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Cabinet V: Shelf 1

The Human Figure in African Art

The human figure is a frequent motif in the arts of many African peoples. Though the proportions and style of freestanding figures, which vary by region or ethnic group, may not be naturalistic, what is represented is nevertheless easily identified (a mother and child, for example). The artist’s goal was not an accurate rendering of the physical body; rather the proportions or details of the figure, such as scarification patterns and hairstyle, often reflect an attempt to produce a culturally meaningful object that expresses ideals of beauty, morality, and/or wisdom. In Luluwa figures from the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, the long neck, adorned with either scarification patterns or necklaces, expresses both high rank and beauty, while the exaggerated belly and buttocks indicate the woman’s fertility.

The human figure is also incorporated into objects in African art traditions. A carved wooden spoon featuring a pair of legs as its handle might have been used in both ceremonial and ritual contexts. Dan and neighboring groups in Liberia and the Ivory Coast displayed spoons incorporating the human form during the large feasts accompanying masquerade ceremonies; these were intended to honor the generosity and hard work of a community’s most hospitable woman. It is believed that African artists’ remarkable propensity to give human characteristics to objects like spoons, pots, and other household goods, may have inspired the use of the human form in quotidian objects in other artistic traditions as well, including those of Europe from the fifteenth century onwards.

Baulé
Male Figure
carved wood
14 9/16 in x 3 1/8 in x 2 15/16 in (37 cm x 8 cm x 7.5 cm);14 9/16 in x 3 1/8 in x 2 15/16 in (37 cm x 8 cm x 7.5 cm)
Gift of Prof. and Mrs. Horace M. Miner
Axe with wooden handle. The bottom of the handle is cylindrical with a small disc-shaped grip at the end, while the upper portion of the handle is composed of two figures on top of one another. They face opposing directions; the lower figure appears to be holding a knife while the other figure may be holding a musical instrument to its mouth. 
Yoruba
Ceremonial Axe
20th century
iron, wood
Gift of Susan B. and John F. Ullrich

1998/1.53
Lulua
Maternity Figure—Cibola Cult
carved wood
8 1/4 in x 2 1/16 in x 1 3/4 in (21 cm x 5.2 cm x 4.5 cm);8 1/4 in x 2 1/16 in x 1 3/4 in (21 cm x 5.2 cm x 4.5 cm)
Gift of Robert B. Jacobs
Idoma
Figure
wood, polychrome, beads
Gift of Candis and Helmut Stern
2005/1.253
Standing female figure with prominent breasts on a square base. The hands are placed at the sides and there are strings of beads around the waist and neck. On the cheeks and forehead there are incised marks and the hair has a rounded, comb-like shape with horizontal grooves. 
Yoruba
Female Twin Figure
carved wood and glass beads
10 1/16 in x 3 in x 3 in (25.56 cm x 7.62 cm x 7.62 cm)
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Milford Golden
Suku
Ceremonial Cup
carved wood
3 7/8 in x 2 3/4 in x 5 1/8 in (9.8 cm x 7 cm x 13 cm)
Museum Purchase
Figure
wood
Gift of Dr. Daniel and Sandra Mato
2003/2.37
Akan
Seated Maternity Figure
20th century
carved wood with blue, green and red pigments
Gift of Dr. James and Vivian Curtis
1997/1.302
This double-faced sculpture has been carved from semihard wood. The male is distinguished by the beard, formed by a double row of small triangles. The female, which faces the opposite direction, shares a neck and trunk with her male counterpart. The heads are disproportionately large and both faces are ovoid-shaped, with a wide convex forehead and broad features. Their coiffures converge to form a single cone composed by stratified, semi-circular rings. A cavity on the top of the coiffure likely held medicinal substances, imbuing the figure with power. The male and female each have sharply protruding bellies, marked with round umbilici.  Both possess two sets of arms, which are detached from the body and situated on either side of their respective abdomens. Three of the four feet have broken off. The encrusted surface of the <em>kabeja</em> reveals that it was once the recipient of libational offerings.   
Hemba
Power Figure
1865 – 1875
wood
Gift of Candis and Helmut Stern
2005/1.226
Vili (Kongo)
Maternity Figure
polychromed wood, porcelain, glass beads, and cloth
11 5/8 in x 5 1/8 in x 5 9/16 in (29.5 cm x 13 cm x 14.2 cm);11 5/8 in x 5 1/8 in x 5 9/16 in (29.5 cm x 13 cm x 14.2 cm)
Museum purchase made possible by the Betty J. Lockett Memorial Fund; the Mary Kujawski Memorial Fund; and the Alfred E. Pernt Memorial Fund, in honor of Dr. of Technical Services Max H.J. Pernt and his wife Anna Pernt (née Mueller)
Standing figure on a round base with a square carved on bottom of base. The figure is wearing a cloth around the waist with a diamond pattern and is holding a string with cowrie shells. The hair is tall, in a round comb-like shape. 
Yoruba
Twin Figure
wood, string, and cowrie shells
12 in x 4 7/16 in x 3 3/4 in (30.48 cm x 11.27 cm x 9.53 cm)
Gift of Prof. and Mrs. Horace M. Miner
Dan
Spoon
wood
Gift of Dr. Daniel and Sandra Mato
2003/2.30

