The communion of the spiritual and sculptural in african art

“Most traditional African cultures include beliefs about the spirit world, which are widely represented through art such as masks, statues, and sculptures. In some societies, artistic talents were themselves seen as ways to please higher spirits” (Boundless). Art, then, becomes more about the act of channeling these spirits than the overall aesthetic.

In the focus of this exhibit, the questions then arise: How does the human figure, in a three-dimensional sculptural form, become an extension of these ideas? How is it used to show these conversations with the spirit world?

The following exhibition pieces transmit these spiritual ideas through the human form. They speak of ancestors, fertility, women, and funerary ceremonies. These sculptural forms become extensions, or vessels of communion.

Why we see, aesthetically, commonplace happenings such as birth and death figuratively represented, is because Africa cannot separate art and life. This culture uses its art to channel spiritual power from beyond the visual world, to aid and guide one's life through the existing world (The Art of Living).

Most Dogon sculptures are carved for personal or family use, to commemorate the founding of a community, or for community worship. The horse, symbolizing power and wealth, is incorporated into many ceremonial and functional sculptures, and equestrian figures are also common in Dogon art. In sculpture their presence always denotes the rider's high status. The theme of the horse and rider is found throughout the art of the western Sudan. Among the Dogon, horses are principally the mounts of the revered hogons, supremely important, semidivine leaders of great wisdom. Hogons played an important role as masters of the cult of Lebe, a primordial ancestor whose cult is concerned with fertility and the regeneration of the earth. Lebe was the first being to experience death, which he then introduced to humankind. He was often depicted on horseback, wearing a beard. In this sculpture, the rider wears the short fringe beard of elder men and, as is done in life, carries a sheathed knife on his left arm, which also holds the reins. This figure may represent an ancestral Dogon, a hogon, or an ancestor assuming the form of a hogon. In pose and attributes, it is highly reminiscent of ceramic horsemen made by the ancient Jenne culture of western Africa (Google).
In the kingdoms of Cameroon, masks are often associated with the Nsoro, a secret men’s association that maintains social order and acts as a police force and court of law. Masks are worn during the funerals of the association’s members and during other official activities. Placed on top of the head so that they tower above spectators, the masks inspire respect and awe (Brooklyn Museum). It becomes an extension of the body through its use of three-dimensional form and space. Being placed on the head it speaks of power to all who see it.
This women has protruding breasts and navel as she carries a local flowering fruit within her hands. She appears to be carrying the 'fruits of her labors.' These "...'power objects' were believed to help aid in the communication with the spirit world" (Boundless: African Art and the Spirit World). It extends to the viewer good wishes of fertility, through channeling this communion from beyond.
Conversing closely with the previous piece, this doll is placed on a mantle after a women struggles having a child. It is to be treated like her own, inviting motherhood into her life. After she conceives, she returns the object where it was found and places an offering for the next struggling woman (Randa African Art).
Influential people became powerful ancestors and were honored with sculptures like this shrine head. These sculptures were kept in sacred places where living family members held ceremonies to keep the ancestors happy and honored. The ancestor might then help or harm, depending on how they're treated. Her hair indicates royalty, and her face shows signs of scarification (Minneapolis Institute of Art).
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