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Senufo female statue (deble), ivory coast or burkina faso

The Kunin Senufo Female Statue By Heinrich Schweizer Prologue The Kunin Senufo Female Statue, created by a Senufo artist from Ivory Coast in the 19th or early 20th century, is one of the most iconic African sculptures. With its minimalist lines it visualizes the concept of timeless female beauty. One of the greatest achievements of man in the sculptural representation of the human form, the Kunin statue transcends the corpus of African art and is best described as a masterpiece of world art. Before Myron Kunin, the Senufo Female Statue belonged to some of the greatest collectors of African art of the 20th century, including the psychiatrist and influential author Werner Muensterberger, the curator and theorist William Rubin, and the artist Armand Arman. Over the last sixty years, the Senufo Female Statue has been exhibited in many of the most important museums worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, The National Museum of African Art in Washington, and the Fondation Beyeler in Basel. Published countless times, including in the most important reference books on African art, the Kunin Senufo Female Statue is one of the most widely recognized works of African art. Cultural Context In her discussion of the cultural context of Senufo statuary at the occasion of the exhibition Genesis: Ideas of Origin in African Sculpture at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, LaGamma (2002: 30 et seq.) explains: "According to the Senufo account of genesis, Kolotyolo, the creator, gave life to the first man and woman, who became the first human couple. The woman conceived and gave birth to twins, a girl and a boy. [...] The ideal of human male-female duality [...] also informs Senufo conceptions of the divine, especially the bipartite deity that is central to Senufo religious belief. Kolotyolo, the male aspect of divinity responsible for creation and 'bringing us forth,' is a benevolent but relatively remote presence who is balanced by a more accessible female dimension known as Katyeleeo, or Ancient Mother. She is a divine protectress responsive to the needs of the community. Within Senufo society, an optimal relationship with this divinity and the ancestors is assured through Poro, an initiation-based organization whose teachings also prepare members for responsible and enlightened leadership. Participation in Poro is universal among Senufo males, who safeguard their community's social and political welfare by making frequent sacrifices to the ancestors - conceived as past children of Ancient Mother - so that they may intercede on behalf of her current, living children. "A Senufo village is composed of a series of residential settlements known as katiolo. In a large village, each has its own Poro society, set of initiates, and sacred sanctuary, or sinzanga, situated in a dense grove of trees beside the village. [...] Although Poro is essentially a male institution, the most important ancestor invoked is the woman who was the head of the sinzanga's founding matrilineage. Anita Glaze suggests that this emphasis on female ancestral origins is reflected in Poro-sculptural couples, the majority of which interpret the female as the dominant of the two figures. Such 'ancestral couples' are the primary sculptural form used by Poro and are displayed on the occasion of a distinguished member's funeral. A preoccupation with ancestral origins is articulated visually in [the figures] through the treatment of the navels. [A] protruding, herniated navel […] evokes the remnant of the umbilical cord. Glaze notes that this feature serves as a reminder of the matrilineage that reaches back to Ancient Mother. A variation on this idea is expressed through the highly abstract motif that [often, as the case in the Kunin statue] accents the female figure's navel. It consists of four sets of three or four parallel lines that radiate horizontally and vertically out from the navel at its center. Known as kunoodyaadye, which translates as 'navel of mother' or 'mother of twins,' this design is used to ornament the body of Senufo women at puberty. Kunoodyaadye synthesizes references to the Senufo creation myth and to the role of women as the matrices of life and the guarantors of social continuity." The Art Historical Importance of the Kunin Statue The highly stylized minimalist features of the Kunin figure place it into the exceedingly rare corpus of works by the so-called Master of Sikasso, a name of convenience devised by the Senufo expert Burkhard Gottschalk to identify a nameless artist active in the 19th and early 20th century in the region of Sikasso in Burkina Faso, near the borders to Ivory Coast and Mali. See Gottschalk (2002: 119-137). Figures in this style represent the pinnacle of Senufo sculpture, one of the most iconic expressions of African art, and are revered as universal masterpieces of abstraction. Apart from the Kunin figure, only two other statues by this artist are known. Both represent females: one in the Dallas Museum of Art (inv. no. “1974.SC.15”, previously Gustave and Franjo Schindler Collection, published in Walker 2009: 187, cat. 63), and a second formerly in the collection of Helena Rubinstein, New York and Paris (sold at Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, The Helena Rubinstein Collection, April 21, 1966, lot 95). Three other works are not by the master’s hand but so close that they can be attributed to the same workshop: the first is a female figure distinguished by her wide face of almost trapezoid outline (Wick and Denner 2009: folio IV, fig. 3). The other two are works by a distinguished artist: a male and a female figure, possibly originally a pair. The female figure was previously in the collection of Allen Wardwell and its current whereabouts are unknown. The male figure was sold at Enchères Rive Gauche, Paris, Collection Vérité, June 17-18, 2006, lot 167. All figures by the Master of Sikasso and his workshop display a cylindrical base underneath slender cylindrical legs, and a tall fin-shaped torso oriented with the narrow edge to the front. Wide shoulders expand the sculptures into space and angle down to lithe arms that rest on the hips. Positioned as parallel echoes to the torso, the arms frame two elliptical open spaces which, seen from the front, are penetrated from above by the tips of conical breasts. All figures show a rectangular amulet suspended from the neck, possibly containing a page of the Qur’an. The sturdy neck carries the head, an elliptical wedge with forward-thrusting chin. The face is conceived by a decisive subtraction of volume from the head, through two simple cuts that meet perpendicularly in the center of the head along the brow-line, saving only a thin long vertical and three short horizontal bars. By this ingenious move, the artist creates facial plane, stern brows, nose, and lips, using the original frontal surface of the head. The circles for ears and the pyramidal band that forms the coiffure complete the figure’s minimalist geometries. This is Cubism in its purest form, avant la lettre. While all figures from the Sikasso complex share the same architecture and may equally be called masterpieces of conception, the Kunin figure drives every single idea to the pinnacle of aesthetic perfection, resulting in a masterpiece of both conception and execution. The statue’s stance tends slightly to the proper left, suggesting motion and lightness, as if an otherworldly being defies gravity. The Kunin statue’s openwork spaces between arms and torso are also more elongated, and the outlines created by the swelling and reducing forms of the arms more defined and geometrically centered. In profile, the arms’ dynamic curve mirror the elegantly projecting abdomen indicating pregnancy, creating intersecting, cascading waves. The shoulders are wider and more voluminous in the Kunin statue than in the other examples, conveying a strong, unwavering female presence. A commanding and haunting expression emerges from the rigidity of structural elements: the brow-line is perfectly horizontal and each angle between brow, nose, nostrils and mouth is almost exactly ninety degrees. This effect is augmented further by the Kunin figure’s lack of shells and seed attachments, elements of ethnographic interest that are more obstacle than aid to the understanding of the sculptural innovation accomplished by the Master of Sikasso. Even small details such as the ears distinguish the artist’s exquisite vision in his pursuit of the absolute: while in the Rubinstein and Dallas figures the ears are rendered as somewhat irregular round bands attached to the surface of the head, they are perfectly circular and organically scooped volumes in the Kunin figure. The mastery expressed in all these details makes the Kunin statue not only the unrivalled paragon of its genre but one of the greatest abstract sculptures of all time. In its minimalist representation of the female body, it can only be compared to less than a handful of sculptures, such as a marble statue by the Cycladic artist known as the Schuster Master (ca. 2,400 BCE), or Alberto Giacometti’s Grand Femme Debout II (1959-1960). Standing in line with these great artists, the innovation of the representation of facial features and groundbreaking use of open space  in the Kunin Statue has yet to be surpassed.

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-11-11
Hammer price
Show price

MASQUE-DOUBLE, BAULÉ, CÔTE D'IVOIRE | Masque-double, Baulé

LE MASQUE-DOUBLE VÉRITÉ : UNE ICÔNE En 1934, Pierre et Suzanne Vérité ouvrent rue Huyghens, à Montparnasse, la galerie « Arnod, Art Nègre ». L’adresse, suggérée par leur ami et voisin, l’artiste américain John Graham, est emblématique : en 1916 s’était tenue, à quelques numéros de la même rue, à la galerie Lyre et Palette, la première exposition parisienne associant œuvres d’art moderne (Matisse, Picasso et Modigliani) et d’art africain. Chez les Vérité se côtoient les marchands et collectionneurs Paul Guillaume, Charles Ratton, Pierre Loeb et André Portier, mais aussi les membres de l’avant-garde parisienne – les Surréalistes Paul Eluard, André Breton et Tristan Tzara - et internationale - notamment Helena Rubinstein et James J. Sweeney, rencontrés par l’entremise de Graham.   C’est également au cours des années 1930 que Pierre et Suzanne Vérité acquièrent l’essentiel des chefs-d’œuvre de leur collection personnelle, qu’ils ne dévoileront au public qu’à partir de 1950. La longue amitié unissant Pierre Vérité et Frédérick-H Lem sera sans doute décisive dans le choix de la première publication d’œuvres de leur collection : « Réalité de l’art Nègre » par F-H. Lem, paru en décembre 1950 dans Tropiques, Revue des troupes coloniales. Voisinant les objets déjà célèbres de la collection Helena Rubinstein et de celle de l’artiste Isaac Païles, le « Masque géminé en bois laqué, des Baoulé. (Collection P. Vérité, Paris) », reproduit en pleine page, s’impose comme le manifeste d’une collection et d’un regard hors du commun. Le masque à deux visages de la collection Pierre Vérité accède d’emblée au statut d’icône. Il sera l’œuvre-phare des deux expositions majeures d’art africain organisées à Paris dans les années 1950 : Chefs-d’œuvre de l’Afrique Noire, à la Galerie Leleu (12-27 juin 1952), où il apparaît en première page du catalogue, et Les arts africains, au Cercle Volney (3 juin-7 juillet 1955). Dans « ce monde féerique de la plastique pure » (introduction au catalogue de l’exposition Volney, p. 9-11), le peintre André Lhote rend hommage aux voies « les plus sévèrement, les plus irrémédiablement, les plus spécifiquement plastiques […] de la grande Méditation Noire », dont la découverte présida à la naissance de l’art moderne. Si le masque double côtoie d’autres chefs-d’œuvre de la collection Pierre et Suzanne Vérité – notamment le masque Fang du Ngil et la statue de chasseur Tshokwe – et ceux appartenant aux plus importants collectionneurs français de l’époque (dont Léonce et Pierre Guerre, Pierre Loeb, René Rasmussen, Isaac Païles, Madeleine Rousseau, Louis Carré, ou encore Alberto Magnelli),  c’est lui qui est choisi pour illustrer, sous forme d’un dessin, la couverture du catalogue de l’exposition. Maintes fois publié, ce chef-d’œuvre révèle, dans l’intensité contenue de l’expression et dans l’éblouissante qualité de la sculpture, le génie d’un immense maître de l’Afrique précoloniale, qu’Alain-Michel Boyer a baptisé du nom conventionnel de « Maître des Ayahu ». Semblant conjuguer la gémellité en un être indissoluble, les visages s’individualisent par leur teinte et leurs signes de beauté pour exprimer magistralement la notion de dualité placée au cœur de la pensée Baulé. En juin 1937, après avoir achevé son célèbre article « Primitive Art and Picasso » (Magazine of Art, vol. 30, n° 4, avril 1937), John Graham offre, selon toute vraisemblance, du Masque-double découvert chez ses amis Pierre et Suzanne Vérité, une interprétation saisissante. Il y invoque le mythe du double cher aux Surréalistes et dont Picasso se saisit à la même période dans les deux vues superposées du visage de Dora Maar posant dans l’emblématique portrait de Femme assise (musée Picasso, Paris). THE VÉRITÉ DOUBLE-MASK: AN ICON In 1934, Pierre and Suzanne Vérité opened the "Arnod, Art Nègre" gallery, on the Rue Huyghens, in Montparnasse. The address, suggested to them by their friend and neighbour, the American artist John Graham, was emblematic, since in 1916, the Lyre et Palette gallery, located a little further down the street, had held the first Parisian exhibition that combined Modern art (Matisse, Picasso and Modigliani) with African art. Art dealers and collectors such as Paul Guillaume, Charles Ratton, Pierre Loeb and André Portier met and mingled at the Vérités' gallery, alongside members of the Parisian avant-garde - the Surrealists Paul Eluard, André Breton and Tristan Tzara - and the international avant-garde, including Helena Rubinstein and James J. Sweeney, whom the Vérités had met via Graham. Pierre and Suzanne Vérité acquired most of the masterpieces of their personal collection during the 1930s. Their collection was not revealed to the public until 1950. The long friendship between Pierre Vérité and Frédérick-H Lem was undoubtedly decisive in the Vérité's decision to allow their pieces to be published for the first time in Lem's "Réalité de l’art Nègre", which was published in December 1950, in Tropiques, Revue des troupes coloniales. Alongside already famous objects from the collections of Helena Rubinstein and the artist Isaac Païles appeared a  "Masque géminé en bois laqué, des Baoulé. (Collection P. Vérité, Paris)" (Twin mask in lacquered wood, from the Baule), reproduced in a full page, this mask stood out as the manifesto for a unique collection and vision. The double mask from the Vérité collection was immediately raised to iconic status. It would go on to be the leading piece in the two major African art exhibitions held in Paris in the 1950s: Chefs-d’œuvre de l’Afrique Noire, at the Leleu gallery (June 12-27, 1952), where it appeared on the first page of the catalogue, and Les arts africains, at the Cercle Volney (June 3- July 7, 1955). In "this magical world of pure aesthetics" (introduction to the catalogue of the Volney exhibition, p. 9-11), the painter André Lhote paid tribute to "the most severely, most fatally, most specifically aesthetic [paths taken] […] by the great Black Meditation", the discovery of which presided over the birth of Modern Art. The double mask was displayed alongside other masterpieces from the collection of Pierre and Suzanne Vérité,  including the Fang ngil mask and the Chokwe hunter figure, as well as objects belonging to the most prominent French collectors of the time, including Léonce and Pierre Guerre, Pierre Loeb, René Rasmussen, Isaac Païles, Madeleine Rousseau, Louis Carré and Alberto Magnelli. The double mask was the object chosen, as a drawing, to illustrate the cover of the exhibition catalogue. Published many times, this masterpiece reveals, in the contained intensity of its expression and the dazzling quality of its carving, the genius of a great master sculptor from pre-colonial Africa, an artist who Alain-Michel Boyer has named "Master of the Ayahu". Although the mask appears to combine the twin faces into a single indissoluble being, each face is individualised in its colouring and signs of beauty, magnificently expressing the notion of duality which lies at the heart of Baule thought. In June 1937, upon completing his famous article entitled: "Primitive Art and Picasso" (Magazine of Art, vol. 30, No. 4, April 1937), John Graham produced a striking interpretation of what was in all likelihood this double mask which he had discovered at the gallery of his friends Pierre and Suzanne Vérité. He invokes the myth of duality so prized by the Surrealists, an idea which was also seized upon by Picasso at the time, such as in the two overlapping views of the face of Dora Maar in the iconic portrait entitled Femme assise (Seated woman; Musée Picasso, Paris).  MASQUE NDA (« LES JUMEAUX »), BAULÉ Par Alain-Michel Boyer Ce masque exceptionnel, chef-d’œuvre de la collection Pierre Vérité, s’inscrit parmi les joyaux les plus emblématiques de l’histoire des arts d’Afrique. Sa facture éblouissante, née du talent d’un maître sculpteur exerçant au sud-ouest de la région de Bouaké (le « Maître des Ayahu »), de même que son éloquente ancienneté, le placent au cœur d’un corpus éminemment restreint, célébré tant en pays Baulé qu’en Occident. S’il exerce sur nous une telle fascination, c’est sans aucun doute parce qu’il offre, du thème universel du double, l’une des interprétations les plus magistrales de l’histoire de l’art. Sous les traits de la gémellité qu’il honore, il exalte superbement le concept de dualité placé au cœur de la pensée Baulé. Il investit ainsi les notions du double et de l’ambivalence, et symbolise également le couple, dont la fondamentale dynamique est ancrée dans les mythes cosmogoniques. Suzanne et Pierre Vérité, qui ont commencé à acheter de « l’art nègre » à partir de 1920, à la « Librairie Coloniale » du Palais Royal, ont acquis la plupart de leurs œuvres importantes au cours des années 1930. C’est précisément à cette époque que sont collectés les deux autres nda connus : celui du musée Barbier-Mueller, inscrit en 1935 dans la collection de Roger Bédiat, et celui du Metropolitan Museum of Art, que possédait avant 1934 le célèbre marchand et collectionneur parisien, Paul Guillaume. Selon toute vraisemblance, notre masque parvint à Pierre Vérité à ce moment-là, peut-être par l’entremise de Roger Bédiat, ou d’un fonctionnaire colonial en poste en Côte d’Ivoire, qui lui adressait régulièrement, jusqu’en 1939, des caisses chargées d’objets achetés lors de ses randonnées dans le pays. Sachant qu’un nda reste utilisé pendant toute l’existence des jumeaux qu’il a pour charge d’honorer - voire après leur mort -, on peut considérer que le masque Vérité était en fonction à une époque bien antérieure - au plus tard à la fin du XIXe siècle - comme l’attestent sa patine et les traces d’usages prolongés. Une chose est certaine : les nda ne comptent qu’un nombre infime d’œuvres. C’est dire l’intérêt considérable que présente ce nda, remarquable. Témoignant d’options plastiques distinctes des masques du Metropolitan Museum of Art et du musée Barbier-Mueller, il révèle la main d’un maître sculpteur œuvrant chez les Baulé du sous-groupe des Ayahu, installés près du Bandama, à l’ouest de Sakassou, au sud-ouest de Bouaké et à proximité de l’influence des Yauré. Deux visages accolés, presque siamois, sont taillés en réserve dans un bloc monoxyle dont l’arrière dévoile en négatif la forme d’un visage unique - sur les quatre yeux, seuls les deux du centre sont percés - que le porteur plaquait contre sa propre face. Semblant émerger du « support » en collerette, les deux visages ovoïdes projetés vers l’avant révèlent avec éclat la perfection de leurs formes. Les yeux presque clos, qui accentuent la sérénité, suggèrent le recueillement, exprimant intensité contenue et concentration. Ainsi habités par une présence intérieure, ces visages a priori isomorphes semblent conjuguer la gémellité en un être indissoluble. Pourtant  chacun s’individualise selon un subtil et remarquable jeu d’échos. Ainsi, les scarifications qui rehaussent l’éclat de l’épiderme se répondent sans se répéter. Nommées  baule ngole, littéralement « signes [de reconnaissance] baule »1, elles étaient autrefois des marques de distinction, non seulement sociale (celles ornant ici les tempes et le sommet de l’arête nasale), mais aussi individuelle. Le sculpteur s’est ainsi appuyé sur d’autres baule ngole pour différencier les deux personnes: trois signes au milieu des joues sur l’un des visages, et disposition épousant la courbe du front ainsi que deux diagonales de trois points saillants, sur l’autre. Tout en haut des fronts bombés - afin d’en accentuer la luminosité -, les coiffures introduisent une autre dissemblance. Tel un diadème, l’arc de cheveux (nommé tre ba) est, sur l’un des visages, plaqué en une longue courbe venant reposer sur la tête située à sa droite, comme pour accentuer la fusion des deux êtres ; alors que sur le second il est segmenté en plusieurs arrondis délicats. La disposition élégamment asymétrique des deux coques zénithales (les kpolè) terminées par une très courte tresse (le ko glo) souligne le contraste. Enfin, les Baulé aiment cultiver les dualités de couleurs, comme en témoignent d’autres masques, tels que les deux kplekple et les kpwan ple, l’un rouge, l’autre noir. Sur les visages du masque nda, les deux teintes impliquent une distinction de sexes, l’une suggérant la féminité, l’autre la masculinité – distinction réitérée dans les nuances et la complémentarité des coiffures et des scarifications. La divergence de coloris crée aussi un effet esthétique: sur ce masque, l’un des visages a presque gardé l’éclat naturel du bois, l’autre, teinté en noir, de même que le support, a perdu en partie sa coloration, retrouvant sur le front la magnifique patine ocre orangée. Si ce masque s’appelle nda, c’est parce qu’il a pour dessein de commémorer le bonheur d’avoir donné naissance à des jumeaux, et de les célébrer afin de manifester l’immense admiration vouée par leur entourage. Le nda intervient à intervalles réguliers (avec cinq ou six autres masques) dans le cadre de cérémonies de réjouissances ouvertes à tous, des fêtes dont les noms varient selon les sous-groupes : ajusu, ajemble, ngblo ou mblo. Le nda devient même une composante de la vie quotidienne des jumeaux réels qu’il évoque, qu’il symbolise et valorise. A ce titre, il relève de la catégorie des masques-portraits (les ndoma) qui portent les patronymes des individus qu’ils honorent. Le mot ndoma lui-même, d’ailleurs, ne signifie-t-il pas « équivalence », « réplique », « double de la personne 2 » ? Fait essentiel : lors d’une cérémonie, le masque nda est accompagné des personnes qu’il représente, qui dansent avec le porteur et qui sont donc instaurées comme les doubles vivants de la création plastique. En cas d’impossibilité, elles désignent des « représentants ». A la mort des jumeaux, ces « substituts » continuent ce service, mais, le plus souvent, le masque n’est plus dansé. Tel un jeu de miroirs, la duplication est ainsi répercutée, démultipliée, magnifiée par ce masque ; car la gémellité est au centre des conceptions des Baulé, aux antipodes des vertiges et des déchirements du romantisme européen au sujet du double 3. Pour eux, les notions de complémentarité, d’androgynie, sont fondatrices 4 ; ils aiment coupler les êtres en exaltant sur le plan plastique accord et symétrie - comme l’attestent les couples d’asiè usu (« génies de la nature ») représentant un génie dans sa dualité masculine/féminine, mais également les statuettes janiformes ou hermaphrodites, qui expriment la nature à la fois féminine et masculine de la personne. La dualité touche bien des domaines, du quotidien au cosmogonique. Dans la langue baulé, le mot nda (jumeaux) intervient dans de très nombreux vocables ayant trait à tout ce qui se redouble (waka nda, bois fourchu ; atin nda, bifurcation de pistes, etc.). Sur le plan spirituel, ce que les chrétiens appellent « âme » se dit wawè ; celle-ci s’agrège au fœtus au troisième mois et, après la mort, quitte le corps pour rejoindre les ancêtres. Mais en réalité wawè signifie littéralement « ombre » ou « double », et ce terme désigne aussi bien l’ombre qui se dessine sur le sol en marchant au soleil que le reflet du visage quand on se penche au-dessus d’une flaque d’eau ou que l’on se regarde dans un miroir - autant de prolongements de la personne, de compagnons inséparables, à l’image des visages associés sur ce masque. Même sur le plan religieux, l’opposition et la conjonction jouent un rôle central, avec, à l’origine, un mythe de fondation qui procède d’une organisation dualiste de l’univers : le chaos contient les principes féminins et masculins, à la fois unis et scindés. C’est donc à la sculpture de tenter de rétablir et de solenniser cette alliance cosmogonique, source de dynamisme. S’impose dès lors l’entité fondamentale du couple formulée, dans la notion de dualité complémentaire, tant par le couple d’asiè usu de la Michael Rockefeller Collection (Metropolitan Museum of Art) que par le masque Vérité. Enfin, si ce chef-d’œuvre du « Maître des Ayahu » exprime, dans sa stupéfiante beauté, les concepts d’harmonie et de communion, il suggère aussi qu’il existe en tout individu une ambivalence qui le hante. A ce titre, le double, qui met également en jeu les notions d’identité, de finitude du moi et d’altérité, est bien au cœur des interrogations baulé sur l’essence de la personne - comme le montrent aussi, dans tous les villages, les statuettes de conjoints mystiques, blolo bla/bian, ces doubles d’un monde parallèle. De cette fascinante exploration du double qui, sous ses acceptions distinctes, a inspiré les artistes de tous temps et de tous lieux, le masque Vérité offre à l’histoire universelle de l’art l’une des plus magistrales interprétations. [1] Sur les scarifications : Alain-Michel BOYER, Le Corps africain, Paris, Editions Hazan, 2007, p. 17-19. [2] Voir : Alain-Michel BOYER, Baule, Milan, Editions 5Continents, 2008, p. 69-71. [3] Avec bien d’autres références : le Dorian Gray d’Oscar Wilde, Dr Jekyll et Mr Hyde de Stevenson, Maupassant, etc. Sans oublier les mythes bibliques (Jacob et Esaü) ou grecs (Polynice et Etéocle) de la rivalité de jumeaux, rivalité totalement étrangère aux Baule. [4] Voir : Alain-Michel BOYER : « «Le double et la gémellité » et « Un rêve d’androgynie ? », dans : Les Arts d’Afrique, Paris, Hazan, 2007, p. 191- 201. NDA MASK ("THE TWINS"), BAULE By Alain-Michel Boyer This unique mask, a masterpiece of the Pierre Vérité collection, is among the most iconic jewels in the history of African art. Its dazzling craftsmanship, due to the talent of a master sculptor practicing his art to the southwest of the Bouaké region (the "Master of Ayahu"), as well as its eloquent antiquity, place it at the heart of a limited corpus, celebrated both in Baule country and in the West. If the mask exerts such fascination over us,  it is no doubt because it offers one of the most masterful interpretations in the history of art of the universal theme of the double. Through the twinning that it honors, it is a beautiful exaltation of the notion of duality placed at the heart of Baule thought.  It also embodies the notions of the double and ambivalence, and symbolizes the couple, whose essential dynamic is rooted in cosmogonic myths. Suzanne and Pierre Vérité, who began  buying "Negro Art" in the the 1920s, at the Palais Royal's "Librairie Coloniale", acquired most of their major pieces in the 1930s.  It is precisely at this time that the two other known Ndas were collected: that of the Barbier-Mueller Museum, recorded as part of the Roger Bédiat collection in 1935, and that of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, that had belonged, before 1934, to the famous Parisian dealer and collector Paul Guillaume. In all likelihood, our mask came to Pierre Vérité at that time, perhaps through Roger Bédiat or through a colonial official stationed in Côte d'Ivoire, who regularly sent him crates loaded with items purchased during his expeditions throughout the country up until 1939.  Knowing that an Nda remains in use throughout the life of the twins it is tasked to honour  - and sometimes even after death - the Vérité Mask can be surmised to have been in use long before - in the late 19th  century at the latest. A date supported by the patina and traces of prolonged use. One thing is certain: the Nda comprise only a very restricted number of pieces. This fact shows the considerable value of this remarkable Nda.  Reflecting different aesthetic options from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Barbier-Mueller masks, it displays the individuality of a Master working in the Ayahu Baule subgroup, established near the Bandama, west of Sakassou, south-west of Bouake and in close proximity to Yaure influences. Two faces, side by side, almost as Siamese twins, are carved in relief in a monoxyle block, the rear side of which reveals the hollow negative form of a single face - of the four eyes, only the two central ones are pierced through  - which the bearer wore against his own face. Seemingly emerging from the flanged "base", the two oval forward-thrusting faces vividly display the perfection of their forms. The half-closed eyes that accentuate the serene appearance, suggest contemplation and express contained intensity and concentration. Thus inhabited by an inner presence, these faces, which, to all appearances, seem isomorphic, seem to fuse their twinning into a single indissoluble being.  Yet each becomes individualized in a subtle interplay of echoing elements. The scarification pattern that highlights the splendor of the epidermis runs in parallel dispositions yet does not repeat itself. This type of scarification is termed Baule Ngole literally "Baule signs [of recognition]" 1, and was once a sign of recognition, not only from a social standpoint (as is the case with the one adorning the temples and the bridge of the nose) but also from an individual one. The sculptor has thus relied on other Baule Ngole  to differentiate the two characters: three signs in the middle of the cheeks, and motifs that follow the curve of the forehead as well as two diagonals stemming from three salient points on the other. At the very top of the curved foreheads - so as to highlight them further -, the coiffures introduce another dissimilarity. Like a tiara, the arc of hair (called  Tre Ba) is - on one of the faces - slicked down in a long curve that comes to rest on the head to its right, as if to emphasize the fusion between the two beings; whereas on the second it is segmented into several delicate curves. The elegantly asymmetrical arrangement of the two zenith shells (the  Kpole) tapering down into a very short braid (the Ko glo), highlights this contrast. Finally, the Baule like to cultivate color dualities, as evidenced by other masks such as the two Kplekple  and the Kpwan Ple  – one red, the other black.  On Nda faces, two shades imply a gender distinction, one suggesting femininity and the other masculinity – a distinction repeated in the complementary nuances of the coiffure and scarification patterns.  The color divergence also creates an aesthetic effect. In this mask, one of the faces has almost kept the natural glow of the wood, the other, tinted black, like its base, has partially lost its color, with the beautiful orange ocher patina shining through on the forehead. If this mask is called Nda, it is because its purpose is to celebrate the joy of giving birth to twins, and to celebrate them in order to manifest the immense admiration of those around them.  The Nda appears at regular intervals (with five or six other masks) as part of celebration ceremonies open to all, the names of which vary depending on the subgroups: ajusu, ajemble, ngblo or mblo. The Nda even becomes a part of everyday life for the flesh and blood twins that it evokes, symbolizes and values. As such, it falls within the category of portrait masks (the Ndoma) bearing the surnames of people they honor. Indeed, doesn't the word  Ndoma itself mean "equivalence", replica" or "a double of the person" ? Essential fact: during a ceremony, the Nda mask is accompanied by the people it represents, who dance with the bearer and who are thus established as the living doubles of the work of art. If unavailable, they appoint "representatives". Upon the death of the twins, these "substitutes" continue this service, but the mask is more often than not no longer part of dances. Like a game of mirrors, the duplication is thus reflected, multiplied, magnified by the mask; for twinning is at the heart of Baule conceptions, entirely at odds with the bewilderment and heartbreak of European Romanticism surrounding the topic of the double. 3 For them, the concepts of complementarity and androgyny are founding notions4 ; they like to couple beings by extolling harmony and symmetry on an aesthetic plane - as evidenced by the Asie usu couples ("genies of nature") depicting a genie in its masculine / feminine duality, but also by the bifrons or hermaphrodite statuettes, which express the dual male and female nature of the person. Duality affects many areas, from daily life to the cosmogonic. In the Baule language the word  Nda (twins) is used in numerous expressions related to anything that works as a double  (waka nda, forked wood; atin nda, bifurcating tracks, etc.). Spiritually, what Christians call "soul" is referred to as  Wawè  ; it attaches itself to the fetus in the third month and, after death, it leaves the body to rejoin the ancestors. In reality Wawè literally means "shadow" or "double", and this term designates both the shadow looming on the ground while walking in the sun, and the reflection of the face when bending over a puddle of water or when looking in a mirror - all extensions of the individual, inseparable companions, like the faces associated within this mask. Even on the religious plane opposition and conjunction are central, with a founding myth that stems from a dual organization of the universe: chaos contains the male and female principles, both united and divided. It then falls to sculpture to try and restore and solemnize this cosmogonic alliance, which is a source of dynamism. The fundamental couple entity thus stands out, in the notion of complementary duality, as much in the Asie usu couple from the Michael Rockefeller Collection (Metropolitan Museum of Art) as in the Vérité mask. Finally, though this masterpiece by the "Ayahu Master" expresses, in its stunning beauty, the notions of harmony and communion. The mask also suggests there exists in every individual an ambivalence that haunts them.  As such, the double, which also brings into play notions of identity, of finiteness of the self and of otherness is truly at the heart of Baule interrogations about the essence of being doubles from a parallel world. Of this fascinating exploration of the double, which has inspired artists of all times and all places, the Vérité mask brings one of the most masterful solutions in the history of art. [1] On scarification:  Alain-Michel BOYER, Le Corps africain, Paris, Editions Hazan, 2007, p. 17-19. [2] See: Alain-Michel BOYER, Baule, Milan, Editions 5 Continents, 2008, p. 69-71. [3] With very different references: Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray, Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Maupassant, etc... Not to mention biblical (Jacob and Esau) or Greek myths (Polynices and Eteocles) of twin rivalry; such rivalry being entirely foreign to the Baule. [4] See: Alain-Michel BOYER : "Le double et la gémellité" and "Un rêve d’androgynie?", in: Les Arts d’Afrique, Paris, Hazan, 2007, p. 191- 201.  

