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African Sculpture

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African Sculpture

February 9 – 28


Thirty-seven wood sculptures from ten countries including Mali, Ghana, Nigerian and the Republic of the Congo are represented in a loan exhibition from Philbrook Art Center, Tulsa. The collection was a gift to Philbrook by Mr. Lawrence Gussman of New York City. Among the African tribal sculptures in the show are Ashanti, Bambara, Basonge, Dan, Senufo and Yoruba works. The exhibition presents a survey of important African cultural contributions as providing a cross-section of the various styles and subjects of African American sculptural achievement.

Republic of Mali - Bambara Tribe

  • Boy’s Initiation Mask (N’tomo) – Human face with horns growing from side of head, with two female figures mounted over each eye and a horned animal figure with human face mounted on top. Wood, covered with cowrie shells and beads. H. 28 ½”. N’tomo was the guardian spirit of boys before they enter adult society. His function was to instill in the boys a sense of discipline.
  • Boy’s Initiation mask (N’tomo) - Human face with four horns. Wood, painted black, covered with cowrie shells. H. 22”. The N’tomo masks were widely varied in shape and the earlier types usually, were covered with cowrie shells.
  • Antelope Headdress (Tji Wara) – The antelope was the emblem of the Bambara tripe. Tji Wara was a half-human being in Bambara mythology sent by the Creator to instruct the Bambara in the cultivation of corn. The Bambara sculptors created many variations on the basic theme of the stylized antelope mane with its graceful radical design. The headdress was attached to basketwork caps and was worn with a fibre costume and face mask. The dance was performed in the fields to ensure fecundity and power for all living things. The dancers, from the young men’s society, carried staffs to help push themselves upward in antelope-like bounds. Wood, painted black, with small beads. H. 32”.

Republic of Upper Volta - Bobo Tribe

  • Headdress – Upper torso of female figure, with small standing male figure mounted on head. Wood, with traces of red and white paint. H. 37 ½”.

Republic of Liberia – Kran Tribe

  • Standing Female Ancestor (?) Figure. – Wood, stained black, with metal in-set teeth and tribal markings on chest, scarification marks under eyes, carved striated headdress. H. 21 ¼”.

Republic of Ivory Coast – Dan Tribe

  • Mask – wood stained black, with raffia beard, animal hair mustache and strip of red cloth on upper lip. H. 9 ¼” (not including beard).

Baule Tribe

  • Standing Male Fetish of Ancestor Figure – Bearded, with tribal scarification on neck and upper abdomen. Wood, stained black.  H. 17”.
  • Mask – Rare animalistic ceremonial mask, with large ears and teeth. Wood, painted black and white. H. 18”
  • Mask – Mask with human face and horns. Wood, stained black. H. 12 ½”.
  • Mask – Mask with tribal marks and unusual coiffure. Wood, stained black. H. 11”.
  • Mask – Mask with tribal scarification marks, topped by a decorative coiffure, or perhaps intended to represent ram’s horns. Wood, stained red and black. H. 11”.
  • Mask – Human features with escalloped area about the face, with two birds standing on top of the head. Wood, painted black, red, yellow and white. H. 15”.
  • Fetish Mask with Horns – This was prized by the tripe for its healing and protective qualities. Ivory. H. 8”.

Senufo Tribe

  • “Firespitter” Mask – This typical imaginatively constructed creature incorporates elements taken from the buffalo, the wart hog, the crocodile, the antelope, and includes small representations of a bird and a chameleon. They are often called “firespitter” masks because the dancers, wearing the mask with a raffia costume, emit sparks of fire through the jaws of the mask, with the aid of burning tinder. In some variations, like this one, there is a little cup at the top of the mask, which is filled with a special substance soused to guarantee the efficacy of the ritual, used in agricultural, initiatory and funeral ceremonies. Wood. L. 29 ½”.
  • Secret Society mask (type called “Kpélié”) – Mask has two small mask as ears and a crouched figure on top of the head, with raised welt patterns of tribal or ‘cast” makings. It is basically an ancestor mask, but may have several functions. It is used in the rites of the lo society, the most important socio-religious institution of the Senufo. The mask may be used in initiation ceremonies, at funerary rites and at harvest festivals, which thanks are given to ancestors who have helped to ensure the fertility of the fields. The human figure on top indicates that the mask belongs to a trader group. Typical of the Senufo face mask are the “legs” projection below the chin, the original meaning of which is now know. Wood stained black. H. 16”.
  • Secret Society Mask (Kpélié) – This mask is basically like No. 15, with the addition of ram’s horns and a bird sitting on the head, indication that it belonged to the blacksmith group. Wood, stained black. H. 17”.

Guro Mask

  • Initiation Mask – The Guro, Ivory Coast neighbors of the Senufo, sometimes produced masks quite similar in style to the Senufo (compare with Nos. 15 and 16). The mask has a carved human head on top, facial tribal marks, and “legs”. Wood, stained black. H. 15 ½”.
  • Zamle Secret Society Mask – Square-faced mask, representing a highly stylized antelope with heavy striated horns, puffed cheeks and square eye sockets with projecting eyes. Wood, polychromed black, red and white. H. 21”. This type of mask was worn by members of the Zamle Secret society in dances to ensure the fertility of the fields.

