 2022

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ANCESTORS AND DREAMS IN AFRICAN ART NDUBUISI C. EZELUOMBA, PHD

Introduction

future of the family lineage. This continuity depends on the

Foremost African philosopher and writer, John Mbiti,

(Sieber & Walker, 1987, Mbiti, 1969). An individual’s sense of

observed: ‘wherever the African is, there is his religion; he

social and biological completeness lies in his or her ability to

carries it to the fields where he is sowing seeds or harvesting a

become a parent, for one must depend on one’s children for

new crop; he takes it with him to the beer party or to attend a

the proper respect and consideration that is due to one’s age.

funeral ceremony; and if he is educated, he takes religion with

Children not only guarantee the well-being of the individual

him to the examination room at school or in the university;

in life, but they provide a proper burial and ensure the

if he is a politician, he takes it to the house of parliament.’

transition of the spirit of the parent to the afterworld to take

This ability to ‘carry’ religion everywhere is, in part, because

its place as an ancestor and possibly be reincarnated as a

the spiritual and the secular worlds are understood as a

member of the family.

ability of the present generation to sire and bear children

continuum – parallel linked dimensions. The earth, the sky,

Ancestor spirits travel from the spirit world to the

the plants, animals, people, and, by extension, all substances

physical realm, returning to earth to advise their living

in the world – are infused with transcendent power that must

descendants. They are enticed by the living to draw near,

be respected, managed, and used for good.

seduced by alluring and inviting forms such as masks or

One of the main potencies in this spiritual spectrum

headrests, small offerings of beer, snuff, and meat, and

is the lineage ancestors, those departed family members,

the sweet smell of sacred herbs burning. Their presence is

the possessors of wisdom, now in the spirit world. They

believed in particular, to ensure fertility – for, without their

communicate with their living descendants through dreams

blessing, conception cannot occur.

and heightened states of consciousness that necessitate traversing between the tangible and the intangible. This happens during experiences such as dreaming, masquerading, spirit possession of diviners, and through ritual music. The prime concern of ancestors is the well-being and

Embodied objects African art objects serve varied functions, which collectively help foster a cohesive and healthy family and community.

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They act as mediators between the realm of the living and the dead and, through this medium, address diverse and wide-ranging problems, permeating all facets and stages of life. Beyond their intended aesthetic qualities, many are imbued with powerful, potent medicinal and symbolic powers, which people harness in the process of searching for solutions to their social, religious, and spiritual problems.

Headrests and Dreaming Finely carved headrests, on which sleepers place their heads, provide a conduit through which an ancestral spirit could visit. Pleasing to the ancestors, with their familiar and alluring designs, these small dreaming aides bring the sleepers’ heads in contact with the earth, thus connecting the living with their forebears who dwell below. In so doing, they facilitate dreams in which the ancestors communicate with their living descendants. Much has been written on how visual cues on Shona headrests reference the female body. This allusion is reinforced by the delicate but prominent V-shape, emblematic of the female pubic area, incised on the base between the two abutting ovals. These twin elliptical shapes are said to allude to the female buttocks and thighs – sites of pleasure for men. Furthermore, the designs on the central upright have been interpreted as resembling the cicatrization (nyora) marks on women’s bodies that were acquired at puberty. Only adult men slept on headrests of this type. Placing

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his head, the site of his ancestral lineage, on the ‘female’

Dan Male Mask

headrest, created a metaphoric union between the ancestral

One such mask is from the Dan of Côte d’Ivoire/Liberia.

lineage of the husband and the fertility of his wife, ceded to

An ancestral spirit mask, carved from a single piece of soft

him upon marriage from her father’s family lineage. From

wood, its oval face has a wide forehead, large circular eye

this union, and with the blessings of the ancestors, children

sockets, and nose and mouth in high relief. The wood has

would be born.

been darkened and appears black with a shiny surface.

David Chidester, noted author and professor of

Around the eyes is a residue of an unknown material that

comparative religion, maintains that the energetics of

might have once decorated the openings. The elliptical

dreams link dreaming to action in maintaining ongoing

mouth exhibits a narrow slit separating the mask’s lips.

ritual relations of ancestral exchanges, and ancestral

Underneath the jaw is a carefully worked attachment of

presence within family units and the entire communities.

raffia, a remnant of what would have once been an elaborate

Dreams require interpretation, but they might also demand

costume. The edges of the mask are pierced with irregular

action. The creation and use of art objects facilitate this

holes for attaching this costume which was part of its

action in the world.

intrinsic whole. In Dan society, dangerous, intangible forest spirits, the

Masks and Masquerade: A Transcendent Dreamscape

antithesis to the ordered, cultured and wise spirits of the

The presence of spirits in the domain of the living also

charged. Male performers, gle-zo, experience a dream

happens when ancestral forces take possession of a mask

sent by the mask spirit that allows them to dance it. In

during masquerade performance when the dancer enters

performance, these wild spirits of nature that inhabit

a transcendent dreamscape, akin to virtual reality. It is

the masks are tamed and integrated into the hierarchical

a moment when the spirit interacts with humans in a

system that governs the political and religious life of the

liminal space distinct from everyday reality. When part of

community.

ancestors, are also translated into face masks. Whether or not they are worn, such sculptures are also spiritually

a performance – music, dance, and ritual – masks become literal embodiments of metaphysical energy, presence, or

Sande society – Female Sowei masks

spirit. In this state, they become the oracle of a particular

In contrast to the many African societies that made and

deceased elder with powers to heal and bring harmony to

danced masks associated with the male domain, the Mende

those on earth.

people of Sierra Leone created female ancestral masks. Sowei masks, while carved by men, were danced by women