  • FRAFrance
  • 2015-06-24
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Ancestor statue (uli), new ireland

ULI: A REDISCOVERED MASTERPIECE Alexander Grogan Created before 1800 on the Pacific island of New Ireland, the present statue is a masterpiece which, although documented as early as 1914, has remained unseen for decades.  Its fortunate survival across a vast span of space and time allows us to come face-to-face with an entity which the French poet André Breton addressed as “grand dieu”: the Uli.  Representing an ideal clan leader, the Uli “has become an icon among Western collectors of Oceanic art.  The sheer strength of presence of these amazing figures ranks them among the greatest works of Oceanic art in existence.” (Gunn in Peltier and Gunn 2006: 172) Within the corpus of New Ireland Uli figures, the present statue ranks at the top, with only two comparable examples in terms of size, age and sculptural quality: one is today in the Louvre in Paris, and the other remains in the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin. This sculpture offers us a glimpse into the spiritual life of a primordial, autochthonous island culture, as it existed before the cataclysmic influence of Western contact.  The themes expressed are remarkably accessible to the contemporary viewer: astonishing strength, fearsome protectiveness, and the sumptuous insignia of power.  We are immediately struck by the subject’s piercing eyes (composed of a “cat’s eye” operculum from a sea snail, Turbo petholatus, affixed to an inverted shell).  Together with the dynamic stance, bared teeth, powerful shoulders, and protruding sex, these project a penetrating intensity; as Peltier notes (op. cit.: 23), this gaze imparts “a fixed, disquieting stare, [bringing the] sculpture to life.”  Like many sacred sculptures from the traditional cultures of the Pacific, the Uli is not a ‘representation’ of an ancestor or god in the Western sense, but rather a physical manifestation which contains and transmits the spirit of such a being.  As we encounter the gaze of the Uli we experience a profoundly thrilling ancient force from a world long lost. Geographical and Historical Context The island of New Ireland is situated close to the equator in the Bismarck Archipelago at the heart of the Pacific region of Melanesia, and is today a province of Papua New Guinea.  This island was home to several of the iconic art traditions of the Pacific, including the wide array of masks and sculpture created for malagan ceremonies in the north of the island, and the stone kulap figures from the south.  Most imposing and distinctive are the statues of clan leaders known as Uli, created in the mountainous interior of central New Ireland. Along with the other islands of the Melanesian group, New Ireland was first populated during gradual migrations originating from Southeast Asia many millennia ago, and developed a unique cultural character stemming from a greater Austronesian mother culture.  Although the first Europeans to set foot on the island arrived in 1616, it was not until the second half of the 19th century that New Ireland was fully colonized.  While under German rule (1885-1914), New Ireland was renamed Neu-Mecklenberg and the traditional culture of the inhabitants changed radically.  Contact with the German colonists brought the introduction of metal tools, widespread conversion to Christianity, and new systems of social power and economic subsistence.  The artistic practices likewise experienced a dramatic shift, first resulting in stylistic decline and then the outright demise of certain traditional forms.  Peltier and Gunn (2006: 15-16) note: “The primary period of increasing Western presence in New Ireland occurred between 1880 and 1914.  During those years, significant social changes occurred throughout much of this previously insular region.  In the pre-colonial period the only avenue to high social status in New Ireland was directly related to the production and use of art-works in ritual context […] After Western influence became so pervasive, other avenues to high status opened up: access to Western influence and goods, conversion to Christianity, and the consequent social power that came with membership in religious organizations of the colonial powers.  Equally shattering to the existing cultural system was the destructive impact of the plantation labor system in which large numbers of young men were taken out of the islands and sent to work in Queensland, many never to return.” Gunn (op. cit.: 172) notes that “Augustin Kraemer in 1909 recorded a sequence of Uli ceremonies at Lamasong village in the Madak-speaking region of the northern part of the east coast.  He noted that the Uli funerary rites were a loan cult of the coast, for the villages in the rain forests of the mountains were the ones where people knew how to make the figures and possessed the secrets of the magic spells associated with them.  This is the region northwest of the Lelet Plateau, inland from the coastal village of present-day Konos.” Ritual Context and Iconography Accounts written by Europeans who came into contact with New Irelanders before the disintegration of their traditional religion provide a fragmentary basis for the interpretation of their complex ritual practices.  The primary such source for the ritual context of the Uli ceremonies is Augustin Kraemer (1865-1941), a naval surgeon, naturalist, and ethnographer who authored Die Malanggane von Tombara (Munich, 1925), including descriptions of Uli ceremonies he witnessed circa 1909 which were among the final such rituals ever performed.  Kraemer’s research, conducted during a seven month visit, suggests that these figures were images of ancestral clan leaders, embodying the traits of strength and aggression, as well as nurture and protection. The subject of the Uli is depicted with the feathered accoutrements, crested headdress, and face paint of a potent and richly-dressed warrior, sculptural representations of the actual apparel worn by New Irelanders.  The lower jaw framed with a projecting beard and prominent phallus identify him as male; interestingly, the statue also bears protruding dome-shaped female breasts.   While it has been suggested that this iconography is akin to the Western concept of a hermaphroditic character, it is more plausible that it simply represents the adoption of both male and female power by the clan leader.  Valluet (1991: 38) notes that in some New Ireland ceremonies, male dancers wore wooden female breasts attached with bindings.  This iconography conveys the leader’s health and ability to nurture and protect, in addition to his aggressive male strength. Upon the death of a high-ranking leader, the skull of the deceased was buried in a sacred grove, and a tree planted over the burial.  Once the tree had matured, and its roots reached the ancestral relics, absorbing the spiritual power therein, the tree would be felled and an Uli carved from it.  Thus the medium itself contains life-force of the ancestor; this procedure notably involves the passage of a significant time while the tree matures, testifying to a long cultural memory and the antiquity of this tradition.  Furthermore examples of related figures of similar overall form but with an actual overmodeled skull in place of the head suggest that the Uli form relates to actual reliquary figures.  An overmodeled skull in the Linden-Museum, Stuttgart (inv. no. “55772”) also bears a close similarity to the design of the head of the present Uli, with face paint, bearded jawline, and layered tripartite coiffure. Uli statues presided over the important funerary feasts held in honor of recently deceased leaders.  Regional feasts were also held periodically, in which the Uli figures of multiple communities were brought together.  According Kraemer’s accounts, the 1909 ceremonies were organized by the chief Lipiu, and involved the gathering of ten Uli, presented by the heads of ten villages in honor of an eminent chief. Amongst the names of the ten chiefs listed in Kraemer's notebooks is that of Longgat - a patronymic identical to that of the chief of Lévinko, who had died a few months before Kraemer's visit in April 1909. When not in use, the figures were kept in a covered sanctuary, protected from the elements and from the gaze of the uninitiated or unauthorized viewers; Kraemer records an illustration of such a shelter (calling it “Ulihaus”). Typological analysis of the surviving corpus of Uli statues has identified a dozen main types.  These are distinguished as formulaic iconographic poses, repeated across different stylistic groups and in works of evidently different ages.  According to Gunn (in Peltier and Gunn 2006: 172) these types may represent distinct individual leaders, with certain examples serving as archetypes to later artists.  The arms of the present figure are held at the sides of the torso, with the hands clasped upon a geometrically-inscribed panel in front of the body; this pose is seen in other examples and may represent a particular leader.  As compared to other poses in the corpus, such as those of the Louvre or Berlin figures, it evokes a particular sense of calm well-being. Placement Within the Uli Corpus and Dating Many sculptures from the Uli corpus observed in public and private collections are cursorily-carved and display the cut marks and flat planes characteristic of a late style carved with metal tools.  These examples were likely created within the last decades of the 19th century after the arrival of metal on New Ireland, not long before they were collected by German explorers around the turn of the 20th century or shortly thereafter, and before the radical social changes brought about by colonial intervention, and indeed the outright prohibition of the Uli ceremonies. Unlike the material culture which accompanied the famous malagan rituals of New Ireland, which were typically used once and then destroyed, discarded, or sold to Westerners, Uli statues were preserved as heirlooms for generations of repeated use.  Older examples often show evidence of layered pigments from painting and repainting.   Throughout their ritual career, these figures accumulated power with each successive cycle of use. The present statue is quite distinctive in several overall characteristics, with only a few parallels in the known corpus.  It is among the very largest in size; close observation of the naturally undulating surface reveals that it was certainly carved with stone-age tools: stone blades and rasps, or tools made from animal teeth.  It displays thin vertical age cracks throughout which indicate the gradual shrinking of wood over a long period of time.  Most importantly, it is of far superior sculptural quality to almost any other Uli known.  Gunn (op. cit.: 172) estimates that of the known corpus of circa 255 Uli figures, only around ten percent show signs of having been carved with stone tools, pre-dating the arrival of metal, and that these “may have been already several hundred years old when they were collected”.  We may hypothesize such an early dating for the present sculpture, supported not only by the evidence of its stone-tool manufacture, but also by its artistic quality.  Indeed within the spectrum of known examples it stands so far above much of the corpus that we may suppose it had archetypal status. Recently-conducted radiocarbon analysis of the wood of the present figure has yielded important data which confirms this age hypothesis, conclusively dating the wood between 1650 and 1800.  Thus at the time it was collected this figure was already at least several generations old.   Distinguished by its great age, rarity, superb artistic quality, and potent spiritual presence, the present figure is undoubtedly the finest Uli statue remaining in private hands, and one of the greatest surviving masterpieces of Pacific art.