Republic of Ghana – Ashanti Tribe

  • Standing Male Figure – Possible early western influence evidenced by short pants and belt, by traditional neck and facial scars. Wood, with black paint. H. 11 ½”.

Ebri Tribe

  • Seated Female Figure (holding one breast). – Body scarification and elaborate coiffure. Wood, stained black. 13 ½”.

Epublic of Nigeria – Yoruba Tribe

  • Gelede Society Mask – the Gelede is a men’s increase society which presents plays at an annual celebration and at the members’ funerals. The dancers wear bright strips of cloth, and wearing the masks flat on their heads, use fluttering movements like birds in the dace. Wood, painted black and pink. H. 13”.
  • Gelede Society Mask- Like No. 21, this masks is worn on top of the head and possibly represents the head of a bearded spirit, with long pointed ears joined by a bowknot. Wood, stained brown, black and white. H. 12 ½”.

Ibo Tribe

  • Standing Pregnant Female – Figure with three faces, each with tribal scarification. Each arm is carved in the shape of a child, one of which bears facial scars. Wood, stained black. H. 16 ½”.

Republic of Cameroon

  • Standing Female Ancestor Figure – Figure with protruding umbilicus and geometric body scars, typical headdress of the grasslands areas. Unpainted wood. H. 16 ½”.
  • Mask – Large human face with prominent teeth, crowned with six decorated angular projections supporting an oval platform. Wood, stained black. H. 20 ½.”

Republic of Gabon – Ogowe River Arena

  • “Ghost” Mask- So-called “Ghost” masks appear in the rituals of several tribes, and are used in various ways. In one tribe they are worn in dances honoring ancestral spirits. In another tribe, they are used in a ritual dramatizing the ceremonial transition of youths to manhood at puberty as “death” and “rebirth”. Youths wear the ghost sage. After a course of instruction and ordeals, conducted by priests wearing grotesque masks of various emanations of the guiding spirit, they emerge at the other end of the passage. In the final ceremony they cast aside the ghost masks of ceremonial death which concealed them, to assume their identities as adults with the full responsibilities of manhood, and receive a small ivory carving of the ghost mask as a badge of initiation. Wood, coated with clay, blue inverted triangle design on forehead, black horn-like forms. H. 11 ½”.
  • Ghost Mask- Wood, painted white and black, with full raffia beard. H. 13” (not including beard).
  • Mask – Mask with animal horn headdress. Wood, with face stained black. H. 16”.

Republic of the Congo – Bateke Tribe

  • Male Fetish Figure- essentially cylindrical trunk and head topped with crest. Spade beard and vertical facial striations. Such statuettes were carved at eh birth of a male child to protect the child. Like this example, they usually had a cavity hollowed out of the belly or had fetish material fastened on with clay or pitch. Originally this piece was so covered around the center, enclosing a receptacle which probably contained the placenta of a male child. Traces of clay covering are still evident. Unpainted wood. H. 16 ½”.
  • Mask with Curved Horns – This type of diamond shaped mask was adapted from the neighboring Bapende tripe. Wood, painted brown and white. H. 15”.
  • Mask – masks like this are worn in plays celebration the end of the  initiation school. They are worn by men in a completely male ceremony in which masked characters representing cultural heroes, animals and village notables dance in turn. Other masks are worn by the older men and represent the ancestral spirits. Wood, painted orange-red, traces of black and white, with raffia string and woven fibre headdress. H. 9” (not including headdress).

Basonge Tribe

  • Standing Fetish Figure- Angular face with wooden insert in top of head, arms in position of supplication. Various ingredients, including the bile of sorcerers, were inserted into the crown and sometimes the pauch of Basonge fetishes. The magical combinations were thought to be useful in curing illness, promoting wealth, or killing enemies. Wood, with raffia skirt, traces of red andn white paint on wooden insert plug. H. 17 ½”.
  • Standing Male Fetish Figure – Wood, stained black, with animal skin used to simulate human hair and loincloth. Fetish material around waist, wooden necklace around neck. H. 14”.
  • Standing Pregnant Female Fetish Figure – Small tuft of animal skin (or tail) attached to top of head. Animal skin fetish material tied below breasts. Hands resting on swollen abdomen. Wood, stained black, with wooden beads around neck, metal tacks on nose, forehead and red cheeks. H. 17 ½”.
  • Standng Pregnant Female Fetish Figure – Similar to No. 34. H. 19 ½”.

Babindji (?) Sub-Tribe of Bakuba

  • Mask – Anglar face, circular protruding eyes with holes drilled around circumference of eye socket. Two holes in narrow space between nose and chin serve as the mouth. Wood, with traces of black and white paint. H. 11”.

Republic of Mozambique – Makonde Tribe

  • Standing Female Figure – Arms carved separately and attached by nails. Tribal scarifications marks burnt in wood in circle, crescent and dot patterns. Small metal bracelet on left arm. Wood, painted brown on hair and nipples. H. 23 ½”.