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of the female initiation society known as the Sande – an equivalent to the male Poro initiation society. Helmet-like, the mask is worn over the head and is characterized by an elaborate coiffure, facial scarification, and downcast eyes that epitomize the pinnacle of female beauty among the Mende community. Elderly women of the Sande society wear and dance in this masked costume. On one hand, it is the embodiment of the ancestor of the owner of the mask and on the other, it is linked to the water spirits of the bush. With their knowledge of medicine and healing, the sowei (mask and wearer are one) are well respected and have an extremely important role to play in the life of the village. They represent all the women in their group and act on their behalf in cases of wrongdoing against their members. They also perform dances and sing according to the requirements of major social and ceremonial events including performing in front of the village chief and visiting dignitaries. It is expected that all women belonged to the Sande society. They are initiated at about the age of fifteen years, when they leave their homes and live for several months and sometimes for over a year, in a hidden enclosed area of the forest near the village. Here they receive training in practical skills and instruction in problem-solving and moral principles. The practical skills which they had begun to learn as children now take on an adult aspect as they learn farming, spinning, child-care, diagnosing of illness, and the making and administering of medicine together with singing and dancing. The girls enter the forest as children and return to their village as strong and capable

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women ready to marry. This solidarity of women at a critical

openings at its ends, it is struck on both sides to produce

time in their lives is empowering and gives them a sense of

a two-toned sound. Its portability means it may be taken

female comradeship, which is maintained throughout their

anywhere – moving with festival processions or going to

lives through the Sande society.

war with soldiers, sending them strategic messages.

Ritual Ceremonial Music

Sanza When the metal tines of the sanza or thumb piano are

Gongs being struck, bells ringing, flutes sounding, rhythmic

plucked, the reverberations against the wooden backboard

drumming, and harmonious singing captivate and entice

produce a haunting melody. Like all other African music

the ancestors. Sound is vital in any ritual moment, with

instruments, its purpose is to please and honor the

musical instruments energizing the general ambiance

ancestors, to win their approval so that they will protect

before, during, and after ceremonies. The music enhances

and favor their descendants. The two sculptural heads that

the atmosphere, calling the spirits and guiding their steps,

are part of the body of the sanza in this catalog would be

as seen in masquerade performances.

an added enticement for ancestral spirits to enter the sanza and so bring extra divinity to the music and the player.

Drums

Said to have originated in the area that is now Zimbabwe,

Drums in Africa are said to ‘talk.’ They are played to warn

these ancient instruments are found throughout sub-

of imminent war and herald important events such as royal

Saharan Africa.

or chiefly investitures. Their sound alerts communities of approaching strangers and they are used to send messages over distance to neighboring communities. A

Embodied Sacredness

chief may have several drums of different sizes, each with

Earthenware vessels are fashioned from a mix of clay from

its drummer. Played at important rituals and celebrations,

the sacred (female) earth combined with ‘living water’/

intense and rhythmic drumming can bring on an altered

rain from the (male) sky, both infused with the potency of

state of consciousness where spirits take possession of the

the ancestors. Rain in the Zulu language is referred to as

drummer and dancers.

‘amalotha’ – the semen of men. Rain from the sky fertilizes

The Mangbetu drum belongs to the idiophone group

the female earth in the same way a husband and wife

of instruments and is made from a hollowed-out piece

procreate so that children are born. The process of making a

of wood with a narrow slit as an opening. Hung from the

pot is considered analogous to the making of a child.

shoulder of the drummer with a rope threaded through the

Women potters dig and process the clay, skillfully

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forming it into useful and desirable shapes. An elemental

of a size that allows them to be carried about on the person

and conceptual shift occurs when, once dried and shaped,

for easy access and frequent use.

naturally occurring clay is irreversibly transformed

The first is made from the scrapings of blood and skin –

through the heat of fire into a pot – a cultural object useful

residue from the cleaning of animal hides. This was mixed

to society. This process is closely aligned to the ‘creating’

with clay and applied to a pre-shaped clay form and left to

of the child in the womb where sexual heat assists in

dry. Once dry the clay is cleaned out and the hollow form

‘molding’ the child and is similarly associated with the

remains as a precious carrier of the much-loved substance.

heat for fermentation in beer making and other acts of

A stopper is made and sometimes decorations of beads are

transubstantiation.

added.

The three vessels in this catalog would all have been

Using the dried fruit shells of the marula tree was a

made in this way. While the Nyakusa and Fulani pots

popular form of snuff box as it was light and durable.

are left the color of the earth, the blackening of the beer

Some are left quite plain, but this second example has been

container from the KwaZulu-Natal region is to attract the

decorated with fine wirework in diamond patterns about

ancestors. In this region, the departed spirits are believed to

the body and a circlet of wire insets around its opening. Not

enjoy dark, cool spaces. This small beer pot is made for two

only decorative, the added copper or brass metal also added

reasons – the first is as a container in which a small offering

power and potency to the snuff container.

of beer is placed on the sacred family altar at the back of

Snuff taking was ubiquitous across the southern sub-

the home. Filled with tempting beer, it was hoped that the

continent with strict rules of etiquette governing its giving

ancestors would draw near and ‘sip’ from the offering. Its

and taking. Along with the consumption of meat and beer,

second purpose was to discourage unwelcome visitors from

snuff taking was an important part of celebrations and

staying for too long by offering them an obviously small

social gatherings, and, as mentioned above, it was enjoyed

portion of beer.

by the ancestors who, it was always hoped, would be present at these gatherings.

Snuff Boxes

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In the southern African region, the taking of snuff and the resultant sneezing were considered akin to a

The two small snuff containers in this catalog are

mini orgasm. It is also said that snuff-taking ‘cleared the

both southern African but from different regions. The

head’, making ancestral voices easier to hear and giving

zoomorphic, bovine formed container is from the Eastern

the imbiber a sense of elation. This heightened state of

Cape region, and the gourd example is from a wide area

consciousness was also considered a transformation, an

stretching from KwaZulu-Natal into Mozambique. Both are

elevation of spirit taking the user closer to their ancestors.

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Conclusion Ancestors, those departed but still vitally important family members, are venerated and revered by the surviving family members. The living needs to achieve an altered state of consciousness to hear their ancestors’ voices. While not all such states can be considered ‘dreams’ they are intrinsic to an extended notion of transcendence in which the living interact with the world beyond – a place where ancestral and other spirits dwell. It is a state much desired by the living as they are dependent on the ancestral guidance and good favor which, when secured, brings prosperity, fecundity, and a harmonious social state.