  • USAUSA
  • 2016-05-07
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Paire de rapa, île de pâques, polynésie

Découverte dun chef-duvre Par Michel Orliac Chercheur au CNRS, spécialiste de l'ïle de Pâques"Il est au milieu du Grand Océan, dans une région où l'on ne passe jamais, une île mystérieuse et isolée ; aucune terre ne gît en son voisinage et, à plus de huit cents lieues de toutes parts, des immensités vides et mouvantes l'environnent." Pierre Loti, L'île de Pâques. Journal d'un aspirant de La Flore, 1872, p. 5 Découverte en 1722 par le marin hollandais Jakob Roggeveen, lÎle de Pâques na cessé de fasciner les Occidentaux. Si les colosses de pierre moaï, effigies imposantes d'aristocrates divinisés, marquent demblée les esprits, cest en 1774, lors du voyage du capitaine James Cook, que des sculptures en bois y furent pour la première fois collectées. Les témoins de cet art raffiné arrivent donc en Europe dès la fin du XVIIIe siècle, révélant à lOccident le génie créatif des Rapanui (Pascuans), tant dans les multiples réinventions de la figure humaine que par la modernité des formes. Les Pascuans, jusquà leur conversion au catholicisme en 1868, ponctuaient lannée par de nombreuses fêtes publiques qui avaient lieu au pied des plates-formes sacrées. Certains participants y arboraient une grande variété dobjets en bois sculpté : insignes de rang et figurines. Les plus grands et les plus stéréotypés dentre eux, les ua et ao  tous deux sculptés sur leur partie supérieure dune tête humaine bifrons , étaient tenus à la main, leur base reposant sur le sol, comme lillustre un dessin de Pierre Loti (Rochefort, Musée Hèbre, réf 2012.2.68 et 2012.2.50). Moins imposantes mais témoignant dun degré technique extrêmement abouti, leur répondent les célèbres rapa, accessoires de danse à double pales qui portent à son apogée labstraction de la figure humaine. De lusage des rapa Il faut attendre 1868 et lescale de John Linton Palmer, chirurgien sur la HMS Topaze, pour connaître le nom originel de ces créations uniques au monde, les rapa. Palmer nobtint pas de témoignage précis sur ces uvres, mais il en vit entre les mains des Pascuans dès son débarquement ; cet objet apparaissait partout, sculpté ou peint sur les roches, tatoué sur le dos des femmes ; aussi en souligna-t-il limportance. Le 4 janvier 1872, Pierre Loti fut le premier à assister à une "danse des pagayes", qu'il mentionne mais ne décrit pas (« Rapa Nui, l'île de Pâques de Pierre Loti », Les Cahiers de la Girafe, 2009, p. 96). En 1886, William Thomson, trésorier du navire américain Mohican, observa des rapa lors de danses organisées à son intention. Il lui fut dit alors qu'ils  «sont dhabitude tenus dans chaque main, mais de temps en temps [au cours de la danse], lun et parfois les deux sont abandonnés ». Il en acquit deux, aujourdhui encore conservés au Field Museum of Natural History de Chicago (Thomson, « Te Pito te Henua, or Easter Island », Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, 1891, p. 491). Si la grande dimension de lao imposait une certaine solennité dans sa manipulation, le rapa, par sa forme diminutive, était quant à lui manié avec une grande vélocité : lors de danses guerrières exécutées par les chefs militaires devant le roi, les rapa virevoltaient à proximité de son visage « pour leffrayer » (Alfred Métraux, 1934). Par ailleurs, la petite dimension des rapa autorisait également leur emploi par paire lors de danses féminines assises. Le concept de lappariement Le poids, la forme et l'équilibre des masses des rapa s'accordent bien avec une manipulation par paire. La poignée polie de certains d'entre eux atteste de frottements doux et insistants, absents des autres types de sculptures en bois. Il est facile dimaginer ces objets tournoyant follement, une dans chaque main de la danseuse ou du danseur. Le texte de Thomson le seul témoignant du maniement des rapa - ne décrit pas leur appariement morphologique ; ce caractère demeure conjecturel et il nexiste aucun écrit établissant que les rapa d'une paire devaient être absolument semblables. Létude du corpus des rapa fait apparaître de réelles variations dans les dimensions, les proportions et les formes. Se distinguent dès lors à lévidence des uvres dont les dimensions, la morphologie et létat de surface confirment la cohérence dune paire. Ainsi, parmi les rapa du British Museum, ceux inventoriés sous les numéros 2599 et 2600 présentent, comme sur les uvres présentées ici, des caractéristiques éminemment apparentées. L'idée de couples de rapa était évidente pour le grand collectionneur et marchand William Ockelford Oldman (1879-1849) ; il en possédait cinq exemplaires dont quatre formaient ce qu'il appelle deux "paires" ; il ajoute, à propos de l'une d'elles (n° 360A et 360B, cf. illustration ci-dessus), que ses deux éléments "avaient été acquis en même temps à l'île de Pâques". Ce sont à la fois leur dimension, leur forme, leur âge et leur patine (durée dutilisation) qui nous permettent dassocier les deux rapa présentés ici. Malgré de légères différences, ils se répondent en premier lieu par des pales supérieures et inférieures respectivement superposables et par la transcription de la nervure médiane. Le dessin des visages et les silhouettes de ces uvres saccordent également dans le jeu subtil de courbes et de contre-courbes, tandis que la patine des poignées atteste dun même usage prolongé. Les éléments de chacune des « paires » décrites plus haut, présentent de légères différences de dimensions, mais des formes et des proportions très voisines. Il est vraisemblable que deux rapa morphologiquement très proches, conservées ensemble jusquà leur acquisition, étaient luvre du même sculpteur ; il y avait exprimé ses propres canons esthétiques et donc son style individuel, perceptible dans la délinéation, la proportion relative des pales, la longueur de la poignée, etc. « Les océaniens sont le seul peuple au monde qui ait donné à lesthétique la primaut (Leenhard. Arts dOcéanie, 1948). Avec les pectoraux reimiro, les rapa constituent les meilleurs exemples de la recherche de perfection esthétique que manifestent les sculptures des grands maîtres pascuans. En 1774, au cours de l'escale de James Cook les naturalistes John et Reinhold Forster, s'émerveillèrent de "ce goût pour les arts" développé par les Pascuans dans leurs sculptures sur bois (Forster, Florulae insularum australicum prodromus, 1786, vol. 1, p.591). Le plaisir esthétique est seul luxe que les Pascuans se permettaient en dehors de la  glorieuse déraison de leurs monuments et de leurs statues de pierre. Apogée de lharmonie et de labstraction de la figure humaine, ces deux rapa témoignent dun degré daboutissement éloquent. A lépure magistrale des formes répondent ici le galbe délicat des contours et la beauté de la surface vierge de tout décor autre que la présence des visages stylisés. Chacun se résume à une ligne sculptée en champlevé, où la courbe des sourcils se prolonge dans larête rectiligne du nez, et à la représentation des ornements doreilles sphériques : ils sont lessence même de la modernité. La pale inférieure évoque quant à elle, par ses courbes sensuelles, le bas du corps. Elle est parcourue axialement par une carène discrète qui se prolonge, au-delà de sa base, par un appendice phallique. La beauté épurée de ces uvres est sublimée par la qualité du bois et de sa patine. Les dix-sept rapa des collections publiques et privées examinés par Catherine Orliac ont été sculptés dans le bois du Sophora toromiro. Ceux présentés ici offrent, à l'observation macroscopique, tous les caractères de ce bois. Tailler des planches minces et rectilignes dans ce bois très dur présentant des nuds et du contre-fil atteste dun savoir-faire accompli. De surcroît, la rectitude de la pièce de bois implique, pour un toromiro naturellement tortueux et de petite dimension, des conditions de croissance très maîtrisées. A chaque tronc correspondrait un unique rapa, centré sur le cur d'une planche diamétrale. Sous le vernis, classiquement apposé par les collectionneurs anglais au XIXe siècle, se devinent de longues stries peu profondes, parallèles au bord de la pale inférieure, qui résultent du polissage traditionnel de finition. Visible également sous le vernis de la poignée, le mince enduit noir originel est effacé par de vigoureuses manipulations. Quelques traces dérosion et de compressions ponctuelles, elles aussi émoussées, égrignent le bord des pales. Il en est de même sur la plupart des rapa classiques ; ces caractères attestent, comme ici, de leur vie cérémonielle active. Le corpus des rapa saffirme comme lun des plus aboutis de lart polynésien. Sajoute pour ce chef-duvre lhistoire rarissime qui a permis à deux rapa de demeurer associés plusieurs siècles après leur création et de soffrir à notre contemplation dans la magnificence de leur doublet conceptuel. Discovering a masterpiece by Michel Orliac CNRS researcher, Easter Island specialist "In the middle of the Great Ocean, in a region where no one ever passes, lies a mysterious and isolated island; no land lies in its vicinity, and, for eight hundred leagues around, empty, moving immensities surround it."  Pierre Loti, L'île de Pâques. Journal d'un aspirant de La Flore, 1872, p. 5 Since its discovery in 1722 by Dutch sailor Jakob Roggeveen, Easter Island has been a source of fascination for Westerners. Although the Moai stone colossi - imposing effigies of deified aristocrats - instantly impressed the sailors, it wasnt until 1774, during the voyage of Captain James Cook, that wooden sculptures were collected for the first time. Exemplars of this refined art form arrived in Europe during the eighteenth century, revealing to the West the creative genius of the Rapanui (Easter Islanders), both in the multiple reinventions of the human figure and in their formal modernity. Until their conversion to Catholicism in 1868, Easter Islanders punctuated the year with several public celebrations held at the foot of sacred platforms. Some of the participants carried a wide variety of wooden ornaments: rank insignia and figurines. The largest and most stereotyped of them, the ua and the ao, both carved atop a bifrons human head, were held by hand, with their base resting on the ground, as illustrated in a drawing by Pierre Loti (Rochefort, Musée Hèbre, ref 2012.2.68 and 2012.2.50). They found their counterpart in the famous rapa, these double-bladed dance accessories almost entirely abstract the human figure and although less imposing in size, are nonetheless carved with an extremely advanced technique. On the use of the rapa It was not until 1868 during a stopover of the HMS Topaze, where John Linton Palmer was a surgeon, that the name of these unique creations came to be known: the rapa. Palmer did not collect precise testimony about these works of art, but he saw them in the hands of the Pascuans as soon as he landed; the continually occurring form, carved or painted on the rocks, tattooed on women's backs, emphasised their importance. On 4 January 1872, Pierre Loti was the first to attend a "paddle dance", which he mentions but does not describe (« Rapa Nui, l'île de Pâques de Pierre Loti », Les Cahiers de la Girafe, 2009, p. 96). In 1886, William Thomson, the treasurer of the American ship Mohican, observed rapa during dances organized for him. It was then recorded that they "are usually held in each hand, but from time to time [during the dance], one and sometimes both are discarded." He acquired two of them, both still preserved at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. (Thomson, "Te Pito te Henua, or Easter Island", Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, 1891, p. 491). Although the large ao required a certain solemnity in its handling, the rapa, with its diminutive form, was handled with great velocity: during the war dances of military chiefs in front of the king, the rapa were whirled around his face "to frighten him" (Alfred Métraux, 1934). Moreover, the small scale of the rapa also allowed their use in pairs during seated female dances. The concept of pairing The mass, shape and weight distribution of the rapa lent them perfectly to manipulation as pairs. The polished handle still visible today on some of the corpus is a mark of the soft, insistent friction they were subjected to, and is not present on other types of wooden sculptures from Easter Island. It is easy to imagine these objects whirling madly, one in each of the dancer's hands. Thomson's text from 1891 - the only text that describes the handling of the rapa - does not depict their morphological pairing; this characteristic remains conjectural, and there is no written confirmation that each of the rapa within a pair need be absolutely similar to the other. The study of the rapa corpus reveals a great deal of variation in dimensions, proportions and shapes. Based on this observation, there is strong evidence of pairing coherence between certain exemplars in terms of dimensions, morphology and state of the surface. Thus, among the rapa of the British Museum, those inventoried under the numbers 2599 and 2600 display strongly related characteristics, as do the ones presented here. The idea of rapa "couples" seemed obvious to the great collector and dealer William Ockelford Oldman (1879-1849); he owned five of them, four of which formed what he referred to as two "pairs"; he added, about one of them (n°360A and 360B, see illustration supra), that its two elements "were acquired at the same time on Easter Island." The combination of their similar size, shape, age and patina (duration of use) allow us to associate the two rapa presented here. In spite of slight differences, their first claim to a pairing lies in their upper and lower blades, respectively superimposable upon one another, and in the transcription of the medial rib. The design of the faces and silhouettes on these pieces also combine in a subtle play of curves and counter-curves, whilst the patina of the handles attests to the same prolonged use. The elements of each of the "pairs" described above display slight differences in dimensions but very similar shapes and proportions. It is likely that two morphologically very close rapa, kept together until their acquisition, were the work of a single sculptor; through them he expressed his own aesthetic canons, and thus his individual style, detectable in the delineation, the relative proportion of the blades, the length of the handle, and so on. "Oceanians are the only people in the world who have given primacy to aesthetics" (Leenhard. Arts dOcéanie, 1948). Along with the reimiro pectorals from Easter Island, the rapa are the best examples of the search for aesthetic perfection manifest in the sculptures of the great Easter Islanders masters. In 1774, during James Cook's stopover, naturalists John and Reinhold Forster marvelled at "this taste for the arts" developed by the Easter Islanders in their wooden sculptures (Forster, Florulae insularum Australia prodromus, 1786, vol. 1, p.591). Aesthetic pleasure is the only luxury that the Pascuans allowed themselves, apart from the glorious folly of their monuments and stone statues. An epitome of harmony and of the abstraction of the human figure, these two rapa are prime exemplars of an eloquent accomplishment. The pared down purity of their lines, the delicate curve of their contours, and the beauty of their surface devoid of any decoration save the presence of stylised faces. Each one is simply the combination of a sculpted champlevé line, where the curve of the eyebrows extends into the rectilinear ridge of the nose, and of a representation of the spherical ear ornaments: they are the very essence of modernity. The lower blade, with its sensual curves, evokes the lower body. It is traversed axially by a discreet crest that extends beyond the base into a phallic appendage. The pared down beauty of these pieces is sublimated by the quality of the wood and its patina. The seventeen rapa from public and private collections that were examined by Catherine Orliac are each carved from Sophora toromiro wood. When observed macroscopically, the ones presented here display all the characteristics of this wood. Producing thin straight planks out of this very hard wood, with its cross grain and knots, required masterful craftsmanship.  Furthermore, to obtain a straight plank from such a naturally small and gnarly wood as the toromiro would have required highly controlled growth conditions for the tree itself. Each tree would correspond to a single rapa, centered wihtin the heart of a diametric plank. Beneath the varnish, conventionally applied by English collectors in the nineteenth century, long shallow grooves can be identified, running parallel to the edge of the lower blade, these are a result of the traditional final polishing. Under the handle's varnish, the original thin black coating is also visible, albeit worn away by vigorous ceremonial handling. Some traces of erosion and occasional compressions punctuate the edge of the blades which have also become blunted. This wear is evident on most classical rapa and, as is the case here, and attests to the active ceremonial life of these objects. The rapa corpus stands out as one of the most accomplished in Polynesian art. In the case of this masterpiece, their unique history has allowed two rapa to remain together for several centuries after their creation and to appear before us in the magnificence of their conceptual pairing.

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  • 2017-12-12
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MASQUE EN IVOIRE, LEGA, RÉPUBLIQUE DÉMOCRATIQUE DU CONGO | Masque en ivoire

