John Goba - Sculptor of mysteries

Beadwork and porcupine quills

Contemporary African Art Collection - The Jean Pigozzi Collection

Mambolo (The Great Hunter (1993) by John GobaContemporary African Art Collection - The Jean Pigozzi Collection

Of Mende origin, John Goba was born in 1944 in Mattru Jong, Sierra Leone, into the hermetic milieu of women’s Bondo Society, in which his grandmother played an important role.

The Twins Created (1996) by John GobaContemporary African Art Collection - The Jean Pigozzi Collection

Goba came of age under her protection, and at the end of his period of initiation, he settled in Mountain Cut, a district in Freetown.

Flying Wizard (1992) by John GobaContemporary African Art Collection - The Jean Pigozzi Collection

There, when he was around thirty, he experienced a revelation which prompted him to begin making masks for the Ode-lay initiation rituals and masquerades that had sprung up in Freetown in the 1970s.

Hunna Bla N° 1 (1992) by John GobaContemporary African Art Collection - The Jean Pigozzi Collection

Ode-lay masks and dress are characterized by an extraordinary ornamental exuberance, incorporating unexpected materials (such as Christmas tree ornaments) to achieve spectacular effects. Goba’s first masks, made of wood and brightly coloured with industrial paint, initially followed Ode-lay customs.

Kukujumuku (1992) by John GobaContemporary African Art Collection - The Jean Pigozzi Collection

As he became more experienced, he began to create sculptures with greater freedom.Goba’s imagery is inspired by the traditional lore and mysteries of his environment and his sculptures are a skilful blend of figures borrowed from time-honoured tales and his own fantasies.

Yellarne (1993) by John GobaContemporary African Art Collection - The Jean Pigozzi Collection

A multitude of porcupine quills invariably protrude from the main characters of his tableaux, as if assuring their protection and forbidding any access to the heart—or secret core—of the work.

Yellow Woman (1993) by John GobaContemporary African Art Collection - The Jean Pigozzi Collection

Each sculpture, Goba likes to say, has its own private history to which only the artist has the key.

Tapeh Muna (1992) by John GobaContemporary African Art Collection - The Jean Pigozzi Collection

John Goba died in 2019.

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