Dr. Ndubuisi C. Ezeluomba is the Curator of African Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. He specializes in the historic arts of Africa and the visual cultures of Olokun shrines and holds a PhD in art history from the University of Florida, Gainesville. While at UF he served as a research assistant at the Harn Museum of Art for the Kongo Across the Waters exhibition. Later Dr. Ezeluomba was the Andrew W. Mellon research specialist in African Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on a project that studied the African collection at the museum. Thereafter he was the Francois Billion Richardson Curator of African Art at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

This veneration, in which physical objects play an important part in the rituals that facilitate these interactions, in part explains their beauty not just to the eye but to the touch and in their conceptual considerations. As mentioned above all substances on earth are possessed of a ‘vitality’ that is present in the substances and objects themselves, enhanced by human agency, and given potency by ancestral presences.

References

David Chidester (2008) Dreaming in the Contact Zone: Zulu Dreams, Visions, and Religion in Nineteenth-Century South Africa. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Volume 76, Issue 1. John Mbiti (1969) African Religion and Philosophy. London. Heinemann Roy Sieber & Roslyn Adele Walker (1987) African Art in the Circle of Life. DC National Museum of African Art.

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DRUM / NDENDU MANGBETU, DR CONGO Late 19th century Wood Height: 18 in; Width: 35 in (45.7 cm x 88.9 cm) PROVENANCE

Former collection of the Dominican sisters of Namur, Brussels, brought back in 1934 Didier Claes, Brussels Private Collection, USA

In Western culture, drumming is most often related to entertainment. In Africa, drums hold a deeper significance, both symbolic and historical. They herald political and social events attending ceremonies of birth, death and marriage. They spark courtships, herald homecomings and departures, and accompany religious rites and rituals, calling up ancestral spirits. This fine Mangbetu slit drum shows an impressively strong silhouette in classic semicircular style, intensified by elongated points at the upper corners. In contrast to others of its type, which are adorned with decorative details applied with metal tacks, this drum features a smooth, unbroken surface design. With a dramatic fullness communicated in its weighty arc, the composition achieves a powerful sculptural minimalism. Slit drums (nedundu) were commonly used by the Mangbetu in communication, ceremony, and dance. They were slung over one shoulder when played, hung by a strong strap or cord through one of their rectangular suspension holes.

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ndendu

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ndendu


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PENELOPE STUT TERHEIME Shrine xviii Penelope Stutterheime’s abstract paintings depict inner landscapes, drawing inspiration from dreams and the exploration of the subconscious. There is a strong sense of rhythm inherent in her work, imparted through blocks of bright colour, which are remarkably similar in form to the suspension holes of the drum. The invocational, ceremonial use of the drum in linking this world to the next, the conscious to the unconscious, through sound is echoed in Stutterheime’s skillful control of colour which pulses through her compositions, linking her dreams and internal melodies to paintings that reverberate like a musical score.

Penelope Stutterheime (1958–) Shrine xviii, 2020 Oil on canvas 140 x 140 cm

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HEADREST / MUTSAGO SHONA, ZIMBABWE 19th century Wood Height: 5 ¼ in; Width: 6 in (13.33 cm x 15.25 cm) PROVENANCE

Jonathan Lowen, London Graham Beck, London Bonhams New York, Nov 2019

Masterful execution and a host of fine details distinguish this beautiful, classically composed Shona headrest. The crisp, densely bundled features at the heart of the support showcase the carver’s marvelous care and strength of design. Pairs of elegant, tessellated triangle motifs, placed point to point, adorn the top surface, echoing the abundant triangular and zigzag shapes found in the central body of the rest. Warm highlights accentuate every feature of this headrest and play subtly over its dark, handsome patina. The traditional circular motifs carved into this rest have been discussed by many scholars, and their symbolism is deeply connected with images and metaphors of the female. They may allude to female scarification marks and ndoro shells, calling to mind the ancestors and the women who guarantee fertility. Alternatively, they may suggest breasts, or perhaps the concentric ripples caused by a stone dropped into a body of water. Further references to the female are found in the form of the rest’s base, composed of two round, swelling disks joined by a triangular pubis. Ubiquitous in southern African societies, headrests were prized and revered as indispensable items, not only for their protection of carefully maintained coiffures during sleep but also in their spiritual role as conduits of communication with ancestor spirits.

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headrest

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mutsago

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TERESA FIRMINO African Émigré 2 Teresa Firmino combines elements of collage with paint in creating dream-like scenes, as if on a theatre stage or within a diorama. This work refers to a nightmare experienced by the artist, in which she encountered tall, malevolent spirits of the forest. Firmino then inserts a self-portrait into the work, positioned like a 1950’s pin-up model with blonde braids and an expression of discontent as she gestures toward the horizon. Firmino’s practice revolves around oral history and storytelling as a way of communicating the complexities of trauma experienced by the black female body. Through dreamscapes, Firmino explores her own personal experiences and histories of womanhood, alien-hood, motherhood, and migration in post-colonial contemporary African society. The Shona headrest acts as a conduit between this world and the next through dreams, but also acts as a functional object in the preservation of intricate hair styles. Firmino’s choice of blonde braids in this work intentionally nods to the contemporary conversations around the politics of black hair within Eurocentric systems and ideals of beauty. Teresa Firmino (1993–) African Émigré 2, 2021 Acrylic and collage on canvas 86 x 83 cm

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SNUFF CONTAINER WITH METAL INLAY NATAL–PONDOLAND BORDER/COLONY OF NATAL 19th century Gourd, copper and brass wire inlay Height: 2 ½ in, Width: 3 in (6.35 cm x 7.62 cm) PROVENANCE

Hubert Goldet, Paris de Ricqlès Auctioneers, Paris, France, ‘Arts Primitifs, Collection Hubert Goldet’, 2001 Axis Gallery, New Jersey

Snuff was an integral element in traditional societies across South Africa, used as a recreational indulgence but also as a medium for communication with the spirits of ancestors, who traditionally are responsible for the well-being, or misfortune, of their living kin. Diviners also used snuff to clear their heads in order to allow the spirits to enter and guide their augury. Ancestors were generally appealed to or appeased at ritual feasts, and ideally tobacco was a prerequisite of such a feast. At such gatherings, snuff would be laid out for the spirits as it would be for living guests. With snuff in such continual demand, it was carried by many in small, portable containers that took on a panoply of creative forms. The elegant snuff container shown here, crafted from a gourd, features a careful application of classic Zulu wirework designs, all deployed to excellent effect. Placed with an expert eye for understated beauty, brass rings and diamond motifs provide a lovely set of accents, contrasting handsomely with the gourd’s dark surface. To make these delicate patterns, brass or copper wire was cut into small strips, turned at right angles at both ends, and then pushed into the still-drying gourd.