LE JOYAU LEGA DE LA COLLECTION ADOLPHE ET SUZANNE STOCLET Par Marguerite de Sabran « Chaque âge a ses découvreurs. Pour le nôtre, Stoclet fut l’un d’eux ». Georges A. Salles, directeur des musées de France, Collection Adolphe Stoclet, 1945, p. VII Ce joyau de l’art Lega témoigne, à lui seul, du regard éclairé de l’un des plus emblématiques couples de mécènes et de collectionneurs : Adolphe et Suzanne Stoclet. En 1911, ils s’installent dans la Maison Stoclet, chef-d’œuvre de la Wiener Werkstätte conçu à leur demande par l’architecte Josef Hoffmann et dont le théâtre accueillera les personnalités les plus innovantes du monde artistique. Leur passion de la découverte s’incarne dans une prodigieuse collection à visée universelle, où prennent place les arts d’Afrique dont ils comptèrent parmi les premiers admirateurs. Avant la Première Guerre mondiale, leurs acquisitions proviennent essentiellement de marchands parisiens, au premier rang desquels, Joseph Brummer. Le Livre de police de la galerie Brummer fait état de plusieurs achats auprès du marchand anversois Henri Pareyn, « découvreur » des arts Lega qu’il achetait aux voyageurs, coloniaux et marins débarquant à Anvers à leur retour du Congo. Le 31 octobre 1913 notamment, Brummer lui achète un ensemble de quatorze objets parmi lesquels figure, sous le numéro F115, un « masque nègre en ivoire ». Le Livre de caisse s’arrête quelques mois plus tard, avec la Crise de juillet qui décidera du départ de Joseph Brummer pour New York. Si aucune mention ne signale la cession des objets Pareyn, les étroites relations commerciales entretenues à cette époque entre Brummer et les Stoclet rendent très vraisemblable une provenance Pareyn – Brummer du masque en ivoire de la collection Adolphe et Suzanne Stoclet. Nancy Cunard fut la première à en publier la photographie. Symbole de l’avant-garde des années 1920, activiste engagée contre le racisme, collectionneuse et muse de nombreux écrivains et artistes, Nancy Cunard fait paraître, en 1934, son révolutionnaire Negro Anthology dans lequel elle a réuni poésies et textes d’écrivains afro-américains, et les images des plus grands chefs-d’œuvre de l’art africain.  Les provenances muséales y côtoient celles des plus illustres collectionneurs de l’époque : Paul Guillaume, Charles Ratton, Félix Fénéon, Léonce Guerre, et « Mr. and Mrs Stoclet, Brussels ». Sous la photographie du masque – l’une des rares à être publiée en pleine page - l’auteur précise pour en accentuer l’importance : « actual size ». Au lendemain de la parution de Negro Anthology, Adolphe et Suzanne Stoclet reçoivent, à Bruxelles, James J. Sweeney. Le jeune conservateur vient de se voir confier par Alfred Barr, directeur du Museum of Modern Art (MoMA, New York), le commissariat d’une des plus importantes et audacieuses expositions de son temps : African Negro Art. « Le Masque en ivoire patine brun foncé » figure en tête des quatre œuvres « d’art Warega » qu’Adolphe Stoclet confirme, après sa rencontre avec Sweeney, être « disposé à [lui] prêter pour [son] exposition » (lettre du 14 novembre 1934, The Museum of Modern Art Archives). Sweney accomplit ainsi la réunion, aussi historique que prodigieuse, des quatre grands masques en ivoire Lega alors répertoriés : le masque de Louis Carré (ancienne collection Georges de Miré, puis Pablo Picasso), ceux de Charles Ratton et de Bela Hein, et le masque Stoclet. Considérés comme l’apogée de l’art Lega, chacun en exprime un style hautement individuel, superbement saisi dans les clichés du photographe Walker Evans. Le masque de la collection Adolphe et Suzanne Stoclet s’y impose par la prégnance magistrale de sa beauté minimaliste. En décembre 1937, Frans Olbrechts ouvrait, au Stadsfeestzaal d’Anvers, la plus ambitieuse rétrospective jamais dédiée aux arts du Congo. Sous les numéros 624 à 627 du catalogue figurent les quatre ivoires Warega présentés deux ans auparavant au MoMA.  Le « Ivoren Warega-masker » est l’une des – seulement -  vingt-trois œuvres (sur près de 1500) élues par Olbrechts pour illustrer le catalogue. A la mort d’Adolphe Stoclet, les photographies en noir et blanc de ses très nombreuses publications continueront à célébrer ce joyau de l’art Lega. Les échanges épistolaires entre Adolphe Stoclet et les conservateurs James Sweeney et Frans Olbrechts indiquent qu’en 1937, la collection d’art africain d’Adolphe et Suzanne Stoclet ne comptait qu’un nombre très restreint d’œuvres. « Point d’objet de série. Seul compte l’exceptionnel. [..] Dans les arts de Sumer, d’Egypte, du Mexique, du Pérou, de Perse, de Chine, du Japon, d’Inde, d’Indonésie, ou d’Afrique Noire, Stoclet choisit et accueille dans son intimité des personnages jusque-là ignorés ou réputés intouchables. Réunis dans [le cadre délibérément moderne de] son palais viennois, ils deviennent des monstres sacrés ». Georges Salles (idem, p. VII – VIII) CHEF-D'OEUVRE DE l'ART LEGA « Le masque en ivoire de la collection Adolphe et Suzanne Stoclet est idimu, l’une des cinq catégories de masques Lega. Il est associé à un ancêtre spécifique dont le souvenir reste très présent, qui vécut il y a plusieurs générations notoires (six à neuf générations en récitations généalogiques). Il constitue donc, pour la communauté kindi, un document historique. En tant qu’objet d’initiation (isengo), il est « vu » (dans le sens de l’époptie grecque à Eleusis) au cours des rites paroxystiques des initiations du lutumbo lwa kindi. Il est « gardé » par un kindi âgé qui en est le dépositaire au nom des kindi, vivants et morts, d’une communauté rituelle (dans laquelle sont en définitive associés d’autres groupes claniques distinctifs) ; il constitue dès lors, au sein de ce groupe, un élément de cohésion, d’esprit de corps, et de justice. La profondeur de la patine est de première importance : plus encore que l’âge de l’œuvre, elle atteste la fréquence de son usage intensif, dans le cadre du rite ibonga masengo des initiations kindi ». Daniel Biebuyck, Mars 2016 En 1952, Daniel Biebuyck1 se vit offrir, en pays Lega, l’un des très rares témoins de l’illustre corpus des masques idimu en ivoire, qu’il céda au Musée Royal de l’Afrique centrale (Tervuren, inv. n° 55.3.53). Les informations à leur sujet, qu’il fut le seul à recueillir sur le terrain, permirent d’identifier, sur des critères autres que leur stupéfiante beauté, ces grands masques en ivoire célébrés en Occident depuis les années 1920, et de préciser leur insigne importance au sein de leur contexte d’origine. Comme l’ensemble de la production artistique des Lega, le masque de la collection Adolphe et Suzanne Stoclet relève de l’institution du Bwami, association initiatique qui structure les différents groupes Lega, essentiellement installés dans les régions forestières de Mwenga, Shabunda et Pangi. Symbole de l’unité des Lega - fédérant les vastes clans patrilinéaires et les lignages segmentaires qui les constituent – elle est garante du pouvoir moral, politique et juridique. Son organisation, strictement hiérarchisée, comprend un ensemble de grades dont l’accès, recourant à des rites initiatiques de plus en plus complexes, repose sur les qualités du postulant et le consensus de la communauté. Les initiés au grade suprême sont appelés kindi et ceux d’entre eux ayant atteint l’ultime échelon de ce grade, lutumbo lwa kindi. Propriété individuelle ou collective propre à chaque grade, les sculptures (figurines et masques en bois, en ivoire, en os, en pierre ou en résine) relèvent des masengo (sing. isengo), objets d’initiation dont le rôle est de transmettre, dans un contexte dramaturgique, l’éthique - valeurs, statuts, droits et privilèges essentiels - de l’association du Bwami. Les masques idimu en ivoire transcendent la portée des deux corpus auxquels ils se rattachent : les masquettes en ivoire dites lukungu (tenant en général dans la paume de la main), et les grands masques muminia en bois, dont la surface peut être blanchie au kaolin. Si les premières sont la prérogative des initiés kindi (grade suprême) qui les possèdent à titre conditionnel, elles conservent une signification générique. Leur nom, lukungu, désigne le crâne. Les masques muminia appartiennent quant à eux, non pas à des individus, mais à « une collectivité d’initiés unis par des liens de parenté et de territorialité » (1994, p. 53). Egalement liés aux ancêtres, et plus spécifiquement au fondateur du groupe, ils interviennent dans des rites initiatiques de plusieurs grades - notamment exposés sur une petite claie pala, entourés de masquettes ; « ils sont considérés comme des ‘mères‘,  la source vitale et les protecteurs des plus petits [masquettes] » (2002, p. 100). Les rares masques idimu sculptés en ivoire, tel le masque de la collection Adolphe et Suzanne Stoclet, sont très peu connus. Leur identification et leur signification reposent sur trois masques que Daniel Biebuyck a observé (1952-53) dans leur contexte initiatique dans trois différentes communautés rituelles lega, dont celui qu’il a cédé au musée de Tervuren (cf. supra). De certains points de vue, les grands masques en ivoire sont comparables aux grands masques en bois ; leurs différences résident dans leur mode d’emploi, leur signification et les règles qui régissent leur possession. Ils sont destinés à être vus sans être portés et sont exposés sans explication. Le masque du musée de Tervuren, ainsi que les deux autres, étaient placés sous la responsabilité d’un lutumbo lwa kindi des trois clans au sein desquels ils avaient été transmis d’une génération classificatoire à l’autre, « attestant de la parfaite cohésion du groupe et de l’importance de ce dernier dans la répartition des kindi » (idem) au sein de la large communauté de kindi « englobant de nombreux villages et des unités de parenté distinctes […] » (1994, p. 176). Les quelques communautés possédant ces masques semblent être liées à l’origine des rites kindi dans certains clans. Ce symbole historique majeur se précise dans le rapport, établi par Daniel Biebuyck, entre le masque Stoclet et « un ancêtre spécifique, ayant vécu il y a six ou neuf générations » (cf. supra). De cette signification qui puise dans l’histoire des migrations Lega et consacre l’ancêtre ayant institué le grade suprême du Bwami, résulte la très grande rareté des masques idimu en ivoire. Nonobstant le critère de leur dimension (supérieure à celle de la plupart des masquettes en ivoire lukungu) et tout en affirmant que « dans les temps anciens, des kindi d’autres communautés ont également possédé de tels masques » (1986, p. 174), Daniel Biebuyck a toujours usé d’une très grande prudence quant à leur identification individuelle à la catégorie suprême des idimu en ivoire. Hormis celui qu’il collecta en 1952, l’unique masque en ivoire qu’il a fermement identifié à ce jour comme tel est celui de la collection Stoclet. Il le découvrit en 1953 au Palais Stoclet, où Franz Olbrechts l’introduisit. A l’impact sculptural du masque Stoclet répondait, au même titre que le joyau que Daniel Biebuyck venait de collecter, « ce qui peut se concevoir comme le summum de l’expression du goût esthétique Lega : lisse, patine rougeâtre, satiné, non décoré » (2002, p. 100). La frappante variété stylistique des rares masques en ivoire idimu reflète leur appartenance respective à différents lignages constitutifs des clans venus s’implanter dans des régions autonomes. Le masque collecté par Daniel Biebuyck avait été sculpté par un individu appartenant à un lignage de grands sculpteurs, incorporé dans celui de son gardien. Il est très vraisemblable qu’il en fut ainsi pour tous les masques idimu en ivoire, chacun témoignant donc de l’apogée d’un style individuellement développé par des lignages distincts, exalté par le talent individuel de l’artiste. A la dimension sculpturale s’ajoute la spécificité de l’ornementation. Si la plupart des (rares) masques du corpus sont parés de motifs linéaires constitués d’une succession de « points-cercles », le masque du musée de Tervuren et le masque Stoclet se distinguent par l’esthétique épurée de leur surface vierge de toute ornementation. Selon Daniel Biebuyck (communication personnelle, mars 2016), « nombre de masques plus récents offrent un décor plus élaboré ». L’éblouissante beauté de sa patine profonde, jouant sur les teintes brunes, rouges et orangées, témoigne de la fréquence et de la longévité de son usage, invariablement précédé du rite secret ibonga masengo au cours duquel, par onction d’huile pigmentée, la force de cet objet d’initiation sacré était ravivée. Enfin, plusieurs traces de prélèvements rappellent ici les pouvoirs thérapeutiques de ces masques dont une fine poudre pouvait être prélevée et bue afin de revitaliser l’initié. Dans son texte dédié au masque Stoclet, Daniel Biebuyck (cf. supra) précise, pour la première fois, que le masque idimu en ivoire n’était dévoilé, au sein du grade suprême, qu’à partir des rites d’initiation permettant aux kindi d’en atteindre le titre ultime, lutumbo lwa kindi. La solennelle majesté dans laquelle il s’offre à notre regard reflète l’importance souveraine qui lui était conférée au sein du Bwami : objet sacré, symbole actif de son unité et de l’autorité historique, politique, cultuelle et morale de sa plus haute instance. [1] Le Dr. Daniel P. Biebuyck a mené des recherches sur le terrain (en particulier en 1952 et 1953) parmi les Lega, où il a été initié dans plus de vingt communautés rituelles autonomes. Parmi les anthropologues qui se sont intéressés au peuple Lega, il est le seul à avoir très largement publié les résultats de ses recherches (et en particulier le seul à avoir recueilli sur le terrain des informations sur les masques en ivoire idimu, dont il n’a volontairement que partiellement dévoilé la signification). Ses ouvrages de référence, sur lesquels nous nous sommes appuyés ici sont : Lega Culture. Art, Initiation and Moral Philosophie of an African People (1973), The Art of Zaire, vol. II. Eastern Zaire (1986), La Sculpture des Lega (1994), et Lega. Ethique et beauté au cœur de l’Afrique (2002). THE LEGA JEWEL OF THE ADOLPHE AND SUZANNE STOCLET COLLECTION By Marguerite de Sabran "Each era has its discoverers. For ours, Stoclet was one of them » Georges A. Salles, Director of the Musées de France, Collection Adolphe Stoclet, 1945, p. VII This jewel of Lega art is a testament to the visionary eye of two of the most emblematic patrons of the arts and collectors: Adolphe and Suzanne Stoclet. In 1911, Adolphe and Suzanne moved into the Maison Stoclet, a masterpiece of the Wiener Werkstätte designed by the architect Josef Hoffmann. The house included a theatre in which they would welcome the most innovative artistic personalities of the time. Their passion for discovery is embodied in their prodigious collection of universal scope, including the arts of Africa. Prior to World War I, the Stoclet’s acquisitions came primarily from Parisian art dealers, foremost among them Joseph Brummer . The Brummer gallery's record book mentions several purchases made by Brummer from art dealer Henry Pareyn of Antwerp. Pareyn was the source of the "discovery" of Lega arts, purchasing objects from both colonial and seafaring travelers, who landed in Antwerp on their return from the Congo. On 31 October 1913, in particular, Brummer bought a set of fourteen objects from Pareyn, which included, under number F115, a "negro ivory mask." The Record Book was interrupted a few months later, with the July Crisis, leading to Brummer’s departure for New York. No mention is made of the transfer of the Pareyn objects in 1913, but the close business relations, between Brummer and Stoclet make it very likely that Pareyn-Brummer was the source of the ivory mask of the Adolphe and Suzanne Stoclet collection. Nancy Cunard was the first to publish a photograph of this superb mask. In 1934, Nancy Cunard- a symbol of the 1920s avant-garde, an activist committed against racism, collector, and muse for many writers and artists-  published her revolutionary Negro Anthology, featuring poems and texts by African-American writers and pictures of the greatest masterpieces of African art. The objects were selected from both museums and the most famous collectors of the time: Paul Guillaume, Charles Ratton, Félix Fénéon, Léonce Guerre, and "Mr. and Mrs Stoclet, Brussels". Under the photograph of the mask - one of the few to be published on a full page to highlight its importance- the author notes: "actual size".  After the release of Negro Anthology, Adolphe and Suzanne Stoclet hosted James J. Sweeney in Brussels. The young curator had just been entrusted by Alfred H. Barr, Director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA, New York), to curate one of the most important and daring exhibitions of the time: African Negro Art. "The ivory mask with dark brown patina" was the first among the four works of "Warega art" which Adolphe Stoclet confirmed, after meeting Sweeney, that he was " willing to lend [him] for [his] exhibition" (letter dated 14 November 1934, The Museum of Modern Art Archives). Sweeney thus accomplished a convergence as historic as it was extraordinary: that of the four large Lega ivory masks then on record - the mask belonging to Louis Carré (formerly in the collections of Georges de Miré and Pablo Picasso), those owned by Charles Ratton and Bela Hein, and the Stoclet mask were all on view. Regarded as the pinnacle of Lega art, each expresses a highly individual style, beautifully captured in the photographs by Walker Evans. The mask from the Adolphe and Suzanne Stoclet collection stands out for the imperious pregnancy of its minimalist beauty. In December 1937, Frans Olbrechts launched, at the Stadsfeestzaal in Antwerp, the most ambitious retrospective ever devoted to the arts of the Congo. The four ivory Waregas presented two years earlier at the MoMA figured in the catalogue under numbers 624 to 627.  The "Ivoren Warega-masker" is one of - only - twenty-three pieces (out of nearly 1500), selected by Olbrechts to illustrate the catalogue. Upon the death of Adolphe Stoclet, the numerous publications and black and white photographs continued to celebrate this jewel of Lega art.   The exchange of letters between the Stoclets and curators James Sweeney and Frans Olbrechts show that, in 1937, the African art collection of Adolphe and Suzanne Stoclet had only a very limited number of works. "No mass-produced objects. Only the exceptional counts. […] In the arts of Sumer, Egypt, Mexico, Peru, Persia, China, Japan, India, Indonesia, or Black Africa, Stoclet selects and welcomes into his private sphere characters thus far ignored or deemed untouchable. Gathered in [the deliberately modern setting of] his Viennese palace, they become sacred monsters." Georges Salles (ibid, p. VII – VIII). “The ivory mask from the Adolphe et Suzanne Stoclet’s Collection” is idimu, one of the five categories of Lega masks. It is associated with a particular well-remembered ancestor who lived several well-known generations ago (in genealogical recitations six to nine generations) ; thus for the kindi community it is an historical document. As an initiation object (isengo) it is “seen” (cf. the Greek epopteia at Eleusis) in the climactic rites of the lutumbo lwa kindi initiations. It is “guarded “ by an aged kindi who holds it in trust for the kindi, living and dead, of a ritual community (in which eventually otherwise distinctive clan groups are associated) ; thus it constitutes an element of cohesion, of esprit de corps, and of legality in that group. Depth of patination is essential: more than an indication of age; it is a proof of the repeated intensive use, in the “ibonga masengo” rite of the kindi initiations. A note by Daniel Biebuyck  A MASTERPIECE OF LEGA ART In 1952, Daniel Biebuyck, received as a gift, in Lega country, a very rare example of the illustrious corpus of idimu ivory masks, which he later gave to the Royal Museum of Central Africa (Tervuren, inv. N°55.3.53). Information on their meaning, which he was the only one to collect in the field, allowed him to identify the group of large ivory masks celebrated in the West since the 1920s based on criteria other than those pertaining to their stultifying beauty, and to specify their great importance within their original context. As with all Lega’s artistic production, the mask from the Adolphe and Suzanne Stoclet Collection was carved for the Bwami institution. This initiatory association structures the various Lega groups, essentially settled in the Mwenga, Shabunda and Pangi forest regions. Symbol of Lega unity – federating the vast patrilineal clans and segmentary lineages that constitute them – it is a guarantee of moral, political and legal power. Its organization is structured in a strict hierarchy and includes a set of grades, involving more and more complex initiation rites. Individuals initiated according to their qualities and the community’s consensus into the supreme grade are called kindi and those who have reached the ultimate rank are called, lutumbo lwa kindi. Individual or collective property dedicated to each rank, these sculptures (wood, ivory, bone, stone, or resin figurines and masks) belong to the category of masengo (sing. Insengo). These are initiation objects whose function is to transmit, in a dramatic context, the ethics – values, statutes, rights, and essential privileges of the Bwami association. Within masengo, these sculptures form the bitungwa category “things charged with meaning that ‘create linkages’” (1994, p.37). These links unite individuals, clans and lineages, both between them and with their dead ancestors within the Bwami. Idimu ivory masks transcend both corpuses to which they are connected: the ivory “masquettes” called lukungu (generally fitting in the palm of the hand), and the big muminia wooden masks, whose surface is sometimes whitened with kaolin. Whereas the first are the prerogative of initiated kindi (supreme rank), they have generic meaning: their name, lukungu, means “skull”. They belong conditionally to each kindi initiate and are considered as “doubles, memories, proofs of identity, and symbolic linkages” uniting the initiated kindi to the deceased whose place he has taken in the graded community. Whereas the lukwakongo and the lukungu masks symbolize the continuity of a line of inititated kinsmen, at a higher level, the idimu mask celebrates the pertuity of the entire kindi community” (1973, p. 211). Muminia masks don’t belong to individuals, but to “a community of initiates linked by kinship and territoriality” (1994, p. 53). Connected to ancestors, and more specifically to the group’s founder, they intervene in the initiation rites of several grades – in particular displayed on a small pala ritual fence, surrounded with “masquettes”; “they are considered as ‘mothers’, vital source and protectors of the smallest [masquettes]” (2002, p. 100). Idimu masks sculpted in ivory, such as the one from the Adolphe and Suzanne Stoclet Collection are rare and little known. Their identification and meaning are based on data recorded on three masks seen by Daniel Biebuyck (1952-53) in their initiation context in three different Lega ritual communities, including the mask he donated to the Tervuren museum (cf. supra). From certain points of view, the large ivory masks are comparable to those in wood; differences are found in their use, patterns of ownership, and meaning. They are meant to be seen without being worn and are exhibited without explanations. The mask at Tervuren museum, and the other two masks seen in the field, were placed under the responsibility of a lutumbo lwa kindi of three different clans, within which they had been transmitted from one classificatory generation to another, thereby confirming “the perfect cohesion of the group and its importance in the distribution of kindi initiates.“ (idem), more specifically within the large kindi community, which includes “numerous villages and distinct kinship units […]. Some communities possessing these masks seem to be linked with the origin of the kindi rites in specific clans (1994, p. 176). This important symbol is clear in the linkage made by Daniel Biebuyck between the Stoclet’s mask and a “specific ancestor, who lived six to nine generations ago” (cf. supra). The rarity of idimu ivory masks can be attributed to the history of Lega migrations and the few clan ancestors who originally attained the supreme Bwami grade. Despite their dimension (superior to most of the lukungu ivory “masquette”), Daniel Biebuyck, while asserting that ”formerly, kindi of other communities may have possessed similar masks” (1986, p. 174), has always been circumspect about these masks, especially concerning their categorization as idimu. Aside from the one collected in 1952 and the two seen in the field, no other ivory mask has been solidly identified as Idimu, except for this example from the Stoclet Collection. Daniel Biebuyck discovered it in 1953 at the Palais Stoclet, where he was introduced by Franz Olbrechts. The aesthetic impact of the Stoclet’s mask corresponds to what Biebuyck wrote about the mask he collected in 1952 as:  “the summum of Lega aesthetic taste: smooth, reddish patina, velvety, undecorated” (2002, p. 100). The striking stylistic variety of the few idimu ivory masks reflects their respective association with different lineages and clans where kindi was originally implanted. The mask collected by Daniel Biebuyck was sculpted by an individual belonging to a lineage of great sculptors incorporated into the mask’s guardian lineage. This may have been true for all the idimu ivory masks, each one testifying to the variety of individual style developed in distinct lineages, created by the talent of individual artists. Added to the sculptural dimension of the mask is the question of its ornamentation. Most of the (rare) masks from the corpus are adorned with linear motifs, constituted by a succession of dots or circle-dots. The mask at the Tervuren Museum and the Stoclet mask are notable for their uncluttered aesthetics, which is free of any ornamentation. According to Daniel Biebuyck (personal communication, March 2016), “numerous masks that were carved in more recent times have more elaborate ornamentation”. The dazzling beauty of the Stoclet mask’s deep patina, playing on brown, red, and orange tones, is proof of the frequency and longevity of its use, invariably preceded by the secret rite ibonga masengo during which, by application of pigmented oil, the strength of this sacred initiation object was revived. Finally, several traces of light scraping remind us of the therapeutic powers contained in these masks, from which a light bit of powder could be rubbed off and drunk in order to revitalize the initiate. In his note dedicated to the Stoclet mask, Daniel Biebuyck (cf. supra) states, that the ivory mask was revealed only at the final episode of the lutumbo lwa kindi initiation. The solemn majesty by which it presents itself to our eyes, reflects its sovereign importance in Bwami as a sacred object, active symbol of its unity and of its historic, sociopolitical, ritual, and moral authority at the highest level.

  • FRAFrance
  • 2016-06-22
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Ngbaka statue of the mythical ancestor seto, democratic republic of the congo