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Part of 1 Learning Collection

Cabinet A: Shelf 1
<p>Selections from the Bohlen Wood Art Collection ...

Cabinet A: Shelf 2
<p>Selections from the Bohlen Wood Art Collection ...

Cabinet A: Shelf 3
<p>Selections from the Bohlen Wood Art Collection ...

Cabinet B: Shelf 1
<p>Selections from the Bohlen Wood Art Collection ...

Cabinet B: Shelf 2
<p>Selections from the Bohlen Wood Art Collection ...

Cabinet B: Shelf 3
<p>Selections from the Bohlen Wood Art Collection ...

Cabinet C: Shelf 1
<p>Selections from the Bohlen Wood Art Collection ...

Cabinet C: Shelf 2
<p>Selections from the Bohlen Wood Art Collection ...

Cabinet C: Shelf 3
<p>Inkwells </p>

Cabinet D: Shelf 1
<p>Selections from the Bohlen Wood Art Collection ...

Cabinet D: Shelf 2
<p>Inkwells </p>

Cabinet D: Shelf 3
<p>Inkwells </p>

Cabinet E: Shelf 1
<p>Selections from the James Marshall Plumer Collec...

Cabinet E: Shelf 2
<p>Selections from the James Marshall Plumer Collec...

Cabinet E: Shelf 3
<p>Selections from the James Marshall Plumer Collec...

Cabinet F: Shelf 1
<p>Mortuary Art from China </p>

Cabinet F: Shelf 2
<p>Mortuary Art from China</p>

Cabinet F: Shelf 3
<p>Mortuary Art from China</p>

Cabinet G: Shelf 1
<p>Mortuary Art from China</p>

Cabinet G: Shelf 2
<p>Mortuary Art from China</p>

Cabinet G: Shelf 3 
<p>Mortuary Art from China</p>

Cabinet H: Shelf 1
<p>Mortuary Art from China</p>

Cabinet H: Shelf 2
<p>Mortuary Art from China </p>

Cabinet H: Shelf 3
<p>Mortuary Art from China</p>

Cabinet I: Shelf 1
<p>Art of Islam</p>

Cabinet I: Shelf 2
<p>Art of Islam</p>

Cabinet I: Shelf 3
<p>Art of Islam</p>

Cabinet J: Shelf 1
<p>Art of Islam</p>

Cabinet J: Shelf 2
<p>Art of Islam</p>

Cabinet J: Shelf 3
<p>Art of Islam</p>

Cabinet K: Shelf 1
<p>Religious Sculpture from India</p>

Cabinet K: Shelf 2
<p>Religious Sculpture from India</p>

Cabinet K: Shelf 3
<p>Art of Islam</p>

Cabinet L: Shelf 1
<p>Blue-and-White Porcelain and Stoneware</p>

Cabinet L: Shelf 2
<p>Blue-and-White Porcelain and Stoneware</p>

Cabinet L: Shelf 3
<p>Blue-and-White Porcelain and Stoneware</p>

Cabinet M: Shelf 1
<p>Selections from the Dora and William Hunter Coll...