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SETLAMORAGO MASHILO Bafaladi 1 Setlamorago Mashilo’s practice is principally concerned with matters of land, its history and value in both ancient and contemporary society. Featuring expansive landscapes, hills and fields filled with crops intersected by tar roads, Mashilo’s charcoal and ink drawings celebrate the land which feeds the nation, and reveal the histories and conflicts over it. The fertile lands of Southern Africa have been the occupation of generations of farmers, be it tobacco for recreation, maize for subsistence, grasses for animal feed and weaving, and, in turn, the land has also been occupied by subsequent generations of foreign settlers. The smoking fires on the horizon remind us of the brutal cycles of life, where destruction and desolation are often precursors of vital new growth. As the smoke wafts into the skies, connecting the earth with the heavens, and the road stretches infinitely ahead, Mashilo prompts us with the title of the work, Bafaladi meaning ‘migrant people’, to consider the land as the source of life, but also a pathway to meaning and connection to sacred spaces beyond it. The portable nature of the snuff container alludes to the movement of peoples and goods, but the tobacco which it contains performs the essential role of connecting people with their ancestors for guidance and protection as they cultivate the Setlamorago Mashilo (1987–) Bafaladi 1, 2021 Charcoal and ink on arches paper 81 x 121 cm

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SNUFF BOX / QHAGA LAMANYANA MFENGU, AMAXHOSA, ABATHEMBU OR MPONDO, EASTERN CAPE 19th century Animal parings (hide scrapings, clay and blood mixture) Height: 3 ½ in, Length: 5 ½ in (8.89 cm x 13.97 cm) PROVENANCE

Private European collection Agnes Woliner, Galerie Aethiopia, Paris, 2003

This rare and lovely sheep-shaped snuff container is one of only a few known examples of its type. To create this figure, a special mixture of hide scrapings was first worked over a sculpted core of clay. Allowed to dry to the consistency of leather, the surface was then picked with a sharp implement to produce the pointed protrusions. This raised pattern is reminiscent of the Zulu amasumpa motif, which symbolizes herds of cattle – perhaps the ultimate icon of temporal wealth and ancestral influence for the tribes of South Africa. An excellently crafted piece such as this would have carried with it powerful indications of status. It has been suggested that these objects were made from the hides of animals that had been offered to ancestors, thus giving them talismanic properties.

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SETLAMORAGO MASHILO Pudi Ya Phooko An integral part of the farming practices in Southern Africa is the controlled burning of farmland to purge the land of dead plant matter and prompt new growth. Setlamorago Mashilo collected fragments of burned wood and plant matter after a fire on his farm and assembled the pieces into lively figures of goats. The sculptures were then cast in bronze using the traditional lost wax process – creating a rendering of the fragile black wood in luminous bronze metal. Goats are a common domestic farm animal found across the African continent, symbolizing vitality and hardiness and often performing a sacrificial role as an offering to the ancestors for rains, which cleanse the land and ready the soils for new crops. Mashilo’s goat figure, composed of fragile charred remnants of wood, is a contemporary offering of appeasement to a society becoming gradually divorced and disenfranchised from the land that forms the very basis for its existence.

Setlamorago Mashilo (1987–) Pudi Ya Phooko, 2021 Bronze, ed 3/10 32 x 40 x 27 cm

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MASK / GUNYE GE DAN, LIBERIA Late 19th/early 20th century Wood, fibers Height: 8 ½ in; Width: 4 in (21.6 cm x 10.16 cm) PROVENANCE

Ex Myron Kunin, Minneapolis Private US Collection

Dan masks are embodiments of gle or ge, discorporate spirits who wish to communicate with and aid human communities but who lack a physical form. Through messages in dreams they inspire artists to create masks which they can occupy, effectively materializing them in the human world and allowing them to achieve their desires through the medium of masquerade. This mask is referred to as gunye ge and appears for the running of ritual races. This example is a classic example of its type, featuring a delicate oval face dominated by wide, circular, staring eyes that afford clear vision to the runner. Its other trademarks – a high, prominent brow, pointed nose and full lips – are here joined by a full and wellpreserved beard. Warm highlights to the mask’s dark patina accentuate the structures of mouth, nose and eyes and bring increased dimensionality to an already outstanding piece of canonical Dan carving.

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GUY FERRER Mamouna Guy Ferrer is deeply inspired by ancient African artifacts, which he collects and cherishes and inspires his multidisciplinary practice. Born in Algeria and based in France, Ferrer draws inspiration from ancient history and societies across the world; the title of this work, Mamouna, references the Arabic work for ‘blessed’ or ‘auspicious’. Ferrer combines oil paint with sand and pigment to create paintings with clay-like surfaces, often depicting sacred forms reminiscent of pottery, gourds, masks, and mythical figures. Ferrer’s paintings are occupied by lexicons of ancient spiritual imagery as the artist enacts the role of an ‘oracle’ – performing as a medium between spirit and man, channeling the intangible into the creation of the physical. The very making of the Dan mask requires the artist to be inspired by the discorporate spirits, Ferrer’s practice is remarkably similar, working as a medium between the visible and non-visible.

Guy Ferrer (1955–) Mamouna, 2014 Mixed media on linen canvas 195 x 152 cm

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ENGRAVED CAT TLE HORNS ZULU KINGDOM / KINGDOM OF NATAL 19th century Cattle horn pair, mounted on a 19th century wood trophy plaque Height: 12 in; Width: 50 in (30.5 cm x 127 cm) PROVENANCE

Finch & Co, London

According to Tim Maggs, author of ‘A Glimpse of Colonial Life through Zulu Eyes: 19th century Engraved Horns from Natal,’ this pair of cattle horns appear to be the earliest surviving items from the nineteenth century depicting colonial life from a Zulu viewpoint. The graphics on the horns illustrate ranks of marching British soldiers, steam locomotives, and other scenes of a rapidly changing and tumultuous cultural landscape. Only a few other examples are known to exist, including a pair in the British Museum, London, a single horn in the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC and a fine pair at the Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, acquired from Jacaranda, New York. To execute these unusual works of art, the horn surface was first scraped smooth to create an even background for the engravings. Thousands of finely incised lines were etched into the smooth horns, then blackened, probably with a mixture of soot and fat. This technique was known amongst Nguni carvers and is found on objects like snuff spoons and combs. Cows are the object of deep reverence in some southern African societies. Beyond their significance as physical symbols of material wealth, cattle are the repository of memory and history. They are also the principal offering in funerary rituals concerning ancestors. In Sepedi belief systems, according to PhD candidate Uhuru Phalafala, ‘the cow’s function is to connect, to bridge, to invoke. Cows exist in a liminal space between the human and the divine, the physical and the spiritual, the alive and the ancestors, the worldly and the universal.’