Inventory number "7553" painted in white on reverse of proper right leg; on a base by the Japanese wood artist Kichizô Inagaki (1876-1951), Paris. The Kunin Ngbaka Statue By Heinrich Schweizer History of the Kunin Statue The Kunin Ngbaka Statue is without question the greatest masterpiece surviving from the Ubangi cultural region in present-day Democratic Republic of Congo (see already Fagg 1970: 94, text to cat. 103). Previously the centerpiece of the important collection of African artworks assembled by the American sculptor Chaim Gross (1904-1991), it was recently identified by the French scholar Jean-Louis Paudrat as one of the works originally owned by Georges de Miré, a mythical figure among French art collectors. Based on this information, its provenance could subsequently be completed with the names of two other luminaries in the history of African art: Charles Ratton and Pierre Matisse. The importance and quality of the de Miré collection can hardly be overstated, as Marguerite de Sabran (“The Georges de Miré Collection: ‘Sculptures anciennes d’Afrique’”, in Sotheby’s, Paris, Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie, December 11, 2013, pp. 23-24, slightly modified translation, October 2014) has pointed out: “On December 16, 1931, after a fourteen-day-long exhibition at Charles Ratton’s Paris gallery, the Georges de Miré collection of Sculptures anciennes d’Afrique et d’Amérique was sold at the Hôtel Drouot by Maître Bellier with the assistance of Charles Ratton and Louis Carré as experts. Photographs taken during the pre-sale exhibition reveal the astonishing quality of the works collected by Georges de Miré during a pioneering era in France. In his foreword to the catalogue, Georges-Henri Rivière, then Deputy Director of the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro in Paris, mentions his frustration at the idea "that the Trocadéro is not yet rich enough to afford the whole of this magnificent collection [which combines…] so much beauty worthy of such knowledge." To grasp the quality of de Miré’s collection, it is sufficient to mention just a few examples: the Dogon statue in the Bombu-Toro style, subsequently in the collections of Jacop Epstein, Carlo Monzino and James J. Ross (Leloup 1994: pl. 75); the Lega ivory mask subsequently in the collection of Pablo Picasso and today owned by the Musée Picasso, Paris; the Songye ivory neckrest which Christine Falgayrettes chose as the cover image of the catalog of the exhibition Supports de rèves at the Musée Dapper (Falgayrettes 1989); the monumental Fang reliquary statue with disc-shaped eyes and multi-tressed coiffure, subsequently in the collections of Jacop Epstein and Carlo Monzino, today in the Musée Dapper and paublished on the cover of the exhibition catalog Fang by that same institution; etc. etc. "The resonance of de Miré’s legendary name linked to the beginnings of the great Parisian collections - and auctions - stands in contrast to the lack of documentation surrounding his prodigious collection. A cousin of Roger de La Fresnaye, Georges de Miré, a painter himself at the time, was one of the artist's closest friends. In 1913, a letter by de La Fresnaye to de Miré attests to their shared interest in African art (Piasa, Paris, November 21, 2006, lot 44). However, considering that he was drafted to fight in the first World War, there is little chance that de Miré started collecting before the late 1910s. Three other illustrious names stand out in the history of the de Miré Collection: André Level, André Lefèvre and the Galerie Percier – which they opened together in 1922. In 1923, Georges de Miré lent three pieces to the exhibition Les arts indigènes des colonies françaises, organized by André Level at the Pavillon de Marsan. In 1930, no less than forty-one works of art from Africa and Oceania were lent by de Miré to the Galerie du Théâtre Pigalle for the iconic Exposition d'art africain et océanien. A few months later, a bad investment in the cinema business drove Georges de Miré into bankruptcy and forced him to sell his collection - an episode greatly upsetting the life of this great humanist (cf. Valentine and Philippe de Miré, private interviews). On May 7, 1931, the six major works of Oceanic art that had been lent to the Pigalle gallery (including the famous black uli) were presented anonymously in the auction Sculptures d'Afrique, d'Amérique, d'Océanie, with Charles Ratton and Louis Carré as experts. Level and Lefèvre contributed a dozen of other works, amongst which was a remarkable Luba quiver said to have been acquired from de Miré, who was, in all likelihood, André Lefèvre's advisor in this field. On December 16 of that same year and in compliance with the contractual terms of the advance made to the collector by Carré and Ratton, the final group of works was put up for auction, this time under the name 'G. de Miré'. Such was the significance of the group that it was even discussed in the American press who referred to it as 'the most important aggregation of ancient African Sculpture in existence' and 'one of the most important events of the Paris season', before adding that 'M. de Miré is a cousin of de La Fresnaye, the well known Modern Painter' (The Art News, New York, December 5, 1931).” The Kunin Ngbaka Ancestor Statue was included as lot 68 in the unillustrated catalog of the de Miré collection and described as "Statuette. Homme debout [...] Congo belge. Oubangui. H. 48 cm." It is also visible in a photograph taken during the pre-sale showing at Charles Ratton’s gallery. At the auction, the figure was acquired by Charles Ratton himself and subsequently entered the inventory of the Ratton Collection as number “7553” which is also painted on the reverse of the figure. The same number is referenced on a consignment listing from Charles Ratton to Pierre Matisse, preserved in the Pierre Matisse Gallery Archive at the Morgan Library in New York (PMG stockbook, B 94-59), where the figure is described as “Statue, Oubanghi, Congo belge, coiffure champignon”. The consignment was made in the context of the exhibition African Sculptures from the Ratton Collection held at Pierre Matisse Gallery from March 30 - April 20, 1935, coinciding with the opening of African Negro Art at MoMA to which Ratton had lent numerous pieces, too. The document at the Morgan library carries the hand-written note “35 Pieces Returned March 5 - 1936” with the Ngbaka statue marked as one of the returns. It is therefore likely that the subsequent owner, Frank Crowninshield, acquired the figure directly from Charles Ratton. The important role of Charles Ratton in the evolution of African art history has been discussed in countless academic publications, and has recently been the subject of the critically acclaimed exhibition Charles Ratton, l’invention des arts ‘primitifs” at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris (June 25 - September 22, 2013). Pierre Matisse, son of Henri Matisse, moved to New York in the late 1920s and would not only establish himself as the foremost representative of the leading contemporary European artists in America but also as early promoter of African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian art. For a brief discussion of his influential career see Heinrich Schweizer, "African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art from the Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation, New York”, in Sotheby’s, New York, African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art, New York, May 13, 2011, pp. 56-57). Frank W. Crowninshield (1872-1947), was the editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair from 1914 to 1936 and one of the earliest ambassadors of avant-garde art in the United States. Crowninshield’s collection, including the Ngbaka statue was exhibited in the 1937 Brooklyn Museum exhibition African Negro Art from the Collection of Frank Crowninshield - one of the first exhibitions of African Art in the United States in a major institution. For a discussion of Crowninshield’s pioneering role for the reception of African art in America see Paul Lewis, “Frank W. Crowninshield and John D. Graham: Two Pioneers of African Art”, in Sotheby's, New York, African and Oceanic Art from the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation, May 15, 2009, pp. 38-39. American sculptor Chaim Gross (1904-1991) and his wife Renee, who eventually acquired the Ngbaka statue from Crowninshield through John D. Graham, both Crowninshield's advisor and Chaim Gross' close friend and fellow artist, sometime between 1940 and 1944, were among the earliest collectors of African and Oceanic Art in the United States. Chaim Gross was especially known as a wood sculptor, creating a world of playful acrobats, mothers and children. He began drawing at an early age and throughout his life produced a prodigious number of graphic works, many of which were preparatory studies for his sculptures. For more information see Heinrich Schweizer, “The Chaim and Renee Gross Collection”, in Sotheby’s, New York, The Sculptor’s Eye: African and Oceanic Art from the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation, May 15, 2009, pp. 8-9. Gross considered the Ngbaka statue a universal masterpiece and counted it among the favorite works in his collection. Cultural Context The Ubangi region in central Africa spans three different countries: the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan. It houses a cluster of societies with strong historical, linguistic, and anthropological interrelations. As Grootaers (2007: 17) notes, the "crossing of a variety of frontiers created a vast melting pot, a Ubangian 'culture area' - however problematic that term may be." According to Meurant (in Grootaers 2007: 178 et seq.), the Ngbaka (Ngbaka-minagende) "are the largest population group in the western Ubangi area, whose centre (Gemena) they occupy. [...] The sculptures usually display the typical scarifications found on Ngbaka faces: a vertical line dividing the face from the top of the forehead to the tip of the nose, lines (or chevrons) joining the ears to the eyes, and sometimes a horizontal line at the bottom of the forehead." Among the Ngbaka, male and female human figures were placed at shrines as representations of the mythical ancestor Sètò and his sister-spouse, Nàbo. As Burssens (in Grootaers 2007: 121 et seq., emphasis added) notes: "The Ngbaka call their Supreme Being Gàlè, and the cult dedicated to him was more important than such cults were elsewhere in Ubangi. Gàlè was the source of life and the bringer of fertility among women. At the entrance to a dwelling, a fast growing kapok tree (gìlà) would be planted in his honour. Yet, in spite of his significance, in daily life other supernatural beings were more important. Ngbaka myths reveal the existence of another Great Spirit, Gbògbòsò (also spelled Gbaso), the creator of heaven and earth, water and fire, plants and animals. People owed their existence to yet another being, Sètò or To, who is visible nightly in the constellation Orion and who is also the most important hero in Ngbaka fables. He would have a shrine, a toa to, next to that of the ancestors. Sometimes two wooden statuettes were placed nearby, one male, one female, which represented Sètò and his sister-spouse, Nàbo. Although Sètò was considered the first – albeit mythical ancestor - the ancestors themselves were never depicted." Henrix (in Grootaers 2007: 296-297) adds: Sètò, a trickster character, "was believed to live in the forest in the shape of a very tall human being. His sister, who was also his wife, was called Nàbo. Sètò managed to steal all creatures away from Gbògbòsò, and for this reason was regarded by the Ngbaka as their ancestor. They would say, 'It's thanks to Sètò that we exist. Without him Gbògbòsò would have eaten us all.' Sètò was invoked during certain ndábà rites. "As it was dangerous to visit Sètò in the bush, his statuette would be set up in the village. Soft wood would be collected and one or two figurines made, representing Sètò, or Sètò and Nàbo. These were blackened and covered in red kúlà powder from the camwood tree. A cola nut was then chewed and the fibers spat onto the figures. The statuettes were kept in the homes of their owners and sometimes taken out for [the] ndábà rites [...] - the ndábà being an altar in the form of a seat or a table which could be sat on, or where offerings could be placed. The ndábà rite was addressed to either Gàlè, Sètò or the spirits of the dead (bòzo). But often all three were invoked in the course of a single rite, sometimes all at once. [...] If someone had a problem (sickness, sterility, an unsuccessful hunt), they would consult a seer, who would try to find the cause by divination. If necessary the seer would order the ndábà rite to be performed and would prescribe certain aspects to be observed [...]. The presence of other objects or constructions alongside the ndábà would depend on the purpose for which the rite was being performed. [...] As photographs show, kpìkìmà (statuettes) of the mythical couple Sètò and Nàbo were also used." Artistic Placement of the Gross Ngbaka Statue of Sètò One of the major examples of its genre and widely published and exhibited throughout the 20th century, the Ngbaka Statue of Sètò from the Gross Collection is a magnificent creation by an unknown artist of outstanding skill. By virtue of its early provenance and deep, multi-layered ritual patina, attesting to decades of ritual practice, it can safely be dated to the middle of the 19th century or earlier. It is a rare example of an archaic, pre-contact style. The facial features of the Gross Ngbaka, notably the concave eye sockets and the treatment of the half-open mouth, can be compared to another male figure, presumably also a representation of Sètò, with equally early history. Collected in the village of Bogelima (Karawa) by Jacques Perlo in 1912, this figure is today in the collection of the Musée Royale de l'Afrique Centrale, Tervuren (Grootaers 2007: 126, fig. 3.22). One of the main stylistic features of Ngbaka statuary is a vertical ridged line on the center of the forehead, leading down from below the hairline, sometimes terminating at the root, sometimes at the tip of the nose. According to Antonin-Marius Vergiat's inscription on the reverse of a 1933 in situ portrait of a Ngbandi (neighbors of the Ngbaka) elder preserved in the Musée Joseph Déchelette, Roanne (inv. no. '992.3.172'), this scarification, ngalo nzapke, symbolizes the cockscomb. Often, the central line of scarification is flanked by two additional lines between the corners of the eyes and the ears, cf. Grootaers (2007: 125, fig. 3.21; 179, fig. 4.55; 183, fig. 4.59). However, one central line flanked by two lines on each side, such as the case in the Gross figure, is exceedingly unusual and has not been observed in any of the other examples known. Another characteristic feature is the three-faceted treatment of the back, with alternating convex and concave edges running through the shoulder blades. The artist might have chosen this form of representation to allow for both a maximum width of the figure when seen from the front, as well as maximum curvature when seen in the profile and three-quarter back views. In its superb quality, its regal composition and expression, with its alteration of swelling and constricted forms, and the dry crust of multi-layered surface, the Kunin Ngbaka Statue is one of the quintessential central African masterpieces to remain in private hands.

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-11-11
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MASQUE MUMINIA, LEGA, RÉPUBLIQUE DÉMOCRATIQUE DU CONGO | Masque muminia

Alexis Bonew acquit en 1970 de Tom Hombert ce masque noir tant convoité, que l'administrateur territorial Raymond Hombert, son époux, avait collecté en pays Lega, en 1927. Précieusement conservé à portée de regard, il fut pour Alexis Bonew, jusqu'à son dernier souffle, cet "unicum de beauté" (notes, 1997), qu'il considérera toujours comme le sommet de sa collection. Ce chef-d’œuvre inédit, rencontre magistrale de la force et du sensible, s'inscrit dans le plus étroit corpus des masques Lega. Des désormais trois archaïques masques muminia répertoriés (cf. Trésors d'Afrique, Musée de Tervuren, n° 210, collecté en 1952 par Daniel Biebuyck et Utotombo, p. 242, n° 243, collection privée belge, également acquis in situ dans les années 1950), il est le seul à avoir été collecté à l'époque où la société initiatique du Bwami n'avait pas encore été officiellement décrétée interdite par l'administration coloniale. Enfin, tandis que les deux autres masques connus sont éminemment apparentés, celui-ci s'impose comme une expression tant exceptionnelle qu'unique, du plus grand art Lega.  Ethique et beauté dans la dramaturgie du Bwami : le masque muminia de la collection Alexis Bonew Par Dr. Daniel Biebuyck A l'opposé des nombreuses masquettes en bois, en ivoire ou en os d'éléphant individuellement possédées par les initiés (cf. n° 6, 12 et 33), les grands masques Lega, également créés dans le contexte du Bwami, relèvent d'une propriété communautaire et sont destinés à être portés, sur le visage ou sur le haut du front. En dehors du masque kayamba, qui se caractérise par ses cornes, les deux autres types - idimu et muminia - se distinguent essentiellement par leur patine : blanchie au kaolin pour le premier; et obtenue par onction d'huile pour le second. Les masques mumimia sont très rares. Au cours des innombrables rites d'initiation auxquels j'ai assisté au sein de douze communautés rituelles distinctes, je n'en ai vu que très peu d'authentiques. Ils sont absents de la plupart des communautés, et cette notice constitue la synthèse de mes observations dans seulement quatre d'entre elles. Dans tous les cas, le masque était placé sous la garde d’un initié du grade lutumbo lwa yananio, parfois kindi, élevé au rang d'important précepteur (ou chef des rituels). Ce dernier possédait le droit de garde du masque, hérité par descendance directe d’une lignée patrilinéaire, au nom d’une alliance historique entre plusieurs communautés rituelles autonomes. Ce masque constituait donc le symbole d’un statut exclusif d'investiture patrilinéaire, tout autant qu'un objet à travers lequel différentes communautés claniques exprimaient une antique solidarité rituelle. Le masque et son gardien se devaient d'être présents dans le village des postulants pour que puissent débuter certains rituels. Il était donc qualifié d' « indispensable au déroulement des performances ». Selon les rituels, le masque muminia était soit fixé à une claie, soit porté devant le visage, sur le front ou le haut du crâne, ou encore placé sur la tempe, accompagné ou non d'autres types de masques. Sa longue barbe en fibre de raphia ou en fibre dérivée du tronc d’un certain bananier sauvage (lusaga/nsaga) s'étirait dès lors jusqu'à la poitrine ou les épaules, recouvrait le visage du porteur ou servait à caler le masque sur le haut du crâne. Les initiés reconnaissant le porteur comme l'un des leurs, ce dernier n'avait pas besoin de dissimuler son identité sous un costume ; mais son corps était paré d'une profusion de peaux animales (chat sauvage, genette), de peaux de serpent et de bouquets de plumes. Lorsqu'il intervient, le porteur du masque ne danse pas mais il exécute plusieurs types de mouvements : il marche prudemment, gesticule, se contorsionne, s'accroupit, s'agenouille, tremble, zigzague, ou encore plaque au sol un acolyte et s’allonge sur lui. Au cours d'un rituel, un initié tira sur le masque une flèche factice, dans un autre il lui frotta les yeux avec des feuilles, ou il fut nourri symboliquement à l'aide d'une cuiller en ivoire. Dans une autre représentation très élaborée, fut mimée symboliquement la collecte de miel. Tandis qu'il performe, le masque est désigné par différents aphorismes stigmatisant des personnages négatifs (Bagarreur, Glouton, Séducteur, Coléreux, Batailleur, Arrogant, Irrespectueux, Irascible, Agressif), situés à l'opposé des codes sociaux, légaux et moraux du Bwami. Par la mise en scène critique des attitudes contraires au Bwami, le précepteur portant le masque muminia protège sa personne contre toute connotation maléfique, éventuelle récrimination ou encore transgression de tabous ; à travers le masque, il acquiert l’immunité. Dans les rares cas où le masque est suspendu à une claie, entouré de masquettes en ivoire et en os, il est considéré comme un rappel des batailles historiques menées lors des migrations, à Atondo et Ikonge, au cours desquelles plusieurs clans Lega furent anéantis, et dont Katima fut le seul survivant. Tandis que les masquettes représentent les crânes des guerriers décédés, le masque muminia, placé au centre, évoquerait Katima, celui qui « inventa » ou « structura » l’association du Bwami. Muminia ne représente ni une divinité, ni un héros ou un être mythologique. A l'instar des objets d’initiation (masengo), son rôle, majeur, est de transmettre dans un contexte dramaturgique les valeurs, statuts, droits et privilèges essentiels de l’association du Bwami. S'y rejoignent ici, magistralement, les concepts d'éthique et de beauté en pays Lega. Lega mask, muminia, Democratic Republic of the Congo In 1970 Alexis Bonew acquired this highly coveted black mask from Tom Hombert. Her husband, the territorial administrator Raymond Hombert, had collected it in the Lega country in 1927. Preciously kept within sight, for Alexis Bonew the mask was the 'unicum of beauty' (Notes, 1997). Until his last breath it was always this object which represented the pinnacle of his collection. This unpublished masterpiece, a majestic meeting of strength and sensitivity, is from the smallest corpus of Lega masks. Of the three known archaic muminia masks (cf. Trésors d'Afrique, Musée de Tervuren, no. 210, collected in 1952 by Daniel Biebuyck, and Utotombo, p. 242, no. 243, from a Belgian private collection, also collected in situ in the 1950s), the offered mask is the only one to have been collected at a time when the bwami initiation society had not yet been officially banned by decree of the colonial administration. Finally, whilst the other two known masks are closely related, the offered mask stand alone as an exceptional and unique masterpiece of Lega art. Ethics and Beauty in Bwami Dramaturgy: the Muminia Mask from the Collection of Alexis Bonew By Daniel Biebuyck In the context of the graded bwami association the Lega have created a large number of masquettes in wood, ivory and elephant bone (cf. lots 6, 12 and 33). These are status symbols possessed by individual intiates. The primary purpose of these masquettes is not to be worn on the head, temple or face. This contrasts with the purposes of the larger types of masks such as the whitened idimu, the horned kayamba and the oil-patinated muminia. In the countless initiation rites I witnessed in twelve independent ritual communties I have seen very few genuine muminia masks (information here is a synthesis of what happened in four different communities; the masks are absent in numerous communities). Invariably the mask was in the custody of an initiate of lutumbo lwa yananio or kindi, usually a prominent preceptor (leader of the rituals). He held the right of guardianship of the mask, inherited in an almost direct patrilineal line of descent, on behalf of an historical alliance of several autonomous ritual communities. Thus the mask was a symbol of exclusive status vested in a patri-lineage and an object through which independent communities expressed ancient ritual solidarity. The mask and its guardian had to be present in the initiand’s village before certain rituals could be performed the mask was often referred to as “indispensable for the performances”. The initiand, his tutors and sponsors would send large payments to the guardian of the mask to entice him not to delay his arrival for the appropriate initiation. In some rituals the muminia is fixed to a fence, in others it is worn in various ways: fixed before the face; placed on the forehead or skull; attached to a temple with or without other mask types. The mask always has a large renewable beard in raffia fibers (or the older “nsaga” fibers) that may cover the upper chest, the face (entirely or partly) or the shoulder of the performer. The beard may also serve as a cushion on which the mask rests on the skull. The masker does not wear a costume that would hide his identity (every initiate present at the rites knows that the masker is one of them); on various parts of the body he wears a profusion of animal hides (wild cat; genet), feather-trimmed snake skins and bunches of feathers.  When the mask is worn, the masker does not dance , but performs in a dramatic context: walking cautiously, gesticulating, nodding, quivering, contorting, squatting, crouching, kneeling, hopping, crawling on elbows and knees, zigzagging, engaging in mock fight, flooring a second performer and laying down on him. In one rite an initiate shoots a mock arrow at the mask, in another one an initiate rubs the mask’s eyes with leaves, in yet another rite the masker is symbolically fed with an ivory spoon. In an elaborate performance the masker, followed by leaf waving initiates, symbolically mimes his search for honey. Aphorisms sung during these actions point to of negative characters (Braggart, Glutton, Seducer, Angry, Fighter, Arrogant, Disrespectful, Irascible, Agressive), the opposites of the social, legal and moral codes of bwami. In the dramatic context where attitudes contrary to bwami values are criticized, the preceptor wearing the muminia mask protects his persona from any evil connotations and possible recriminations and transgressions of taboos; through the mask he acquires immunity. In those rare cases where the mask is fixed to a fence amidst ivory and bone masquettes it is said to remind of historical battles fought in Atondo and Ikonge in the course of the migrations in which several Lega clans were wiped out (the masquettes representing the skulls of the dead fighters). The lone survivor being Katima (evoked in the fence arrangement by the muminia mask). For some spokesmen this Katima was the one who “invented” or “structured”the bwami association. Muminia does not represent a divinity, a hero, an ancestor or a mythical being, but is simply one of the many initiation objects (masengo) that convey in dramatic context essential values, statuses, rights and privileges of the bwami association. This mask masterfully combines the Lega concepts of ethics and beauty.

  • FRAFrance
  • 2014-12-10
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Fang-betsi reliquary head, gabon

The Fang Head from the Kunin Collection By Heinrich Schweizer The reliquary head from the Kunin Collection is the work of a Fang-Betsi artist in an early, archaic style. Works of comparable age and quality include the head formerly in the collection of William A. McCarty-Cooper, Los Angeles, a second head in a German private collection, a third head previously in the collection of Morris J. Pinto, New York and Geneva, as well as two figures, one fragmentary, missing its legs, in the Musée Dapper, Paris (inv. no. “5206), and another one previously in the collection of Pierre Vérité, Paris (sold at Enchères Rive Gauches, Paris, Collection Vérité, June 17-18, 2006, lot 201; for publications of the other works see Laburthe-Tolra and Falgayrettes-Leveau 1991: 120-123, and LaGamma 2007: ii, 173, 206-209). The Kunin had is as much distinguished by its sublime beauty as by its long provenance and influential history. Joseph Brummer (1883-1947), an immigrant from Hungary, arrived in Paris in 1906 and, after studying briefly with Rodin and Matisse, opened a bric-a-brac store in a basement on the rue Falguière. Brummer soon realized that a market could be made in African sculptures. His sale in ca. 1908 of an important group of African sculptures to Frank Burty Haviland, a young and wealthy American, launched a career which would lead him to become one of the most influential dealers in African artworks and soon also contemporary European art.  Brummer played a decisive role in establishing the career of the Douanier Rousseau (who painted a portrait of Brummer in 1909); later on he became Modigliani’s and Brancusi’s dealer, presenting a landmark exhibition of the latter’s work in New York in 1926. In the early 1910s, however, Brummer was already known as one of the most important dealers in African art. FitzGerald (2009) notes: “As he built the market for African objects, Brummer not only cultivated collectors and artists, but also encouraged amateurs and scholars who might spread knowledge about the field.  One of the most important of these was Carl Einstein [(1885-1940)].  A young writer, Einstein was part of the group of Germanic artists and intellectuals who regularly met at the Dôme cafe in Montparnasse, a community that Brummer also frequented.  With Brummer’s encouragement, Einstein undertook the writing of what became the first book dealing with the aesthetic qualities of African carvings, Negerplastik (1915).  Brummer not only supplied the largest group of illustrations for the book […] but also paid the cost of publication.” A friend of the artists Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, as well as of the prominent modern art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (for Einstein's correspondence with the latter see Dimanche 1993: passim), Einstein had discovered African and Oceanic art during his studies in Berlin (1904-1907) in the rooms of the Museum für Völkerkunde (today: Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preussischer Kulturbesitz). Negerplastik is credited as being the first monograph presenting African and Oceanic sculptures as art and highlighting its inspirational relationship to Cubism. It was widely read by the European avant-garde and several early 20th century artists are known to have owned a copy, including Gris, Braque, Picasso and Moore, to name just a few. Einstein's life achievements were most recently celebrated by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid with the exhibition The Invention of the 20th Century: Carl Einstein and the Avant-Gardes (November 12, 2008 – February 16, 2009). The Kunin Fang Head was included in this show. Brummer was very strategic in his efforts to promote African art as source of the Modern art movement around Picasso and Braque. While Einstein was perhaps Brummer’s most important ally on the European continent, Robert J. Coady (1876-1921) and Marius de Zayas (1880-1961) were selected to fill this role in the United States. American-born Coady had studied painting in Europe before returning to New York to become an art dealer and publisher. With his program at Washington Square Gallery (1914-1917) and Coady Gallery (1917-1919), as well as through the publication of the journal The Soil: A Magazine of Literature and Art, Coady propagated a modern American cultural identity which he wished to be distinctively independent from European cultural hegemony. According to Coady, the African-American population was as elementary to America’s cultural identity as were industrial machines. See Biro (2010: 202) for further discussion. Menno Hubregtse (2009: 28-32) makes the interesting argument that Marcel Duchamp’s famous Fountain was meant as a parody in response to Coady's celebration of industrial machines as pure forms of American art. Yaëlle Biro’s exacting research has confirmed that in 1914, when Coady’s Washington Square Gallery was the first to exhibit African traditional art, preceding an exhibition on the same subject at Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery 291 by a few months, the Kunin Fang Head was the star work of the show: an article by Alfred Kreymborg for The Morning Telegraph dated December 6, 1914, is accompanied by a photograph on which the Kunin head can be seen on the left (Biro 2010: 311-312). In this review, Kreymborg (quoted after Biro 2010: 196-197, fn. 553) remarks: “The next most striking feature of the Washington Square Gallery are a number of blunt, queer faced, queer bodied, black figured representatives of that magnificently simple art - if art is the term you would lower it to - Congo sculpture. One is almost tempted to cry: ‘Why, here are the fathers of Gauguin and Matisse and Picasso!’” While it is not clear if Coady had already acquired the head from Brummer by the time of its showing in 1914, it is almost certain that he owned it by 1917 when he published it on the cover of The Soil. After this publication, the trace of the head disappeared until the 1990s when it resurfaced in the estate of William B. Loeb of Philadelphia, whose aunt P. Anne Levine (née Ericsson) had presumably acquired it sometime before the second World War, presumably in Paris or New York. Following its rediscovery, the Kunin Fang Head has been published numerous times and was included in the two most important exhibitions on African art and its influence on Modern art in recent years: The Invention of the 20th century: Carl Einstein and the Avant-gardes at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, and African Art, New York, and the Avant-Garde at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. In the latter show, the Kunin Fang Head was placed at the entrance of the exhibition.

