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Display figure

Accession Number
2001/2.33

Title
Display figure

Artist(s)
Osei Bonsu; Asante

Object Creation Date
circa 1950

Medium & Support
wood

Dimensions
11 in x 4 in x 4 3/16 in (27.94 cm x 10.16 cm x 10.64 cm);11 in x 4 in x 4 3/16 in (27.94 cm x 10.16 cm x 10.64 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Margaret H. and Albert J. Coudron

Label copy
March 28, 2009
This figure, seated on a royal stool—considered the soul of the Asante people—with an egg in his hand, depicts a popular proverb: “To be a ruler is like holding an egg in the hand; if it is pressed too hard it breaks, but if not held tightly enough it may slip and smash on the ground.” This motif was often used to decorate the tops of linguist staffs (emblems of authority used by the ruler’s spokesmen during public ceremonies), but this figure was commissioned from Osei Bonsu—a prominent artist—by a local Asante or expatriate elite to display in a home. Osei Bonsu’s naturalistic style is seen in the egg-shaped head, the high, sloping forehead rising from pronounced eyebrows, the long ringed neck, and small, delicate hands and feet. He is known for his smooth, carefully finished surfaces; indeed he disdained rough finishes, which he compared to “fufu [pounded yams, a staple food] that has fallen into the gravel.”

Subject matter
Seated on a royal stool—considered the soul of the Asante people—with an egg in his hand, this figure depicts a proverb that cautions the powerful to be firm but prudent in their rule: "To be a ruler is like holding an egg in the hand; if it is pressed too hard it breaks, but if not held tightly enough it may slip and smash on the ground." A popular motif of the Asante court, it was often used to decorate the tops of linguist staffs, which were emblems of authority used by the ruler's spokesmen during public ceremonies. However, this particular figure—carved by the acclaimed artist Osei Bonsu—is what Bonsu himself called a "parlor piece," that is, a genre of work commissioned by local Asante and expatriate elites to decorate their homes. 

Physical Description
A poised, naturalistic male figure sits on a stool, holding an egg in his right hand, his left hand resting on his left knee. The head is round, almost egg-shaped with a high, sloping forehead rising from pronounced eyebrows. The eyes are almond-shaped, the nose long and slender, the mouth a small straignt line. The neck is long and ringed. The surface of the figure is smooth, carefully finished, golden brown in color, though worn or mottled in places. 

Primary Object Classification
Sculpture

Primary Object Type
figure

Collection Area
African

Rights
If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit http://umma.umich.edu/request-image for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form.

Keywords
egg (material)
power
proverbs
stools (seating furniture)

4 Related Resources

Visual Adaptations of Poetry
(Part of 2 Learning Collections)
Part IV: Transformations
(Part of: Unrecorded: Africa Reimagined)
Docent Materials for Unrecorded: Imagining Artist Identities in Africa
(Part of: Docent Information From Training Continuing Education Sessions)

& Author Notes

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