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DANIEL NAUDE Xhosa Bull on the shore. Kiwane Over the course of a decade, Daniel Naude travelled to the Wild Coast of Southern Africa, the ancestral home of the Xhosa people, to photograph the renowned herds of cattle which traverse the lush, forested hillsides and rugged beaches of the area. Naude’s ‘portraits’ capture the subtleties of animal expression, the flick of ear, the shifting of a leg, the stillness of a soft gaze, and reconnect us with the ancient relationship between man and beast. The location of these cattle is also significant; in 1856 a Xhosa prophet named Nongqawuse, received a message from her ancestors telling her to rid the land of European settlers. They instructed her to tell the community to slaughter all their cattle in order to cleanse the land, allowing the ancestors to sweep the settlers back into the sea. Her followers did as they were told but the prophecy did not materialise, a famine struck the Xhosa nation, and the settlers remained. Cattle are often acknowledged for their sacred and sacrificial roles in African society, but they are also intricately linked to the histories of colonialism and European occupation. The engraved cattle horns from the Zulu kingdom demonstrate the colossal impact these settlers had on the people and land Daniel Naude (1984–) Xhosa Bull on the shore. Kiwane, Eastern Cape, South Africa, 12 April 2018 C-Print, Lightjet on Kodak Professional Endura Premier paper, ed 3/3 150 x 150 cm

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of Southern Africa, they are exquisite historical records of a period of great change.


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SHIELD FOR INITIATION / NDOME KIKUYU, KENYA First half 20th century Wood, pigments Height: 26 ½ in; Width: 19 in (67.3 cm x 48.3 cm) PROVENANCE

Private US collection

This leaf-shaped dance shield is known as ndome and is used in boys’ coming-of-age ceremonies among the Kikuyu people of central Kenya. When worn, the left arm is slipped through the ring at the base of the shield and the shield itself stands high above the head of the dancer. The ndome symbolizes the warrior status the boy is about to acquire through the rites of initiation, and the polychrome designs carved in relief on either side relate to those with which he will decorate his future war shield, signaling his local origin and affiliation to a particular initiation cohort. Characteristic features of the ndome are a series of serrated grooves in the form of a crescent on the reverse side and a small, eye-shaped hole in the center through which the dancer may peer. Patterns on the obverse side traditionally followed the shape of an eye or eyelid. The soft, pale, minimally embellished front surface of the present shield contrasts exquisitely with the highly detailed and visually intense sawtooth patterning on the back side. Craftsmen called muumburo or the initiates themselves scraped, redesigned, and repainted these shields, which the initiates customarily inherited as treasured heirlooms from older male members of their family.

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LUCINDA MUDGE Lookie, Lookie ‘Lookie Lookie’ is a quintessential example of Lucinda Mudge’s hand-built vases. Its classical form stands in contrast to the bold colour and eccentric incised ‘eye’ motifs. Immediately evocative of female anatomy, the gold-rimmed eyes look directly outwards towards the viewer: confrontational, extravagant, feminine. The vase has long occupied a place within households as both a work of art and functional object, often passed down through generations as an item with sentimental value, an heirloom. ‘Lookie Lookie’ defies any functional role and asserts itself as a purely decorative object. The aesthetic conversation between ‘Lookie Lookie’ and the Kikuyu Shield is immediately obvious. Interestingly, they symbolise the inverse of each other. The shield’s role in confirming the warrior status of a young boy through its use in comingof-age ceremonies stands in contrast to the vase’s fiercely feminine motifs. The careful craftsmanship of both objects belies the artists’ commitment to creating objects of cultural value, with the intention for display and to be treasured for generations to come. Lucinda Mudge (1979–) Lookie, Lookie, 2020 Ceramic 32.5 x 30 x 31.5 cm

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HELMET MASK MENDE, SIERRA LEONE Late 19th/early 20th century Wood, metal Height: 15 in; Width: 8 in (38.1 cm x 20.3 cm) PROVENANCE

Charles Derby Collection, USA E X H I B I T I O N H I S TO R Y

Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, MA 1995 Middlebury College Museum of Art, Vermont 1996 Museum of Contemporary Art, University of Massachusetts, MA 2017

Mende society is governed by a number of esoteric associations, foremost among which are the Sande women’s society and Poro men’s society. Both prepare young initiates for adulthood and make extensive use of masking. The helmet mask presented here, known as ndoli jowei, represents a Sande guardian spirit. From generation to generation, such masks served to induct the new adults of the tribe into the next chapter of their lives, welcoming them to fully embrace the knowledge and lineage of their ancestors. This fine, early example presents a dense composition of closely packed forms, alternately sharp and softly undulating. The comely smoothness of the high forehead, broad face and bunched neck rings (a feature the Mende view as a sign of prosperity, fertility and beauty) contrasts wonderfully with the tightly ridged texture of the elaborate coiffure. A sumptuous black patina provides ample highlights which delineate and emphasize the complex interplay of shapes at work in this magnificently carved helmet mask.