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-11-11
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Luba male statue by the warua master, democratic republic of the congo

The Male Statue by the Warua Master By Heinrich Schweizer Prologue Luba sculpture is one of the pivotal artistic traditions of sub-Saharan Africa. Admired in the West since the late nineteenth century for a beauty and elegance perceived as corresponding to the classical canon of ancient Greek and Roman art, Luba “artistic forms have been celebrated among the greatest of African artistic traditions” (Roberts and Roberts 2007: 12). Originating from a highly sophisticated system of interdependent kingdoms and chiefdoms where political power was intimately intertwined with religion, the greatest Luba artworks were created for kings and reflect the deepest level of Luba spiritual thought and cosmology. Together with his peer and contemporary, the Buli Master, the Warua Master is one of the two most famous Luba artists and seems to have worked exclusively for Luba royalty. The male statue offered here is unique in the Warua Master's œuvre and rightfully considered to be the artist’s greatest masterpiece. Published and exhibited numerous times throughout the past four decades, it has inspired some of the greatest connoisseurs of African art in their work, including Philippe Guimiot, Jacques Kerchache, and Ezio Bassani. The Male Statue by the Warua Master is one of the most iconic works of Congolese sculpture.   Cultural Origin A cluster of intersecting clan and lineage groups in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Luba were consolidated into a federation of kingdoms sometimes in the sixteenth or seventeenth century, according to oral tradition by the mythical hero Kalala Ilunga. The political power of Luba kings was inseparably linked to their spiritual authority, and both were embodied in and expressed through the ownership of sacred objects. The Male Statue by the Luba artist known as Warua Master is such an object of royal paraphernalia, and widely acknowledged as the finest of its kind. Objects of Luba royal paraphernalia included, among others, stands to hold the king’s hunting bow, stools on which the king would sit during his investiture and certain other rituals, and staffs of office held as signs of prestige. Among the most sacred of a king’s possessions, these objects were stored in the royal treasury and rarely if ever shown in public. They were guarded by a female dignitary, the kyabuta, received regular offerings of palm oils, and on certain occasions were brought to a special shrine house containing the relics of past rulers, where their spirits were believed to be present (Schweizer 2014: 212). In Luba culture special attention was devoted to physical beauty as a sign of moral integrity, a concept described by the Chiluba term bwimpe which, however, implies man-made (created, artificial) rather than natural (inborn) beauty. Roberts and Roberts (in Roberts and Roberts 1996: 85, text to cat. 31) note: “In Luba belief, beauty is not innate but is created over the course of a lifetime. Physical perfection reflects moral perfection. The body is a canvas on which to work: one makes oneself beautiful through cosmetic adornments and manipulations that Luba people consider aesthetically and spiritually pleasing.” Female imagery is prevalent in Luba religious art in general and in royal paraphernalia in particular. This can be explained in multiple, not mutually exclusive ways. First, the female image pays tribute to the general role of women as bearers and nurturers of life and their fundamental importance to society. Second and more specific to royal objects, female imagery also acknowledged that even though the ruler was male (and succession followed for the most part patrilineal descent, at least in the Luba heartland, see Roberts with Petit in Roberts and Roberts 1996: 212 and 214), his political and more importantly spiritual power passed through his mother (see also Bassani in Bassani, Zanobini and Zanobini 1990: 113). Third, it was believed that only a woman’s body could be strong enough to contain a spirit as powerful as a king’s. Luba religious statuary was conceived as temporary vessel for a spirit, and for this reason sculptures very often incorporate images of females as a way to entice the spirit to reside in the sculpture. Combining this idea with the concept of bwimpe, the proliferation of female imagery on royal paraphernalia may well be seen as both metaphorical sign of royalty and as offering a metaphysical home to an ancestral king’s spirit. In this sense, the female image is the king’s alter ego. While the female image is abundant in Luba art, male figures are exceptionally rare. They are mostly known from areas at the periphery of the Luba heartland and give testimony to a vivid cultural exchange between the thriving Luba empire and its neighbors, either as commissioned works created by Luba artists for patrons from neighboring cultures where the iconography of male figures was customary, or as cultural imports and appropriations of an iconographic theme from a non-Luba tradition – in both directions (see for example a Luba-esque Tabwa statue representing the ancestor of chief Lusinga, acquired by Emile Storms in 1884 as war booty during a raid of Lusinga’s village and today at the Musée Royal de l’Afrique Central, Tervuren, inv. no. “RG.31660”, Roberts in Roberts and Roberts 1996: 228). Whereas the male gender of the present figure as well as the posture of hands held to the abdomen relate to Hemba ancestor figures, the design of the openwork four-braided hairstyle and the iconography of the tongue emerging between slightly parted lips are typically Luba. The latter feature, a trade-mark of the Warua Master and visible in all but one of his works, is otherwise seen for example on a female caryatid stool in the Musée Royal de l’Afrique Central, Tervuren (inv. no. “RG.23137”, MRAC 1995: 194-195, cat. 161), a headrest with female figure in the same museum (inv. no. “RG.551”, MRAC 1995: 218, cat. 179), and a freestanding female figure in the University of Iowa Museum of Art (The Stanley Collection, inv. no. CMS.298”, Roberts and Roberts 1996: 99, cat. 37). The Warua Master is one of very few Luba artists to represent male figures with this feature, namely the present statue and a male-female janus-figure in the Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin (inv. no. “III.C.19996”). In her dissertation "Luba Art and Statecraft: Creating Power in a Central African Kingdom" (1991, published under the name Mary H. Nooter, on file with the author; p. 250), Mary Nooter Roberts suggests that a slightly protruding tongue could be interpreted in Luba culture as an invitation to courtship and an indicator of readiness for marriage. In the context of a male figure this might be translated as an invitation and offering to spiritual power, presumably that of a royal ancestor, to enter and reside in the sculpture the same way that a woman would invite a man to courtship and display her readiness to marry. The gender ambiguity of the present figure in exhibiting an iconography otherwise associated with females is not at all unusual for Luba artworks. Roberts (in Roberts and Roberts: 122: text to cat. 147) notes: “Concepts of gender and power are inextricably linked in Luba thought. Male and female elements merge in the exercise of leadership, when men enact the visible overt side of power and women its covert, secret side. Gender ambiguity pervades Luba royal prerogative, where kings are incarnated after death by women, are depicted on insignia as female figures, and wear women’s coiffures on their enthronement day. Women’s ability effectively to contain [a] spirit and to guard royal secrets accounts for their crucial roles in dynastic history as political and religious mediators, and in visual representation as embodiments of spirit and cosmological order.” Based on these observations one can suggest for the present figure that it represents a royal male ancestor and was conceived as metaphysical locus of his spirit (same interpretation as royal ancestor, without further explanation: Bastin in Debbaut, Favart and Geertruyen 1988: 304; undecided Roberts with Petit in Roberts and Roberts 1996: 228, text to cat. 102).   The Warua Master The name “Frobenius’ 1904 Warua Master” has first been used by Susan Vogel (1986: 173-174) in her discussion of a Luba bow stand previously in the collection of Carlo Monzino, and subsequently in the derivative forms “Master of Warua” and "Warua Master" by Ezio Bassani (in Bassani, Zanobini and Zanobini 1990) and Mary Nooter Roberts and Allen F. Roberts (in Roberts and Roberts 1996). The name was chosen in reference to a male-female janus-figure in the Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin (inv. no. “III.C.19996”) which was collected by the German ethnographer Leo Frobenius in 1904 and labeled by him as “Warua”. While the name has been criticized as too vague and non-descriptive (“Warua” is the Arabic pronunciation of “Baluba”, i.e., “the Luba people”, and was widely used at the time for both the inhabitants as well as the territory west of Lake Tanganyika and north of Lake Moero), none of the other suggested names of convenience (Neyt 1993: 84, Master of the Court of the Prince of Soppola; Grunne in Guimiot 1995: text to pl. 32, Master of Soppola; Grunne 2001: 190, Master of the Kunda) convince as they are either just as vague and non-descriptive (Grunne 2001, especially since also the Buli Master is believed to have been a member of the Kunda clan; see Roberts in Roberts and Roberts 1996: 232, text to cat. 107), or not sufficiently supportable by evidence (Neyt 1993; Grunne in Guimiot 1995). Vogel’s (1986) cursory discussion was a first step towards a definition of a corpus of works by the master’s hand, a task that was more fully developed four years later by Ezio Bassani (1990) and further refined by Mary Nooter Roberts and Allan F. Roberts (1996) and Bernard de Grunne (2001). The Warua Master seems to have lived not far from his famous peer and contemporary, the Buli Master, who has been variously identified as Luba (Roberts and Roberts 1996: 244-245, cat. 111), Luba-ized Kunda (Roberts and Roberts 1996: 232-233, cat. 107) and Hemba (Schweizer 2014: 228-231, cat. 92). Both artists created works that cross between Luba and Hemba traditions: in the case of the Buli Master these are tall male ancestor figures (Hemba), female caryatid stools (Luba and Hemba), bowl-carrying figures (Luba and Hemba) and female caryatid neckrests (Luba); and in the case of the Warua Master bow stands (Luba), female caryatid stools (Luba and Hemba), and a male and female janus-figure (Hemba), to name but a few. The origin of the Warua Master from the Luba-Hemba border region has also been suggested by Roberts (in Roberts and Roberts: 228-230, texts to cats. 102 and 103). In his study of the Warua Master, Ezio Bassani (in Bassani, Zanobini and Zanobini 1990: 115-116) points to specific body proportions as well as the special treatment of the head as hallmarks of the artist’s individual style: “Still more forceful analogies can be found in the vigorously-carved heads, dominated by huge domed foreheads, marked off by the wide regular arch of the eyebrows, the coronet-shaped hairline going from ear to ear, and especially in the imposing and at the same time extremely elegant hair gathered behind into two plaits formed into a cross. This kind of hairstyle is present in many carvings from this area, and is part of the traditional customs of both men and women in the Luba and nearby Hemba tribes. Constructed from hair, reeds, clay and oil, it is designed to last over a long period, and therefore headrests were presumably used to stop it being harmed during sleep. Visiting the area in 1873, V.L. Cameron (the second European after Livingstone, who had passed through there a few years before), recorded the existence of hairstyles of this kind in the following terms: ‘We came to the Waguhha, which are simply a branch of the great nation of the Warua... They dress their hair in a very elaborate manner, dividing it into four portions, each of which is worked into a plait turned over their heads with the ends doubled back so as to make a sort of cross of plaits, and the edges are ornamented with cowries, beads, and other things’. If the hairstyle was such a distinctive feature of the Luba that E.C. Hore wrote in 1882 that these people could be called ‘the hairstyle people’, the plastic solution invented by the author of the works we are examining here [= the Warua Master] is unmistakeable. It is enough to note the discreetly suggested four-lobed scansion, the protuberant plait-ends and especially the particular elongations downwards which balance perfectly the movement of the breast when the figure is seen from the profile.” Taking these observations as point of departure for a stylistic analysis and paying special attention to some of the artist’s so-called unconscious traits (Morellian method), the corpus of works by the Warua Master consists of eight works where attribution is unquestionable, and another two where the margin of departure from the core stylistic traits is large enough to cast doubt on the authorship, but at the same time small enough to attribute authorship to his workshop. The works unquestionably by the master are: A royal bowstand previously in the collection of Carlo Monzino and first documented in the collection of Georges de Miré in 1931 (Bassani’s fig. 1); a second royal bowstand in a private collection (Bassani’s fig. 2); a third royal bowstand in the collection of Drs. Daniel and Marian Malcolm, first documented in 1956 (Bassani’s fig. 3); a fourth royal bowstand in the Museum der Weltkulturen, Frankfurt, acquired in 1942 (inv. no. “N.S.33.8.34”, Bassani’s fig. 4); a royal stool in the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, previously in the collection of Katherine White and collected by Roger Castiau in 1916 (inv. no. “81.17.876”, Bassani’s fig. 6; Roberts with Petit in Roberts and Roberts 1996: 222, text to cat. 98 argues that this stool is unfinished which could have implications on the artist’s presumed period of activity during the 19th century; however, on first hand inspection the stool’s surface seems to be similar to that of the stool preserved at the University of Pennsylvania, see below, with the difference that the latter has retained its original patina whereas it was cleaned off in the case of the Seattle stool, consistent with the aesthetic preference of some early collectors); a second royal stool in The University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, acquired in 1919 from Charles Vignier, Paris (inv. no. “A.5101”, Bassani’s fig. 7); a male figure, previously in the collection of Baudouin de Grunne (the present lot, Bassani’s fig. 9); and a male and female janus-figure in the Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, collected by Leo Frobenius in 1904 (inv. no. “III.C.19996”, Bassani’s fig. 11; the name-piece of the Warua Master). The two works with tentative attribution to either the Warua Master or his workshop are a royal stool in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (inv. no. “2006.18”, Bassani’s fig. 8; the deviation from the core stylistic traits consists in the diminutive, medially compressed volume of the head, the outer curvature of the lower arms with pronounced elbows, the width of the lower arms which leave the “ideal” square as defined by Zanobini and Zanobini in Bassani, Zanobini and Zanobini 1990: 74, Scheda 8, the stronger upper arms and the greater volume of the body scarification) and a female figure in the Musée Royal de l’Afrique Central, Tervuren (inv. no. “RG.26633”, Bassani’s fig. 10; the deviation consists in the volume of the head versus the shoulders, especially when compared with the bowstands, the angularity of the shoulders as well as the treatment of the mouth, also lacking the protruding tongue). The Genius of the Warua Master The outstanding accomplishments of the Warua Master in terms of sculptural innovation have first been pointed out by Ezio Bassani (in Bassani, Zanobini and Zanobini 1990: 110 and 114-115): “The works of a great artist from the Luba tribe (on the lines of the Buli Master) provide both a fascinating and fruitful field of inquiry. […] In his discussion of the Philadelphia stool (no. 7), H.V. Hall already remarked in 1923 that the carver had ‘subordinated his realism to the structural requirements of this piece of furniture, and in doing so has turned out an object really elegant in outlines and proportions’. With great lucidity the scholar highlighted the carver's extraordinary capacity, visible in all his works, to reconcile needs imposed by having to develop a theme within the confines of a restrictive tradition with his own inner urge towards absolute geometric precision. The result was that he created works revealing a powerful and disciplined structure, a crystalline purity, as Susan Vogel wrote, where the application of a very personal canon seems to be exalted by a proud dignity. But beyond this general hallmark, the works reveal precise analogies both in the way specific problems of composition have been resolved as well as in many details, with the result that the whole effect transcends the norms laid down by tradition and reveals a great artist at work.” In their study of the corpus of works by the Warua Master, Teresa and Valerio Zanobini (in Bassani, Zanobini and Zanobini 1990: 31-97 with 121-164) established with great accuracy that all his works follow a profoundly geometric composition reflecting the artist’s individual style (op. cit.: 161): “He develops a form of geometry which is strictly related to his style and which accounts to a greater degree for the refined articulation of all the component parts of his works.” Indeed, all works by the Warua Master are distinguished by their strong adherence to geometric principles. The body of the present statue is structured vertically into three forms: the outlines of legs and arms form rectangular fields, the head an ellipse. The lower rectangle formed by the legs is of vertical orientation, the upper rectangle formed by the arms lies horizontally. The artist creates great harmony in rendering the width of the arms, measured at the outside of each shoulder, identical to the distance from the toes to the hips; at the same time the distance from the lowest point of the hands to where the shoulders meet the neck is identical to the distance between the outer sides of the legs. From this follows that the artist works with two rectangles of identical length and width but that he has positioned them in a 90 degree angle to each other. This ingenious use of regular geometric forms and shift of position creates tension, rendering the body still and dynamic at the same time. By doing so the Warua Master creates an arresting image of both gravitas and power. Even more fascinating is an analysis of the harmonious facial proportions which, as the cited passage by Bassani correctly implies, are the signature of the Warua Master’s unmistakable style. The tangent connecting the upmost point of the eyebrows is a horizontal line dividing the face from the apex of the forehead to the chin into two exact halves: see fig. 5. While the upper half is plain, featuring only the forehead, the lower half is visually dense as it contains all facial features. Similar to the dynamism of the body which was created by positioning two identical rectangles at a ninety degree angle above each other, here the Warua Master uses the juxtaposition of visual void and density to create tension. Furthermore, the face is inscribed into a perfect ellipse of vertical orientation. The upper half of the ellipse follows exactly the outline of the forehead from its apex to about the line dividing the face into upper and lower half. In the lower half the outline of the face withdraws subtly to the inside. However, it is the lowest point of the beard that falls with mathematical precision onto the nadir of the ellipse. Inside the face, eyebrows and jawbones create two nearly elliptical shapes of horizontal position which follow the same length and width ratio as the vertical ellipse into which the face is inscribed. Again, the Warua Master is positioning forms of the same basic geometric type at a ninety degree angle, only this time there are differences in size and the smaller shapes are inscribed into the larger, thus creating visual tension. In light of these strong inherent tensions it is surprising that the face overall exudes so much tranquility and serenity. How does the artist do this? The answer has to do with the position of the eyes and is mesmerizingly mathematical (see fig. 4): inscribed in the two smaller, horizontally positioned quasi-ellipses are laterally wide and medially narrow eyes. The virtual horizontal line connecting their inner corners of these eyes (i.e., running right through their middle) bisects the length of the face such that the distance from this line to the bottom of the neck is equal to the distance from this line to the top of the forehead, is equal to the distance between the outer points of the two horizontal quasi-ellipses. We may define this distance as b. However, it is the relation of the lowest point of the beard to the virtual line connecting the eyes that renders the composition in such “perfect balance”. We may define this distance as a. As shown, a and b are measures relating the apex and nadir of the vertical ellipse defining the face to the virtual line connecting the eyes. The ratio of the distances measured by a and b corresponds to a formula which is well-known in aesthetic studies and art history as the golden ratio of proportion. It has been observed in ancient Egyptian sculpture, Greek architecture, early medieval painting and was propagated widely during the Italian Renaissance, most famously in Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (1492) as manifestation of the divine spark visible in the greatest masterpieces of creation. This ideal proportion is mathematically defined by an irrational number that is approximately 1.618 and most often replaced by the Greek letter Φ. As fig. 4 and the above show, a number of the aesthetic choices made by the Warua Master follow the golden ratio with an uncanny mathematical precision. While we don’t know whether this is a result of intuition or calculation, the Warua Master’s use of geometry is singular in Luba art, introducing a radical innovation to the artistic legacy of an entire people. The geometric sophistication and harmony found in works by the Warua Master was rivalled few times in history, never surpassed. Looking at sculptures by Constantin Brancusi, such as Portrait of Mademoiselle Pogany (1912), which is considered ground-breaking for Western art, we cannot help but feel humbled in the face of the genius of the Warua Master who created his body of work thousands of miles away and one to two generations prior to Brancusi, and more than a hundred years before Western scholars began to understand his genius.

