African Art in the Modern Era

Art from the African continent 18th cent. – Present Day

This tusk may have come from the altar of a nobleman in Benin. The carved images on the tusk depict an episode in Benin folklore and includes images such as leopards, Portuguese soldiers, and members of the Oba’s special guard.
Wooden sculptures such as this one served guardians to protect relics from evil spirits. Also known as bieri.
The style of this zoomorphic mask is reminiscent of those made centuries before, with geometric patterning and stylized animals. Dancing masks were used in initiation ceremonies as well as funerals.
This figure may represent a hogon, a semi-divine leader of great wisdom. In pose and attributes, it is highly reminiscent of horsemen made by the Jenné people.
Masks were commonly made specifically for funeral ceremonies. Each mask had a persona that the wearer would assume during performances.
With the short fringe on the face, it is possible this figure represents an elderly man. Like most reliquary figures, it has a long neck and muscled arms and legs.
Many African peoples consulted diviners about problems. Diviners used numerous objects to determine the best path. This object gives the appearance of a bird head.
Nkisi are objects that harness spirit forces or powers. Nkisi Nkondi are a specific type of nkisi and could be used in private or public functions. Diviners drove in nails or added plants to it to invoke the spirit.
Unlike European horns, the mouth of African horns were typically carved in the side instead of the small end. It would have served as a musical instrument.
This wooden mask would have had other adornments, such as attachments on the rim of the mask (evident by the piercings) and possibly metal teeth.
Young women entering the Sande society (of older women) wore black masks at their initiation ceremony.
Diviners prescribed medicinal ingredients (bilongo) and added them to nkisi figures to aid in clients’ problems. Bilongo were probably inserted into a body cavity in this particular nkisi.
A wooden sculpture depicting the sacredness of twins in the Yoruba culture. Such masks were well cared for by the families that commissioned them.
Ibeji figures represent health and well-being. Often they are decorated with elaborate hairstyles and scarification. They stood for hope in the future, survival and prosperity.
Some African people believed that everyone had a spirit spouse in a previous life. Figures showed off the most desirable marks of beauty, decorated with scarification and jewelry.
This female figure has an elongated neck, muscular limbs, a large head, and the knotted hairstyle that is typical of many African figures.This is the female counterpart to blolo bian (male figures).
Staffs were carried by important leaders; some counselors called Okyeame held such scepters. This staff is covered entirely in gold leaf and is topped with a cat and mouse.
Leopards were symbolic of power, which leads to assume the Okyeame who held this staff was very wise and powerful. Okyeame served as spokesmen or counselors.
A door panel from the royal palace at Ise. Carved relief figures face out to the viewer, and the door was once brightly painted, but the paint quickly wore off. The panel commemorates the king of Ise receiving Major Reeve-Tucker.
Male and female twin set. If an infant twin passed away, the family might commission a figure for the twin's soul to reside in. Such a statue was treated like an actual child.
Among the Lega people, tiny masks were used to pass political and religious knowledge down generations. They were too small to wear on the face; instead they were attached to the thigh or held in the palm of one’s hand.