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BLESSING NGOBENI Bleeding Tribal Influence Blessing Ngobeni’s complex paintings speak to the problematic truths of contemporary, post-colonial Africa. The scars of South Africa’s particularly violent and complicated history are barely healed, and ‘Bleeding Tribal Influence’ is an expression of the toxic legacy of tribal battles – often instigated and manipulated by colonial occupiers for political ends. Ngobeni paints marionette-like characters filled with collage assembled from magazines and newspapers, embedding current affairs and contemporary visual culture into surreal images of figures dancing, warring, or protesting. Ngobeni often burns ‘imphepho’ in the studio while he works, it is a dried herb commonly used in traditional African medicine and the smoke is said to repel negative energy and invite communication from the ancestors. Blessing mixes the ashes of the imphepho into his paint, creating a subtly gritty texture to the surface of the work and embedding this sacred plant into his compositions. Ngobeni offers his observations and warnings to his audience, to break the mechanisms and systems of colonialism that no longer serve a democratic and economically inclusive nation. Ngobeni’s figures often possess both male and female genitalia, multiple limbs and pregnant bellies – his characters are saturated with potent imagery and poetic meaning. Ngobeni’s art serves a role in revealing the unpleasant truths about our society, presented in a way that is nuanced and multi-layered and embraces Blessing Ngobeni (1985–) Bleeding Tribal Influence, 2019 Diptych

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the traditions and histories of South African people. In fact, is it similar to the role of the Mende mask in the initiation of new adults into the next chapter of their lives, enabling

Mixed media on canvas

them to connect fully to generations of knowledge and

240 x 145 cm per panel

ancestral history through an aesthetic device.

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SANZA LUBA, DR CONGO Late 19th century Wood, metal Height: 8 in; Width: 5 ½ in (20.3 cm x 14 cm) PROVENANCE

JJ Klejman Martin and Faith-Dorian Wright, New York City

Sanzas, also referred to as lamellophones, mbiras or ‘thumb pianos,’ have been played on the African continent for centuries. Traditionally, the music of the sanza accompanies recitations of oral histories and stories of the ancestors, its repetitive melodies attracting and welcoming the spirits. Many sanzas feature elegant carvings and symbolic motifs meant to honor the ancestors. Prominent figural busts are a familiar motif, as embodied in the pair of heads found in the present example. Carved with strong, stylized features and mounted side by side above the deep inward sweep of the instrument’s flanks, these two busts may represent an ancestral couple.

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MMAKGABO MMAPULA HELEN SEBIDI She is Greeting Mmakgabo Mmapula Helen Sebidi is a doyenne of South African art history, collected by museums and institutions across the world. She paints and sculpts fervently, fuelled by her desire to communicate ancient knowledge and spiritual guidance to generations of South Africans who have abandoned tradition in favor of capitalism, Western culture, and globalization. ‘She is Greeting’ embodies Sebidi’s own channeling of her ancestors, a critical component of her artistic practice, who both inspire and guide her as she works. The female figure kneels as if in prayer, greeting spirits beyond our physical world and inviting them into her presence. The striking aesthetic parallels between Sebidi’s sculpture and the Luba Sanza are evident, the waistlike shape of the Sanza echoes the feminine silhouette of Sebidi’s figure, the folds of her skirt rippling down like the fanned tines of the instrument. They share the sacred role of welcoming and honouring the ancestors into the physical realm. Mmakgabo Mapula Helen Sebidi (1943–) She is Greeting, 2015–16 Bronze, ed 2/3 148 x 70 x 85 cm

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LIDDED VESSEL ZULU KINGDOM / KINGDOM OF NATAL 19th century Wood, pokerwork Height: 16 1/8 in; Width: 9 ¾ in (41 cm x 24.8 cm) PROVENANCE

William Moore, Los Angeles Merton Simpson, New York The Conru Collection, Brussels Private collection, Belgium P U B L I C AT I O N H I S TO R Y

The Art of Southeast Africa, pp 55, 182 no 2.

This container, with its precise decoration and matching lid, manifests a profound clarity of form. Its elegant shape approximates an ovoid sphere with a sleekly swelling body supported by three small legs. These enhance the sense of satiation, of being well-filled, appearing to buckle slightly in response to the suggested weight from above. Further amplifying the sense of tumescence is the finely carved, striated pattern that articulates its surface. Exactingly wrought, the interlaced and grooved design is more precisely executed than other vessels with similar surface carvings. It is likely that this pattern is a simulation of a basket-weave following the southern African skeuomorphic tradition where one form imitates another. This container and one in the Art Institute of Chicago are two of the finest extant examples of this style of lidded vessel. There is a third in the Brenthurst Collection held at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, and these may have been carved by the same hand or family workshop. The exceedingly fine workmanship of this vessel suggests it was owned by a high-status individual. It may have contained snuff, a substance which played an important social role in southern Africa as a gift to the living as well as the spirits of the ancestors.

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LUCINDA MUDGE After Catteau II ‘After Catteau II’ is a homage to the Franco-Belgian ceramist Charles Catteau, famous for his Art Deco ceramics featuring stylised decorative motifs derived from nature and inspired by African and Japanese artistic traditions. It is indeed possible that Catteau was inspired by objects similar to the Zulu lidded vessel, whose complex decorative patterns and motifs inspired by grasses and weaving were admired by artists and collectors alike. The vase features layers of overlapping leaf and petal motifs, surmounted by a gilded, barbed wire fence – a mechanism commonly seen in South Africa to secure boundary walls from intruders. The presence of barbed wire implies something worth protecting, something valuable within, much like the complex incisions and decoration of the Zulu lidded vessel. However, Mudge’s vases are not functional objects and are not valued for what they contain, but by the desirability of their form and decoration alone.

Lucinda Mudge (1979–) After Catteau II, 2014 Ceramic, gold luster 54 x 28 x 28 cm

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BEER VESSEL / UKHAMBA KWAZULU-NATAL, SOUTH AFRICA Potter: Thembi Nala 20th century Earthenware clay with burnished surface Height: 12 in; Diameter: 12 in (30 cm x 30 cm) PROVENANCE

Frank Jolles, South Africa Private Collection, USA

Zulu women traditionally brewed beer (utshwala) from sorghum. After being cooked and fermented in a large clay vessel, the final product was filtered through a grass sieve and served in an ukhamba, or beer pot. Ukhamba are shaped with the coil method, then smoothed, incised, indented or embossed with geometric patterns, and finally fired, which hardens the clay and darkens its surface. The black, lustrous finish of this ukhamba is contrasted beautifully by the addition of a single, bold ring of strongly pointed amasumpa motifs encircling the upper half of the vessel. Embellishment of pots in this way was decorative, but also a matter of utility, providing the holder a firm grip. For the Zulu people, brewing and drinking beer encompassed more than mundane considerations. The sharing of beer played a central role in familial ceremonies and the life of communities. It was offered to the spirits of the ancestors, who were always close at hand and whose goodwill it was important to cultivate. For a successful brew, ‘living water’ would be sourced from a running stream, spring, or just below a waterfall to ensure the involvement of the ancestors in the entire process and product.