  • USAUSA
  • 2015-05-15
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Kongo-yombe maternity group, democratic republic of the congo

In the pantheon of world sculpture, few subjects have a more universal resonance than the representation of a mother and her child, the first and most basic relationship of all humanity. Maternity statuary is found in cultures throughout human history, from the earliest Western Asiatic cultures to Christian Europe, expressing not only specific narratives of histories and myths, but also the primordial purity of this universal human experience.  The Maternity subject in particular transcends cultural boundaries and allows us a special opportunity to connect with mankind across cultures and eras. A particularly sensitive tradition of maternity sculpture emerged in the last millennium among the peoples of the Kongo kingdom in the western Congo.  Wood sculptures known as phemba  were created for use in association with women's cults, and found their highest expression among the Kongo-Yombe subgroup.  The Kunin Yombe Maternity Statue, previously in the collection of Robert Rubin, is the finest example of this tradition known. Two main variants of the phemba iconography can be identified: a cross-legged woman with a dead infant on her lap and a cross-legged, kneeling or crouching woman with a living infant. The iconography of the Rubin maternity group showing the diminutive infant sitting on the mother's proper left foot with the mother's proper left hand tenderly touching the infant's head while her proper right hand is held in offering position above a vessel is rare. Aside from the present figure, the only known examples of this iconography are the maternity group in the Ethnologisches Museum - Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin (acquired in 1896, accession no. "III C 6286", Einstein 1915: pl. 64) and three figures in sub-style K-4 according to Lehuard's classification (Lehuard 1989: 566, fig. K-4-1-1, Dallas Museum of Art; 569, fig. K-4-2-3, Private Collection; 570, fig. K-4-3-1, collection of Georg Baselitz). Discussing the Berlin phemba, which features the same rare iconography as the present figure, crouching on one knee and with one hand resting with palm upturned upon a pottery vessel, Koloss and Ezra (1990: 34) note: "Figures representing a woman with a child are common in the art of the peoples of Lower Zaire, especially among the Yombe.  The mother is often depicted with the marks of high social status and consciously acquired beauty: a high, miter-shaped hairstyle, filed teeth, a necklace of glass or coral beads, a cord tied above the breasts, and bracelets and armbands.  Although such figures are usually depicted seated with crossed legs, this one [the Berlin figure, like the present figure] crouches with one knee on the ground, the other raised.  [The child's] head [is] cupped in her hand. The mother rests her other hand, palm upward, on a pottery jar at her side. "A Yombe wooden mother-and-child figure in the Musée Royal de l'Afrique Centrale in Tervuren is reported by its collector, Léo Bittremieux, to have been owned by a powerful male diviner for a whom it represented the source of his own divinitory and generative powers.  It was called phemba, a word that Bittremieux thought to be derived from kivemba, meaning to broadcast or eject, as in the seeds of potential children which accumulate in either a man or a woman.  Thus, rather than representing a particular woman and child, or even a concept as specific as motherhood, the Yombe image of a nurturing woman may express the more general idea of fertility and creativity as it applies to all people, male as well as female (Maesen 1960: pl. 1; van Geluwe 1978: 147-50)." Dumouchelle (2009: 194) notes that the KiKongo term phemba means "white", and "suggests kaolin, a white chalk that is considered a symbol of fecundity and is often used in a diviner's, or nganga's, invocations.  The word may also be derived from the term kivemba, meaning 'to broadcast' or 'eject,' further underlining a woman's role as the progenitor of both man and woman.  Despite its outwardly intimate, nurturing pose, this piece demonstrates the regal passivity of many varieties of mother-and-child carvings; rather than representing a particular woman or even a human relationship, the pair is thought to function on a metaphorical plane, representing and celebrating womanhood as the archetypal (and, in this case, aristocratically ideal) source of creative power.  As such, it certainly would have served to stimulate and strengthen the nganga's practice." Furthermore, Dumouchelle (ibid.: 194, fn. 3) relays that "A missionary's field report from early in the twentieth century recounts encountering a nganga who claimed his phemba represented his ‘mother’ and carried the figure, maternally, in a cotton sling.” According to Raoul Lehuard's (1989: 525-531) classification, the Rubin maternity group belongs to the Yombe sub-style of Bula-Maku or style J-12. For a stylistically closely related Yombe power figure see Sotheby's, New York, The William W. Brill Collection of African Art, November 17, 2006, lot 103 and Lehuard (1989: 531, post card showing in situ photograph, the two figures left and right of the central figure). The American novelist, poet and civil right activist James Baldwin (1924-1987) discussed the Kunin Yombe Maternity Statue in his contribution to the catalogue of the exhibition Perspectives: Angles on African Art at New York's Museum for African Art (Baldwin in Center for African Art 1987: 120): "The key is her stance, the way she holds the baby in one hand; she's at once preparing the baby, and preparing to let him go. She sees what he's going to be facing and he doesn't see it yet. The baby is turned toward her. She has one hand protecting him, on his head. It may be that the baby is facing that way, but I think not. I think the baby is facing towards her. Her eyes look far seeing - into the baby's future. She might be anointing the baby. She's preparing him, in any case, for a journey. She knows about the journey - he doesn't yet. And she's also warning his enemies. Ah, but again, another time and space." Prior to entering the collection of Myron Kunin, the Yombe Maternity Statue was owned by the great New York collector Robert Rubin, who focused on acquiring singular, top-quality pieces in each major category of Sub-Saharan African Art.  Indeed the Rubin maternity is exceptional in both quality and iconography and is without doubt the very best example of this style.

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-11-11
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Kongo-yombe maternity figure by the master of kasadi, democratic republic

Prologue Since the first arrival of Kongo sculpture in Europe in the 16th century, where it was soon displayed in the “Kunst- und Wunderkammern” of some of Europe’s most prestigious courts (see, for example, two Kongo ivory Oliphants in the collection of the Palazzo Pitti, Museo degli Argenti, Florence, which were inventoried in 1553, published in LaGamma 2015: 22 and 132, figs. 4 and 82; a Kongo Ivory Oliphant first inventoried in 1642, today in the Linden-Museum, Stuttgart, published in LaGamma 2015: 140, fig. 88), it has become one of the most iconic subjects of African art history, its significance being rivaled only by few others such as Baule (Côte d'Ivoire), Fang (Gabon), Benin (Nigeria), or Luba (Eastern DRC) art. Kongo art has been the subject of countless presentations at the world’s most prestigious museums, most recently the exhibition Kongo: Power and Majesty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (September 18, 2015 – January 3, 2016). The Maternity Statue from the Malcolm Collection was one of the stars of this show. Historical Background According to LaGamma (2015: 17-20), “Kongo civilization and the formidable artistic legacy it engendered – without doubt among the world’s greatest – developed across a vast swathe of Central Africa over a period of two and a half millennia. Its diverse populace gave rise to a series of distinct polities that have been engaged with the West for a third of that time. In 1483, nearly a decade before Christopher Columbus reached the New World, the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cão arrived at the estuary of the mighty Congo River and continued to the coast of what is now Benguela, Angola. Also known as the Zaire River, that great tributary system, the second largest in the world, extends from the Atlantic to the highlands of northeastern Zambia. In 1506 another notable Portuguese sea captain, explorer, and cartographer, Duarte Pacheco Pereira (ca. 1460 – 1533), made use of its Kongo name Nzadi: the ‘large river which enters into the sea.’ The Portuguese subsequently came to refer to it on their maps as Rio do Congo, or the Congo River. […] “On [his 1483] inaugural journey Cão made contact with Nzinga a Nkuwu (later João I, r. pre-1483 - 1509), the sovereign of the polity known as Kongo. The origin of the Kingdom of Kongo, whose name derives from nkongo, the Kikongo term for ‘hunter,’ a vocation identified with heroic and adventurous individuals, can be traced as far back as 1300. According to accounts documented by Jesuit missionaries, the kingdom’s founder, Lukeni lua Nimi, was one such ‘hunter.’ He was said to have departed from his father’s kingdom on Nzadi’s north bank to settle Mbanza Kongo, in present-day northern Angola, which would become the new state’s capital city. While Kongo was one of several culturally related but autonomous precolonial states in the region that include that of Loango, Mbanza Kongo has retained a degree of symbolic rather than political primacy into the twenty-first century. At the time of Cão’s landing, Kongo had been overseeing all exchanges between the coast and the interior, as well as with territories in what are today the Angolan savanna to the south and Gabon forests to the north. […] “In the West our associations with this region of Central Africa have been shaped by two developments that subjected its peoples to unparalleled devastation: the transatlantic slave trade, which reached its height in the seventeenth century; and the annexation in 1885 of a significant section of the Congo basin by King Leopold II (r. 1865 - 1909) of Belgium, which became known as the Congo Free State. The toll exacted by each of these events was cataclysmic. From 1500 to 1850 a third of the population around the mouth of the Congo River was displaced to the New World, and at the turn of the twentieth century, the policies of the Free State had led to the decimation of the remaining population by disease, the reduction of the agricultural system to subsistence, the dismantling of existing commercial networks, and the abandonment of traditional vocations such as iron smithing and woodcarving. Despite these intense external pressures, Kongo leaders continued to manage their affairs independently for all but eighty years of the region’s history, from the late nineteenth through the mid-twentieth century. With Europe’s notorious ‘Scramble for Africa,’ the broader Kongo populace came to be subdivided into three distinct, arbitrarily drawn colonies: the southern Kongo territories were claimed by the Portuguese as part of Angola [Ngola was the name of a kingdom south of Kongo; the Portuguese corrupted the name into Angola and established a colony there in 1575]; the northern territories were incorporated by the French into Moyen Congo (Middle Congo); and central Kongo became part of Leopold’s Congo Free State and, in 1908, the Belgian Congo. These divisions have contributed to a highly uneven and fragmented historical record, as well as the inconsistent documentation of Kongo artifacts, which were collected on a massive scale by Europeans during the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.” Kongo Maternity Statuary As Grogan (2014: 202) notes, in “the pantheon of world sculpture, few subjects have a more universal resonance than the representation of a mother and her child, the first and most basic relationship of all humanity. Maternity statuary is found in cultures throughout human history, from the earliest Western Asiatic cultures to Christian Europe, expressing not only specific narratives of histories and myths, but also the primordial purity of this universal human experience.  The Maternity subject in particular transcends cultural boundaries and allows us a special opportunity to connect with mankind across cultures and eras. A particularly sensitive tradition of maternity sculpture emerged in the last millennium among the peoples of the Kongo kingdom in the western Congo.  Wood sculptures known as phemba were created for use in association with women’s cults, and found their highest expression among the Kongo-Yombe subgroup.“ LaGamma (2015: 161) continues: “Commanding female figures of imposing stature were a major subject addressed by Kongo sculptors during the nineteenth century. A high note among these artistic attributes featuring powerful women is a corpus of what at first glance appear to be ‘mother and child’ figures. These works are striking for their conflation of iconographic elements relating leadership with motherhood, and new life with death. Given the paucity of information concerning the original patronage and use of these works, our understanding of their significance is highly circumscribed. Scrutiny of the sculptures makes evident that their authors insightfully mined the quintessential human relationship as metaphor for the dynamics of power between this world and that of the ancestors; between clan founders and their descendants; and between mothers and their progeny. This imagery draws on the profound connection of a mother and her dependent infant as a manifesto of the Kongo idea of mbongo bantu, or ‘wealth in people.’ […]” And LaGamma (ibid.: 183) adds: “Among the Yombe of the Chiloango River basin, ‘Mpemba’ is the mother and founder of the clan. A distinctive coiffure that is her prerogative is known as ‘mphemba.’ Accordingly, the seated female might be understood as the clan generatrix and the second figure representing her descendants. The terms phemba and pfemba are used in relation to both maternity figures from the Mayombe region and an associated packet of potent matter used in Lemba initiation. What may, on a visual basis, appear as a dead infant being mourned by its mother might instead be a simbi, or spirit child from the ancestral realm. Such representations may have been conceived to conflate the imperative of childbearing with the concerns of local leadership to augment kin groups through procreation and political alliances.” The Master of Kasadi In the study of the history of African art, the notion of the individual artist was not introduced until 1935 when Hans Himmelheber identified nineteen artists from Ivory Coast in his groundbreaking Negerkünstler (Negro Artists). Two years later, the Belgian art historian Frans Olbrechts identified a body of work created by “The Master of the Long Face of Buli,” referring to a now famous Hemba sculptor active in the 19th century. Subsequently, the identification of authorship and workshops has become an increasingly important focus of African art history. Following the methodologies established in ancient Greek and Medieval art history, the identification of an artist’s body of work is based on stylistic and contextual evidence, and often names of convenience are used as a result of the ignorance of the artist's actual name. The magnificent maternity figure from the Malcolm Collection is the work of an artist whom Western art historians have named the Master of Kasadi after the village in which two of his works, today in the Musée Royal de l’Afrique Centrale, Tervuren, were first collected. The known corpus of sculptures by this hand includes six maternity figures (all published in Lehuard 1989: 459–465, figs. J 1-1-1 –J 1-1-6; as well as LaGamma 2015: 176-191, figs. 120, 123-127): one in the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (inv. no. "83.3.6"); a second in the Musée Royal de l’Afrique Centrale, Tervuren, which was collected before 1913 (inv. no. "RG 24.662"); a third in the Musée Royal de l’Afrique Centrale, Tervuren, which was collected before 1937 by the Belgian missionary Father Leo Bittremieux, who lived among the Yombe (inv. no. "RG 37.964"); a fourth in the collection of Laura and James J. Ross, New York, first documented in 1898 and previously in the collections of Baudouin de Grunne and François Pinault; a fifth in a German private collection; and a sixth, the maternity figure from the Malcolm Collection, the present lot. The œuvre by the Master of Kasadi also includes four masks, three of which are in the Musée Royal de l’Afrique Centrale, Tervuren (inv. nos. "RG 37.966", "RG 43.573" and "RG 67.6342") and one in a private collection (all published in Lehuard 1989: 783, 785–786, figs. 5.1.1–5.1.4). Based on the collecting history of the figure in the Ross Collection, which is first documented in 1898, we can presume that the Master of Kasadi was active in the nineteenth century. According to LaGamma (2015: 185), “[…] Bittremieux reported that the seated female figure he had acquired in Kasadi [one of the two figures at the Tervuren museum] had been the instrument of an expert diagnostician, or nganga diphomba, charged with bringing hidden matters to light.” The Malcolm maternity, one of the masterpieces of the corpus, by virtue of her noble proportions, commanding presence and stern facial expression, is undoubtedly a consummate intermediary between the natural and supernatural worlds.

  • USAUSA
  • 2016-05-07
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Tête, fang, gabon

« Tête humaine portée sur un haut cou cylindrique. La coiffure disposée en plis parallèles [] Congo Français. Pahouin [] Exhibited: lAfrique Noire, at Louis Carrés, Paris, 1933. Ancienne collection Marion. Collection Louis Carré, Paris, no. 1094 . Notice de luvre adressée par Louis Carré à James J. Sweeney, 1935  Le 24 octobre 1934, James Johnson Sweeney annonçait au marchand et collectionneur parisien Louis Carré quAlfred Barr, directeur du Museum of Modern Art (MoMA, New York), venait de lui confier la direction de la première grande exposition dédiée par une institution américaine, à lart africain (Fonds Louis Carré, Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac). En quelques mois, avec la collaboration de Louis Carré et de Charles Ratton, Sweeney parvint à réunir plus de cinq cent uvres majeures pour ce qui allait devenir la plus importante et audacieuse exposition de son temps : African Negro Art (MoMA le 18 mars-19 mai 1935). Dans les fiches documentaires quil joint à lenvoi des cinquante-quatre uvres provenant de sa collection, Louis Carré prend soin de mentionner leur provenance et leur participation aux expositions parisiennes qui avaient ouvert la voie à un regard artistique sur les « arts lointains » : Exposition dart africain et dart océanien (galerie du théâtre Pigalle, 1930), Exposition de bronzes et ivoires du royaume de Bénin (musée dethnographie du Trocadéro, 1932), et Sculptures et Objets : Afrique noire Amérique ancienne Mélanésie, Polynésie (Chez Louis Carré, 2 bis Villa Guibert, 1933). Lexposition de 1933 chez Louis Carré mentionnée dans la notice de cette tête Fang est une première. Montrées dans un cadre et selon une présentation moderniste, les uvres dAfrique, dOcéanie et des Amériques sont sélectionnées sur les critères du naturalisme et de la virtuosité artistique. La presse et le monde de lart célèbrent la qualité des pièces, et le débat sur lintégration des « arts sauvages » au musée du Louvre, initié dès 1920 par le critique dart Félix Fénéon, est relancé. Le communiqué de presse qui accompagne lexposition vante lensemble du Gabon dont cette tête Fang constitue lapothéose comme lun des plus éminents corpus présentés : « Plusieurs statuettes et têtes des Pahouins. Les pièces de cette provenance sont peut-être les plus recherchés des [arts] africains. Les Pahouins [] sont en effet dextraordinaires sculpteurs ». La mention « Collection Marion » se rapporte très vraisemblablement à Georges Marion, qui avait également acquis, au Gabon, la célèbre statue Fang Mvaï de la collection Pierre Guerre. Selon la légende familiale, dans lune des dernières lettres adressées à son épouse, Marion écrivit ne pas avoir trouvé lor espéré, mais « un trésor qui un jour sera beaucoup plus précieux ». añgokh-nlô-byeri, limpérieuse « tête entière de lancêtre » Par Louis Perrois Ethnologue et historien de l'art, spécialiste des arts de l'Afrique équatoriale Les Fang (appelés aussi « Pangwe » ou « Pahouins »), pratiquaient jusquau moins les années 1920, un culte aux ancêtres familiaux, connu sous le nom de byeri, dont les expressions plastiques sont des représentations symboliques des défunts sous la forme de statuettes de bois (eyema byeri = « limage du byeri »), mais aussi de têtes seules. Ces têtes en bois, à long cou pédonculé étaient appelées añgokh-nlô-byeri [litt.= « la tête entière de lancêtre »]. Dans les musées et les collections privées occidentales, les têtes seules sont beaucoup plus rares que les statues en pied et souvent d'une remarquable qualité de finition ; quelques-unes, dont celle-ci, étant incontestablement des chefs-duvre. Si les statues représentent un ancêtre sexué de façon ostentatoire (homme ou femme), les têtes seules en revanche sont évidemment moins identifiables à cet égard - les coiffures à tresses ou à coques (nlô-ô-ngo) pouvant être indifféremment portées par les hommes ou les femmes. Contrairement aux statues en pied, qui étaient dévoilés lors des rites dinitiation, les têtes añgokh-nlô-byeri demeuraient soigneusement cachées dans la chambre du chef de lignage, tout au fond de sa case. Elles étaient régulièrement enduites d'huile de palme et de poudre de ba (mélange d'huile et de bois de padouk pulvérisé, cet enduit rouge étant, comme les plumes de perroquet de même couleur qui les ornaient, le signe du sacré). Toutes les têtes fang añgokh-nlô-byeri dont on connaît plus ou moins précisément la provenance par des documents darchive (ceux du Père Trilles par exemple) ont été trouvées chez les Fang du Sud, cest-à-dire les Fang de l'Estuaire du Gabon, ceux des vallées du Como, du Remboué, de l'Okano et de l'Abanga enfin les Fang Betsi du sud du Woleu-Ntem et de la rive droite de l'Ogooué. Bien que beaucoup plus rares, elles ont coexisté dans cette region, depuis très longtemps, bien avant le XIXe siècle, avec la tradition de la statuaire en pied, et leur prodigieuse qualité sculpurale atteste dune maturation technique perpétuée de génération en génération. Résumées à linterprétation sculpturale de la seule tête ancestrale, ces têtes ont fasciné, dès les années 1910-1920, les plus éminents précurseurs de lart Africain, tels que Joseph Brummer, Paul Guillaume, Carl Einstein, André Lefèvre ou encore Jacob Epstein. Une brillante singularité Cette exceptionnelle sculpture se présente comme un visage au front proéminent en quart de sphère, déterminant une face en « cur » allongée vers une bouche aux lèvres fines, étirée en avant, selon la « moue » Fang caractéristique, les yeux en « grain de caf autrefois ornés de plaques métalliques. Le classicisme sensible de limposant visage, jouant sur les formes épurées et la tension des courbes, tranche avec la remarquable abstration de la coiffe. A la ronde bosse se substitue, au dos, la transcription en aplat de la coiffe à tresses « ekuma », agencée en cinq arcs de cercle se déployant de part et dautre de la tresse axiale. Limpact graphique samplifie par lorifice transversal servant à la fixation dun décor de plumes aseñ, et par très délicate frise en cauris stylisés en petits losanges qui orne, à linstar de lemblématique tête de la collection Barbier-Mueller, le rebord du bandeau à deux longues tresses latérales cernant le visage. Si, comme pour dautres spécimens de têtes à tresses de la rive droite de lOgooué, cette structure volumétrique de la coiffe correspond probablement à un usage prioritairement frontal de lobjet, la brillante singularité de son interprétation révèle la vision et le talent de son auteur. Tandis que la patine rappelle les rites honorifiques qui lui ont été rendus, les parties érodées résultant de prélèvements qui permettaient dentrer en correspondance étroite avec les ancêtres, renforcent la prégnance de sa beauté minimaliste. Célébration impérieuse de lancêtre originel et des prémices de la reconnaissante des Arts Africains, ce chef-doeuvre traduit magistralement la beauté universelle de lart Fang. Human head borne on a high cylindrical neck. The coiffure arranged in parallel folds. [] French Congo. Pahouin [] Exhibited: lAfrique Noire, at Louis Carrés, Paris, 1933. Former Marion Collection. Louis Carré Collection, Paris, no. 1094.  Description of the work addressed by Louis Carré to James J. Sweeney, 1935 On 24 October 1934, James Johnson Sweeney informed the Parisian art dealer and collector Louis Carré that he had been asked by Alfred Barr, director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA, New York), to curate the first major exhibition dedicated to African art by an American institution. (Fonds Louis Carré, Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac). Within a few months and with the help of Louis Carré and Charles Ratton, Sweeney had gathered together more than five hundred major pieces for what would become the most important and audacious exhibition of his time: African Negro Art (MoMA 18 March -19 May 1935). In the paperwork accompanying the shipment of the fifty-four pieces from his collection, Louis Carré made sure to mention their provenance and their inclusion in the earlier Parisian exhibitions that had paved the way for the new artistic outlook on the "distant arts": Exposition dart africain et dart océanien (galerie du théâtre Pigalle, 1930), Exposition de bronzes et ivoires du royaume de Bénin (musée dethnographie du Trocadéro, 1932), and Sculptures et Objets: Afrique noire Amérique ancienne Mélanésie, Polynésie (Louis Carré, 2 bis Villa Guibert, 1933). The 1933 exhibition at Louis Carré's residence was the first of its kind. Displayed in a modernist manner and setting, pieces from Africa, Oceania and the Americas were selected based on criteria of naturalism and artistic virtuosity. The press and the art world celebrated the quality of the pieces, and the debate on the integration of the "savage arts" in the Louvre museum, originally initiated by art critic Félix Fénéon as early as 1920, was revived. The press release of the exhibition praised the Gabon ensemble, with the present Fang head at the heart of the display, as one of the most important corpora presented: "Several Pahouin statuettes and heads. Pieces from this source are perhaps the most sought after of African [arts]. The Pahouins [...] are indeed extraordinary sculptors. The mention of the "Marion Collection", supplied in 1935 by Louis Carré to James J. Sweeney, most likely refers to Georges Marion, who also collected the famous Fang Mvai statue from the Pierre Guerre collection. According to family legend, in one of the last letters to his wife, Marion wrote that he had not found the gold he hoped for, but rather "a treasure that one day will be much more valuable". Añgokh-nlô-byeri, the imperious "full head of the ancestor" By Louis Perrois Ethnologist, Art historian and Equatorial African art specialist The Fang (also called "Pangwe" or "Pahouins"), practiced a cult of family ancestors, known as byeri until the 1920s. They produced these artistic expressions as symbolic representations of the deceased ancestor in the form of wooden figures (eyema byeri = "the image of the byeri"), but also as standalone heads. These wooden heads, with their elongated necks, were called añgokh-nlô-byeri [litt.= "full head of the ancestor"]. They are much rarer than the standing figures and often boast beautiful detailing, with some, especially this one, being unquestionable masterpieces. While the stand alone figures represent an obviously gendered ancestor (male or female), the standalone heads are less identifiable in this respect - braided or lobed (nlô-ô-ngo) coiffures can be indifferently worn by men or women. In contrast to the full-scale sculptures, which were unveiled during the initiation rites, the añgokh-nlô-byeri heads remained carefully hidden in the depths of the lineage chief's house, where they were regularly coated with palm oil and ba powder (a sacred mixture of oil and pulverized padauk wood that produced a red coating, similar to the parrot feathers that adorned them). The origins of all the Fang añgokh-nlô-byeri heads are more or less accurately known from archival documents (those of Father Trilles for example). They were discovered among the Southern Fang, i.e. the Fang people from the Estuary of Gabon, the valleys of the Como, the Remboue, the Okano and the Abanga, and along, the Fang Betsi from the south of the Woleu-Ntem and the right bank of Ogooue. Although much rarer, these heads have existed in this region, alongside the tradition of full scale statuary, since well before the nineteenth century and their prodigious sculptural quality attests to a technical maturation perpetuated from generation to generation. Pared down to the sculptural interpretation of the sole ancestral head, these heads were a source of fascination, from the 1910s and 1920s onwards, for the most prominent early dealers and collectors of African art, including Joseph Brummer, Paul Guillaume, Carl Einstein, Andre Lefèvre and Jacob Epstein. A magnificent singularity This exceptional sculpture presents itself as a face with a prominent quarter-sphere forehead, delineating a "heart shaped" face tapering down towards a mouth with thin lips, pulled forward, in the characteristic Fang "pout" below the "coffee bean" eyes, formerly adorned with metal plates. The delicate classicism of this imposing face, playing on the clean lines and tension of the curves, contrasts with the remarkable abstraction of the coiffure to the rear, where the round is replaced by a flat depiction of the "ekuma" braided coiffure, arranged in five arcs unfolding on either side of the axial braid. The graphic impact is amplified by the transverse hole used to affix an aseñ feather decor, and by a very delicate cowrie frieze, stylized as small diamond shapes, that adorns the edge of the two long lateral braids forming a band around the face, similar to the emblematic head of the Barbier-Mueller collection. Like other examples of braided heads from the right bank of the Ogooue, the volumetric structure of the coiffure probably corresponds to a primarily frontal use of the object and the brilliant singularity of its interpretation reveals the vision and talent of its author. While the patina recalls the honorary rituals practiced in its name, the eroded parts, resulting from the extractions that allowed for close correspondence with the ancestors, heighten the impact of sculptures minimalist beauty. A masterful celebration of the original ancestor and of the budding recognition of African Arts, this masterpiece beautifully conveys the universal beauty of Fang art.

