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Between and Mortarboard

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6 Items in this Learning Collection
Collection Object
Collection Object

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Accession Number



Artist Nationality
Chokwe (culture or style)

Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
wood and antelope hide

30 1/2 in x 15 1/2 in x 17 1/2 in (77.47 cm x 39.4 cm x 44.45 cm);30 1/2 in x 15 1/2 in x 17 1/2 in (77.47 cm x 39.37 cm x 44.45 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Robert B. Jacobs

Label copy
March 28, 2009
In Chokwe society, chairs such as this one represented the authority and supreme spiritual power of their distinguished owners. This chair abounds with symbolism. Two squatting figures decorate the finials. One is elderly, bearded, and scarified, while the other is fresh-faced and young. The space between them marks the transition from boyhood to manhood, which occurs at initiation. Between the figures supporting the chair’s front legs appear three men who raft down a river, a symbolic waterway that suggests the passage between earthly and heavenly worlds.
This chair exemplifies the cross-cultural mixing found in African art. Its shape was inspired by a Portuguese style of leather chair from the late seventeenth century. The carved face at the center is likely a representation of a Portuguese face, suggesting that this chair may have been carved to resemble a much earlier, European commission.

Subject matter
Inspired by late 17th century Portuguese prototypes called cadeira de sola, this chair exemplifies the cross-cultural hybridization readily found in African art. Above all, chairs like this represent the authority and supreme spiritual power of its owners: chiefs, elders, diviners, or circumcision specialists. When presiding over local disputes, dignitaries leaned on citwamo ca mungu while sitting on animal hides. The chair is dyed with vegetal infusion or stained with castor oil.

Physical Description
This wooden chair has two squatting figures decorating the finials; one is elderly, bearded, and scarified, while the other is fresh-faced and young. At the lower left rung, two men carry a slit drum; between the caryatid figures supporting the chair’s front legs appear three men; the central slat has incised diagonal patterns called fuliko. At the center, what is possibly a pointy-nosed European’s face replaces the more habitual chikungu masker.

Primary Object Classification
Wood and Woodcarving

Primary Object Type

Collection Area

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Portuguese Colonial
ceremonial chairs
royalty (nobility)
symbols of office or status

3 Related Resources

Immigration, Migration, and Displacement
(Part of 4 Learning Collections)
Ann Arbor Public School: Art Teacher Professional Development 
(Part of: UMMA Teacher Workshop Resources)
Beyond Borders Teacher Workshop        
(Part of: UMMA Teacher Workshop Resources)

& Author Notes

Web Use Permitted