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MMAKGABO MMAPULA HELEN SEBIDI Manhood Helen Sebidi’s allegorical painting, ‘Manhood’, depicts two elder men sitting beside a cat-like ancestral spirit guide, while a group of young male initiates are positioned behind them. Sebidi often paints the eyes of her subjects in two colours, red and blue, symbolizing those who have fallen from tradition into modern ways of life. The men have a beer vessel between them, an offering to the ancestors in order to access the spirit beside them. A vast landscape surrounds the group, as they sit in deep discussion and engage with a ritual that has been, and still is, a decisive moment in a young man’s life within his community. The men sit in modern dress, an observation and perhaps a critique of the invasion of European culture into even the most ancient and traditional rites of passage. However, the spirit is present and seems to be holding the sun itself, the connection to the ancestors has been made. The painting depicts the role of a beer vessel, similar in form to the Nyakyusa example, in traditional ceremony but also shares a reference to the rising or setting sun. As a part of their initiation into manhood, the initiates will be expected to live outdoors, guided by the rising and setting sun, as they Mmakgabo Mapula Helen Sebidi (1943–) Manhood, 2015–16 Acrylic on canvas 199 x 199 cm

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connect to their ancestors and transition into manhood.


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BEER VESSEL NYAKYUSA, NORTHERN TIP OF LAKE MALAWI, SOUTHERN TANZANIA 20th century Earthenware clay with burnished surface Height: 11 in; Diameter: 17 in (27.9 cm x 43.2 cm) PROVENANCE

David Roberts, 2008 Bill Simmons, Mexico

Few art practices have the power to connect us to our forebears more than the creation of ceramic vessels. The ancient process of shaping earth into a beautiful and utilitarian form is part of our collective heritage and draws an unbroken line to our archaic beginnings. Nyakyusa potters crafted fine vessels such as the present example for the fermentation and storage of beer. An embodiment of beauty in simplicity, its form confidently balances generous interior capacity with a taut, parabolic poise in its silhouette. Warm bands of reddish ochre pigment encircle the lip and upper half of the vessel, between them running a recurring arch motif (mahena) that calls to mind the image of a rising or setting sun.

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BONGISWA NTOBELA UBUHLE BEADS Nguni I This large-scale, beaded panel was created by artist Bongiswa Ntobela, a founding member and master beader of the Ubuhle Bead group in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. A great bull, possibly an Ankole, is rendered in glass beads carefully sewn onto cotton. The bull is suspended in a celestial sky filled with Mpondo Xhosa symbols and shapes. The artistic tradition of beadwork was primarily a female occupation, as was (and is today) the brewing of beer. Fine pots were also made by women to contain and share the beer once brewed, and the Zulu beer vessels are celebrated for their sublime simplicity of form and restrained decoration. This example features the ‘amasumpa’ design, depicting a circle of life or a line of cattle as a symbol of wealth and good fortune. The contributions of women’s work to the aesthetic traditions of Zulu and Xhosa societies are evident in both pieces, with the cow as the central motif that binds and inspires subsequent generations of artists as a symbol of prosperity and a connection to the ancient culture. Bongiswa Ntobela Ubuhle Beads (21st century) Nguni I, 2009 Beaded panel 140 x 217 cm

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WATER VESSEL FULANI, NIGER 20th century Earthenware clay with burnished surface Height: 17 in; Diameter: 13 in (43 cm x 33 cm) PROVENANCE

Oussien Issa, 1998 Bill Simmons, Mexico

Earthen water jars such as this Fulani vessel have been crafted for untold millennia, their archetypal form one of humanity’s most fundamental artistic ideas. Some of their uses have changed over the span of centuries, but some remain, including the most ancient of all: the storing of water. This water jar, with its full, egg-shaped form, bright yellow ochre color and decorated with two scorch marks could very well closely resemble one made by a Fulani potter countless generations ago. Its beauty and qualities are simply timeless.

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NANDIPHA MNTAMBO Illumination I Nandipha Mntambo’s paintings are evocative landscapes inspired by the curves of the human body – an ear, a shoulder, a hip. These curves, when examined as contours, as line, invoke the monumental sense of landscape and rolling hills, or waves. There is a sense of the sublime, the scale of what we see is not immediately obvious and looms mysteriously. The orange sky is also ambiguous, one is presented with a sunset or sunrise or perhaps an entirely different planet altogether. Aesthetically, it is colour and line which link these two objects. The pregnant curves of the Fulani water vessel are reminiscent of the crescent shape depicted in Mntambo’s painting, the simplicity of that curved line captures a sense of abundance, softness, femininity. The ochre and black pigments root the objects to the terrain, earth and fire, and the vessel carries the lifegiving substance of water.

Nandipha Mntambo (1982–) Illumination I, 2021 Oil and gold leaf on canvas 170 x 170 cm

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FEMALE FIGURE AKAN, GHANA Late 19th/early 20th century Wood, cloth, fiber, beads Height: 11 in; Width: 3 in (28 cm x 7.6 cm) PROVENANCE

Max Itzkovitz, Paris Dr. Hans-Jochen Krüger, Hamburg Private Dutch collection Gallery Nies, Eindhoven Dorotheum, Vienna, 2021

Embodying Akan ideals of beauty and maternal suitability, this stately female figure represents and houses a spirit wife (blolo-bia). Spirit spouses are invisible mates who live in the supernatural otherworld, the domain of yet-unborn children and the deceased. When carving a form for a spirit spouse, the artist will abide by certain canonical ideals of physical desirability. The figure presented here illustrates them closely: an indrawn, downcast gaze; shapely hips; carefully coiffed hair; and full breasts. The deep black pigmentation is notable, as well as the ridged neck rings – both desirable physical attributes for the Akan. Around the figure’s waist is a low-hanging belt, and a necklace curves across its breasts, which it supports and offers with both hands. The childbearing and nurturing power of women was of paramount importance for the Akan, a profoundly matrilineal culture, and they enshrined their image of motherhood in beautiful sculptures such as this one.