  • FRAFrance
  • 2017-12-12
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Tête, fang, gabon

Tête, Fang, Gabon « Je suis un révolutionnaire ». Paul Guillaume (interview, Paris-Midi, 14 octobre 1930, p. 2) Luvre engagée du collectionneur et marchand Paul Guillaume (1891-1934) bouleversa, au début du XXe siècle, le regard sur les arts lointains. A travers ses écrits dont lemblématique Premier album de sculptures nègres co-écrit avec Guillaume Apollinaire en 1917 et les multiples expositions quil organisa à Paris ou sur la scène internationale, il orchestra la mue de leur perception, de lexotisme au classicisme. Jusqualors, ces artefacts avaient servi tout autant dillustrations aux théories ethnographiques que de nouvelles solutions formelles aux artistes de lavant-garde, « découvreurs » de lart nègre à lorée du XXe siècle. Paul Guillaume imposa de les observer « du point de vue de lart » (Les arts à Paris, n° 5, 1919), dappréhender lessence de leurs anciennes traditions artistiques et dévaluer individuellement les uvres à laune de leurs qualités esthétiques. Si le champ stylistique des uvres célébrées par Paul Guillaume reflétait lapprovisionnement du marché parisien (essentiellement les arts de la Côte dIvoire et du Gabon), les têtes de reliquaire Fang - alors appelés Pahouins - en constituaient à ses yeux lacmé. En 1929, la version française de Primitive Negro Sculpture a pour couverture la tête Fang baptisée « The Great Byeri », icône de la collection de Paul Guillaume. En février 1933, il organise à New York, aux Durand-Ruel Galleries, la première exposition mettant en regard luvre peinte dun artiste contemporain André Derain avec, pour unique tradition sculpturale dAfrique, celle des Fang. Lexposition new-yorkaise André Derain Paintings and Early African Heads and Statues from the Gabon Pahouin Tribe se transforme la même année, à Chicago, en Early African Heads and Statues from the Pahouin Tribe (The Arts Club of Chicago, 31 mars 19 avril). La tentation monographique devient un manifeste. Paul Guillaume y proclame, à travers vingt uvres de sa collection, le génie du « plus remarquable atelier dart du continent africain [dont les uvres ici présentées ] sont estimées remonter au XIVe-XVe siècle » (introduction au feuillet de lexposition, 1933). En individualisant la richesse, léclat et lancienneté dun style, Paul Guillaume fait entrer le « génie plastique » africain, indépendamment de son rôle fertilisateur de lart moderne, dans lhistoire universelle de lart. Paul Guillaume posséda lensemble le plus exceptionnel de têtes de reliquaire Fang. Outre « The Great Byeri », alors prêté pour lexposition Primitive African Scupture (Lefevre Galleries, Londres) ou encore la « Tête Brummer », cédée très tôt à son illustre confrère, elles constituaient près de la moitié (soit huit uvres) des envois de 1933 à New York puis à Chicago. Mises en exergue dans le titre de lexposition, elles en sont la vedette. Dans la mise en scène savamment orchéstrée par Paul Guillaume et immortalisée par plusieurs clichés (archives Durand-Ruel, Paris), notre tête trône au centre de la table servant de principal piedestal aux sculptures. Sujet de lune des rares photographies individuelles de l"Album" Paul Guillaume et portant un numéro (394) très antérieur aux autres uvres exposées, il est très vraisemblable quelle entra dès la fin des années 1920 dans sa collection. Lorsquà lautomne 1934, James J. Sweeney qui venait de se voir confier le commissariat de lexposition African Negro Art (MoMA, 1935), se rend en Europe pour opérer avec Charles Ratton la sélection des uvres, Paul Guillaume vient de mourir. Cette tête sinscrit dans le prodigieux ensemble de dix sculptures Fang (sur les vingt-sept sélectionnées à travers le monde) quils empruntèrent à sa veuve Domenica. Au « révolutionnaire » qui contribua magistralement à leur reconnaissance, la mention « The Paul Guillaume Coll. » inscrite au catalogue, rendait le premier hommage. « Ngongol : les yeux sont ébahis [et] le cur touché jusquà la mélancolie » Jusquau début du XXe siècle, le byeri, culte rendu par les Fang aux ancêtres familiaux, était accompagné dimages sculptées, représentations symboliques des défunts sous la forme de statues en pied (eyema byeri : « limage de lancêtre familial »), mais aussi de têtes seules, appelées añgokh-nlô-byeri (« la tête entière de lancêtre byeri »). Uniquement connues chez les Fang du Sud (Fang Betsi) des régions de l'Estuaire du Gabon et des vallées principales de Ogooué, entre Libreville et Lambaréné, ces têtes sculptées arrivèrent en Europe parmi les premiers témoins de lart Fang. Célébrées depuis leur découverte, elles en constituent aujourdhui, dans les collections occidentales, les témoins les plus rares (cf. Perrois, « Les Fang », Les forêts natales. Arts dAfrique équatoriale atlantique, 2017, p. 64-77). Si les recherches menées par Louis Perrois démontrent que les têtes cohabitaient depuis bien avant le XIXe siècle avec les statues en pied, leur corpus comparativement très restreint témoigne dun statut privilégié. Dans la pensée Fang, la tête est le signe de la vitalité et de la puissance sociale. Le rôle essentiel des crânes (ekokwe nlo) dans les rites du byeri autorise lhypothèse dune représentation originelle évoquant la tête du défunt iconographie qui se serait ensuite diversifiée avec des images en pied. Contrairement à ces dernières, qui étaient dévoilées lors des rites dinitiation, les têtes añgokh-nlô-byeri demeuraient individuellement cachées dans la chambre du chef de lignage, où elles étaient précieusement conservées. Cette tête illustre la prodigieuse qualité sculpturale qui qualifie le corpus, née dune maturation séculaire. Sa prégnance saffirme tant dans la monumentalité de limpact visuel que dans la sensibilité du visage aux traits légers et resserrés, dont la face en cur subtilement inclinée est mise en valeur par lample rayonnement du front. Le sculpteur a magnifié son sujet par le rehaut soulignant la base du cou, et par limposante coiffe à tresses (ékuma) surmontée dun rare chignon cupulaire et délicatement ornée de motifs géométriques linéaires. Les marques profondes laissées par dinnombrables prélèvements rituels et la patine suintante due aux onctions d'huile de palme et de poudre rouge de ba, attestent de son usage cultuel perpétué de génération en génération. Sa singulière présence touche à lessence du sentiment esthétique, participant de son efficacité : « Quand ils ne peuvent plus rien dire pour exprimer le maximum de beauté, [les Fang] disent « Ngongol ! » ce qui, en temps ordinaire, signifie la pitié, la miséricorde, la tristesse et ici exprimerait non seulement que les yeux sont ébahis, mais que le cur est touché jusquà la mélancolie » (Grébert, Au Gabon, 1922 ;1948, p. 89). Cest, selon toute vraisemblance, Charles Ratton qui obtint de Domenica Guillaume quelle lui confia certains des chefs-duvre exposés au MoMA en 1935. « The Great Byeri » entra dans la collection de Jacob Epstein. Cette tête et deux autres sculptures Fang furent acquises par le collectionneur, critique dart et homme daffaires, René Gaffé. Il ne fait aucun doute que ce grand bibliophile, ami des Surréalistes et des cercles de lavant-garde, lavait autrefois admirée chez Paul Guillaume. Pas plus que cest elle quil évoque lorsquil écrit, à propos de lart Fang, « la vraie beauté, sans perfection [..] qui mémerveille et me rend muet » (Gaffé, En parlant peinture, 1960, p. 129-130). "I am a revolutionary" Paul Guillaume (interview, Paris-Midi, 0ctober 14th, 1930 : 2). In the early 20th century, the diligent work of collector and art dealer Paul Guillaume (1891-1934) completely changed the way non European art was viewed. Through his writings - including the iconic Premier album de sculptures nègres, co-written with Guillaume Apollinaire in 1917 - and the many exhibitions he organized in Paris and on the international scene, he orchestrated a shift in the public perception of these arts, from exoticism to classicism. Until that time, artifacts had served as illustrations for ethnographic theories as well as new formal solutions for avant-garde artists, the "discoverers" of Negro art at the dawn of the 20th century. Paul Guillaume invited people to see them "from an artistic perspective" (Les arts à Paris, n° 5, 1919), to grasp the essence of their ancient artistic traditions and individually evaluate the works according to their aesthetic qualities. Although the stylistic field of the pieces celebrated by Paul Guillaume reflected the supply of the Parisian market at the time (mostly art from Côte dIvoire and Gabon), Fang reliquary heads - then known as Pahouin - were, according to him, their epitome. In 1929, the French version of Primitive Negro Sculpture bore on its front cover a reproduction of a Fang head known as "The Great Byeri" an icon of the Paul Guillaume collection. In February 1933, he organized the first exhibition comparing the paintings of a contemporary artist, André Derain, with one sole African sculptural tradition, that of the Fang in New York, at the Durand-Ruel Galleries,. The New York exhibition André Derain Paintings and Early African Heads and Statues from the Gabon Pahouin Tribe turned into the Early African Heads and Statues from the Pahouin Tribe exhibition during the same year in Chicago. (The Arts Club of Chicago, 31 March 19 April). The monographic presentation became a manifesto. Paul Guillaume proclaimed the genius of the "most remarkable art workshop of the African continent [the works of which are presented here via a selection of twenty pieces from his collection] thought to date back to the 14th and 15th century. (introduction to the exhibition leaflet, 1933). By individualizing the richness, brilliance, and antiquity of a particular style, Paul Guillaume introduced the notion of African "artistic genius" as separate from its fertilizing role for modern art, and into the universal history of art. Paul Guillaume owned one of the most prestigious collection of Fang reliquary heads. Aside from The Great Byeri, at that time on loan for the Primitive African Scupture exhibition (Lefevre Galleries, London) or the Brummer head, sold very early on to his Parisian colleague, the eight works of art represented nearly half of the 1933 loans to New York and Chicago. Highlighted in the title of the exhibition, they were the star. In the expertly orchestrated scenography by Paul Guillaume, immortalized in vintage photographs (Durand-Ruel archives, Paris), our head sits at the center of the table serving as the main pedestal for the sculptures. The subject of one of the few individual photographs of the Album Paul Guillaume and bearing a much earlier number (394) than the other works on display, it is very likely that it entered the collection in the late 1920s. In the fall of 1934, when James J. Sweeney, who had just been appointed curator of the African Negro Art exhibition (MoMA, 1935), went to Europe to work with Charles Ratton on the selection of works, Paul Guillaume had just died. This head is part of the incredible ensemble of ten Fang sculptures (out of the twenty-seven selected throughout the world) that they borrowed from his widow Domenica. The first tribute to the "revolutionary" who contributed to their recognition came in the form of the words "The Paul Guillaume Coll." written in the catalogue. "Ngongol: the eyes are amazed [and] the heart touched to the point of melancholy" Until the early 20th century, the byeri, a Fang cult of family ancestors, was accompanied by carved images, symbolic representations of the deceased in the form of standing figures (eyema byeri: "the image of the family ancestor"), but also of single heads, called añgokh-nlô-byeri ("full head of the ancestor"). Only known in the Southern Fang (Fang Betsi) regions of the Estuary of Gabon and the main valleys of the Ogowe, between Libreville and Lambarene, these sculpted heads arrived in Europe as part of the first specimens of Fang art. Celebrated since their discovery, they are today, within Western collections, among the rarest specimens of the style (cf. Perrois, Les Fang, Les forêts natales. Arts dAfrique équatoriale atlantique, 2017, p. 64-77). Although the research conducted by Louis Perrois shows that Fang heads had coexisted well before the nineteenth century with standing figures, their relatively small corpus reflects a privileged status. In the Fang thought system, the head is the sign of vitality and social power. The essential role of skulls (ekokwe) in the rituals of the byeri highly suggests that there would have been an original representation evoking the head of the deceased, iconography which would then have been diversified with standing images. In contrast to the latter, which were unveiled during the initiation rituals, the añgokh-nlô-byeri heads remained individually hidden in the lineage chief's room, where they were lovingly preserved. This head illustrates the prodigious sculptural quality that qualifies the corpus, born of a secular maturation. Its ascendancy asserts itself both in the monumentality of the visual impact and in the sensitivity of the face with its light and concentrated features, the gently inclined heart-shaped face highlighted by the broad expanse of the forehead. The sculptor has magnified his subject by elevating the base of the neck, while the imposing braided coiffure (ekuma) is surmounted by a rare cupular chignon and delicately adorned with linear geometric patterns. The deep marks left by innumerable ritual samplings and its oozing patina resulting from anointings of palm oil and red powder with which it was honored, attest to its ritual use perpetuated from generation to generation. Its unique presence exhibits the essence of aesthetic sentiment, adding to its impact: "When they can not find the words to express the maximum of beauty, the [Fang] say "Ngongol!, which would normally mean pity, mercy, sadness, but, in this instance, would express not only that the eyes are amazed, but that the heart is touched to the point of melancholy" (Grébert, Au Gabon, 1922 ;1948, p. 89). In all likelihood, it was Charles Ratton who convinced Domenica Guillaume to entrust him with some of the masterpieces exhibited at the MoMA in 1935. "The Great Byeri" entered the Jacob Epstein collection. This head and two other Fang sculptures were acquired by collector, art critic and businessman, René Gaffé. There is no doubt that this great bibliophile, a friend of the Surrealists and avant-garde circles, had once admired it at Paul Guillaume's house and moreover that it is the one he refers to when he writes about Fang art, that "true beauty, without perfection [...] that amazes me and renders me speechless (Gaffé, En parlant peinture, 1960, p. 129-130).

  • FRAFrance
  • 2018-06-13
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Songye janus-headed power statue of the name ‘mulange’, democratic

MULANGE: THE SONGYE JANUS STATUE By Alexander Grogan Introduction The Kunin Janus Statue, of the proper name "Mulange", is one of the most eccentric and powerful works ever created by a Songye artist.  A tour-de-force of sculptural ingenuity, it employs both the astonishing artistic freedom and the high degree of formal sophistication which are unique to Songye power statuary.  Rising above a faceted body on a tall ribbed cylindrical neck, the head is its distinguishing feature.  Seen from the front, the viewer is confronted with a classic Songye face, with a rich, oily black surface partially covered in red pigment, and finely-carved cubistic features.  Turning the sculpture, an extraordinary surprise is revealed: a second face, exactly opposite, bearing the iconic black and white striated design of a kifwebe mask. The spiritual power of this image inspires both fear and reverence, and is unequaled in any other cultural tradition. Songye Power Statuary Like the Kongo and other fellow Bantu cultures of central Africa, the Songye people called upon supernatural forces which they believed could be contacted and manipulated in their favor through power sculptures, mankisi (singular: nkisi).   These sculptures range in size from a few centimeters to more than a meter in height, according to their function, and can be divided into two general categories: those for personal use, and those for the use of a whole village or community.  Most small-scale mankisi were made to temporarily address specific purposes, and were therefore not created with longevity in mind.  These were often created by their users, rather than by professional sculptors.  Large scale community mankisi, however, served for longer periods of time - sometimes multiple generations.  These were commissioned from celebrated master sculptors, and activated in elaborate rituals conducted by an nganga, or ritual specialist, who was considered to be as much the creator of the nkisi as the sculptor. The Songye regarded the wood figure as merely a shell, activated to full power only by the addition of bishimba, the sacred “medicine” composed of animal, plant, and mineral substances chosen for their magical properties.  These additions could be incorporated as external accessories, packed into cavities or channels in the figures themselves, or bundled into attached pouches or containers.  Some materials are readily recognizable and have direct associations with powerful attributes in the natural world: the feathers of a bird of prey, the skin of reptile, the horns of a large mammal, or the teeth or claws of a predator.  Others have an unseen symbolic meaning, such as earth from the footprint of an elephant or material from a tree which has been struck by lightning.  Nails and other metal insertions and appliqué, particularly those added to the faces of Songye figures, refer to the great powers of the blacksmith, an important culture hero, as well as to the dangerous, celestial powers of lightning.  The content of the bishimba was often prescribed by the ritual specialist according to the desired purpose. On important occasions, often relating to particular dates in the lunar cycle, the community nkisi was “recharged” and brought through the community in a dramatic public procession, carried by means of wooden poles which were lashed to the apertures which are invariably seen under the arms of such figures.  This method of manipulation avoided human contact with the figures or their bishimba, as these were considered too powerful to be touched.  Ancestral spirits communicated through the nkisi via the mediation of an elder known as a kunca (or nkunja), who maintained the figure and oversaw its ritual use. A particular community nkisi would serve for a period of time and defined the events that transpired under its tenure. Such figures were called by proper names which were well-known in proportion to their notoriety and efficacy.  Regrettably due to the circumstances in which most of these figures were removed from their original contexts, these proper names are rarely remembered today. Songye Sculptural Style While the Kongo adhered to certain prescribed types according to the nature of the problem requiring the nkisi’s assistance, maintaining certain sculptural formulae, the Songye sculptor-diviner (nganga) was unrestrained by such prescriptions. Taking a certain “classic” sculptural vocabulary as a point of departure, Songye artists proceeded freely into a wide range of formal variation. A client commissioning a figure, describing the circumstances that require the intervention of the nkisi, might relay a description that inspired the form of the sculpture – perhaps from a dream or a mystical encounter with the spirit itself. Both in the design and execution of the underlying wood sculpture, and in the addition of magical accoutrements (bishimba), Songye power figures are the wildly inspired products of this mystical influence and artistic freedom.  As a result, Songye artists achieved extraordinary imaginative heights with their statuary, giving sculptural form to sophisticated allegorical concepts. The “classic” characteristics of the Songye sculptural vocabulary include a generally columnar form; an elaborate coiffure, mimicking the regalia of a high-ranking leader, often bounded by a tiara-like hairline and sometimes surmounted by one or more animal horns; a face generally in the shape of an inverted triangle, featuring a direct, confrontational expression, large eyes and a protruding mouth; a cylindrical neck; an enlarged belly, which