Cabinet M: Shelf 2
<p>Selections from the Dora and William Hunter Coll...

Cabinet M: Shelf 3
<p>Blue-and-White Porcelain and Stoneware</p>

Cabinet N: Shelf 1
<p>Selections from the Margaret Watson Parker Colle...

Cabinet N: Shelf 2
<p>Selections from the Margaret Watson Parker Colle...

Cabinet N: Shelf 3
<p>Celadon Wares in Asia</p>

Cabinet O: Shelf 1
<p>Celadon Wares in Asia</p>

Cabinet O: Shelf 2
<p>Celadon Wares in Asia</p>

Cabinet O: Shelf 3
<p>Celadon Wares in Asia</p>

Cabinet P: Shelf 1
<p>Celadon Wares in Asia</p>

Cabinet P: Shelf 2
<p>Celadon Wares in Asia</p>

Cabinet P: Shelf 3
<p>Celadon Wares in Asia</p>

Cabinet Q: Shelf 1
<p>Selections from the Ellen and Richard Laing Coll...

Cabinet Q: Shelf 2
<p>Selections from the Ellen and Richard Laing Coll...

Cabinet Q: Shelf 3
<p>Selections from the Ellen and Richard Laing Coll...

Cabinet Q: Shelf 4
<p>American Plaster Casts</p>

Cabinet R: Shelf 1
<p>American Plaster Casts</p>

Cabinet R: Shelf 2
<p>Apostle Spoons and American Silver</p>

Cabinet R: Shelf 3
<p>Modernist Glass and American Art Pottery</p>

Cabinet R: Shelf 4
<p>American Plaster Casts</p>

Cabinet S: Shelf 1
<p>American Silver</p>

Cabinet S: Shelf 2
<p>Tiffany Glass</p>

Cabinet S: Shelf 3
<p>American Silver</p>

Cabinet T: Shelf 1
<p>American Art Pottery</p>

Cabinet T: Shelf 2
<p>American Art Pottery</p>

Cabinet T: Shelf 3
<p>Native American Art</p>

Cabinet U: Shelf 1
<p>American Art Pottery</p>

Cabinet U: Shelf 2
<p>American Art Pottery</p>

Cabinet U: Shelf 3
<p>Native American Art</p>

Cabinet V: Shelf 1
<p>The Human Figure in African Art</p>

Cabinet V: Shelf 2
<p>African Miniature Masks</p>

Cabinet V: Shelf 3
<p>African Masks and Masquerades</p>

Cabinet W: Shelf 1
<p>The Head in African Art</p>

Cabinet W: Shelf 2
<p>Selections from the Helmut Stern Collection</p>

Cabinet W: Shelf 3
<p>Selections from the Helmut Stern Collection</p>

Cabinet W: Shelf 4
<p>African Masks and Masquerades</p>

Cabinet X: Shelf 1
<p>Modern Sculpture</p>

Cabinet X: Shelf 2
<p>Modern Sculpture</p>

Cabinet X: Shelf 3
<p>Modern Sculpture</p>

Cabinet X: Shelf 4
<p>Modern Sculpture</p>

Cabinet Y: Shelf 1
<p>Selections from the Fusfeld Art Collection</p>

Cabinet Y: Shelf 2
<p>Contemporary Art</p>

Cabinet Y: Shelf 3
<p>Contemporary Art</p>

Cabinet Y: Shelf 4
<p>Contemporary Art</p>

13 Collection Object Sources

Male Figure (1984/1.264)
Ceremonial Axe (1998/1.53)
Figure (2005/1.253)
Ceremonial Cup (1985/2.125)
Figure (2003/2.37)
Power Figure (2005/1.226)
Twin Figure (1983/2.190)
Spoon (2003/2.30)
Figure (2005/1.184)

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Last Updated

June 8, 2020 2:24 p.m.

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