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NANDIPHA MNTAMBO Agoodjie This set of maquettes for the pair of monumental Agoodjie sculptures by Nandipha Mntambo depict the artist’s imagining of her herself as the Agoodjie. Based on the history of a female royal guard in the Dahomey Kingdom of Benin, established in the 17th century. The kingdom was fighting a protracted war, led by their king who had a twin sister. He died suddenly due to illness and his sister decided to impersonate him, conclude the war and lead the kingdom without disruption, but this required changing his guard to an all-female regiment who were sworn to protect her from any male relative seeking power. The regiment lasted throughout her reign, and through reigns of subsequent kings as an elite and fierce army – and easily disguised themselves as civilian women should they need to operate covertly. There are few images or accessible records about the Agoodjie, the history is shrouded in secrecy within Benin, and the artist had to combine her research with elements of her imagination as she devised the costumes, weapons and performance of these two warrior figures. There is a strong sense of duality: twins, male and female, sister and soldier, fact and fiction. The Akan figure also presents a duality, two entities within one object, sculpture and spirit wife. The Akan figure embodies the desirability of the female form, and celebrates its live-giving role, whereas Nandipha Mntambo (1982–) Agoodjie Pair Maquettes, 2021 Bronze, ed 7/10 62 x 50 x 90 cm

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the Agoodjie use their female form to disguise their role as warriors.


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MASK / KPELIYE’E SENUFO, CÔTE D’IVOIRE Early 20th century Wood, remains of string Height: 13 ½ in; Width: 6 ½ in (34.3 cm x 16.5 cm) PROVENANCE

JJ Klejman Martin and Faith-Dorian Wright, New York City

Throughout the twentieth century, members of the powerful Poro society, a Senufo initiation association, wore elaborately carved face masks to signify their affiliation and their grades. The masks, known as kpeliye’e, feature tapered oval faces with layers of geometric and horned projections around their perimeters. Raised and incised scarification patterns ornament their surfaces. Considered feminine, the masks honor deceased Senufo elders with their grace and beauty. The present mask shows the hallmarks of kpeliye’e carving, with a domed forehead, horizontal eye slits under arched brows, dramatically tapered chin, open mouth, and a number of flanges and horn-like structures framing the face. Atop the head is a prominent crest, studded with two vertical rows of points.

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NORMAN CATHERINE Honcho 1 Norman Catherine’s iconic visual language combines anthropomorphic figures with cartoon-like depictions of people. Working through some of the most dramatic decades of South Africa’s political history, Catherine’s work reflects the triumphs and traumas of the new South Africa with an obvious sense of humour and penchant for the bizarre. His totem sculptures depict man and beast masquerading as each other, they blend and merge into one another in a state of eternal metamorphosis. Catherine is well-known for his highly detailed bronzes, he carefully marks the surface of each work with tiny incisions, creating a soft skin-like texture. His figures often bear visible scars, rendered in cartoonish fashion with crude stitches, indications of hardship and past battles. Aesthetically, the prominent use of carving and incision to decorate the skin and surface of the mask resonates strongly with the sculptural practice of Norman Catherine, they share hornlike projections and a strong vertical composition. The sense of masquerade in Catherine’s work stands in direct contrast to the Senufo mask; one is a critique of masculine structures of power, the other is a celebration of status and honorific of deceased Senufo elders through powerful feminine symbolism. Norman Catherine (1949–) Honcho 1, 2018 Bronze, ed 3/15 40.5 x 10 x 10.5 cm

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ENGRAVED OSTRICH EGGSHELL /XAM, NORTHERN CAPE 20th century Ostrich egg shell, black ash or charcoal Height: 6 in; Width: 4 ½ in (15.2 cm x 11.4 cm) PROVENANCE

Private Collection, South Africa

Engraved, as well as unornamented, ostrich egg shells were part of the household items of nomadic communities in southern Africa from the Middle and Late Stone age up until the twentieth century. Their value initially lay in their nourishing contents but, once empty, the light, strong, and durable shell served as a container for that most precious commodity, water. There is an especially high frequency of these shells in archaeological excavations in arid areas such as the Northern Cape and southern Namibia. The designs adorning ostrich eggs were etched with a sharp implement, then blackened with ash. This example shows three quadrupedal animals, possibly mythic or dream creatures, drawn with hatched incisions and displaying both zoomorphic and vaguely insectile features. The largest of the trio is ridden by an abstracted human being. Above these figures floats an angular geometric design of unknown interpretation. The top of the egg is pierced by a small hole, which would have been sealed with a small stopper of wood, grass, or beeswax.

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LADY SKOLLIE Look Daddy! I’m A Snoek! ‘Look daddy! I’m a snoek!’ refers to a humorous viral video that circulated amongst South Africans in 2021. A little girl looks at herself through a mermaid filter on a cellphone, but instead of recognizing herself as a mermaid, she identifies herself as a snoek – a fish that is considered a culinary delicacy for the Coloured community of the Western Cape region of South Africa. This community is closely linked to the Khoi-San people of South Africa, and Lady Skollie shares this heritage. The artist extensively researches Khoi-San history and came across a rendering of an unusual Khoi-San rock painting depicting fish-tailed figures. These figures are recreated in her signature medium of wax crayon and ink and positioned within a cosmic egg. The significance of the egg is twofold: the cosmic egg connects to the spiritual mythologies and mysticism of the Khoi-San people, in addition to their use of the ostrich egg as a food source and, when emptied, a vessel to transport water. It is also important to note the economic history of ostrich farming in Southern Africa, in the late 19th century there was huge demand for ostrich feathers in European women’s fashion and many Coloured farmers benefitted financially from the enormous trade in feathers despite their widespread subjugation under colonial rule. The /Xam example demonstrates the value of these eggs both functionally, as a lifegiving source of food and water, and as decorative objects. Lady Skollie employs the motif to Lady Skollie (1987–) Look Daddy! I’m A Snoek!, 2021 Ink and crayon on paper 152 x 215 cm

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unravel the historical relationship between the Khoi-San and the ostrich, and connects with the ancient mysticism of her own ancestors.


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