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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Fang : Fang Reliquary Head
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Fang Reliquary Head - GC.105 (LSO)
Origin: Gabon
Circa: 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 15.5" (39.4cm) high
Collection: African Art
Medium: Wood
Condition: Fine

$9,600.00
Location: United States
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Description
This striking piece is a reliquary head from a F’ang funerary ensemble. It comprises a thick and regular cylindrical post, surmounted by a large, ornate, oval head. The head is slightly oversized, with a domed forehead, a flanged, scarf-like coiffure and a long, oval face with a pointed chin and a strong brow/nose complex with concave cheeks. The eyes are suggested by incised lines beneath the brows, which do on to define the sides of the nose. The nostrils are deep-drilled, and the mouth describes an upturned curve that lends the face a gloomy expression. It has a dark, encrusted patina over the entire surface.

The Fang are perhaps the best-known tribal group in Africa in terms of visual arts. Indeed, so much attention has been paid to their astoundingly accomplished artistic oeuvre that comparatively little is known of their cultural and historical background. Their current territory is Gabon, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, although they are known to have migrated to these areas over the past few centuries from their original heartland in the northeast. Their general métier is that of warriors, which partially explains the somewhat martial and fierce appearance of their figural works. Their success at conquest means that they are spread over a very wide area, consequently leading to a proliferation of artistic substyles under a recognizable general style. They also intermarried with local tribes such as the Betsi, the Ntumu and the Ngumba, giving rise to yet further diversity of art styles. They are connected by similar belief systems, especially including a heavy reliance upon ancestor worship to validate their actions and protect them from evil; this preoccupation has transferred itself to their material culture.

F’ang ancestor worship means the retention of ancestors’ remains inside specially made bark containers (reliquaries – nsekh byeri), which are protected by reliquary figures or heads known as “byeri”. This system probably evolved because of the high level of mobility practiced by early Fang populations, and so that ancestors’ remains could be continually present even during military campaigns. The spirits were appeased in a variety of ways, and were always kept close to the family whose ancestors they were. The figures were often decorated with copper and other materials, and many examples still exude the oils and other offerings with which they were endowed. The F’ang are also known for their everyday items – such as bells, gongs, tools and other objects – which are decorated with their distinctive artistic motifs. All of these objects played a major role in the development of western art styles in the 1920’s drive towards expressionism, cubism and primitivism in Paris, in the hands of such luminaries as Picasso, Modigliani and Brancusi.

This byeri head is a striking example of F’ang art.

- (GC.105 (LSO))

 

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