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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Bura : Bura Terracotta Horse Head
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Bura Terracotta Horse Head - DC.322 (LSO)
Origin: Burkina Faso/Niger
Circa: 3 rd Century AD to 11 th Century AD
Dimensions: 7.25" (18.4cm) high x 8" (20.3cm) wide
Collection: African Art
Medium: Terracotta

$9,600.00
Location: United States
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Description
This expressionist rendering of a horse’s head is an extremely rare piece, and was made by one of the most inscrutable groups in pre-colonial Africa: the Bura. Originally designed to stand atop a large ceramic urn, the head is sculpted as a right-angled tubular mass with the lower aspect representing the neck. The corner between the neck and the head proper is marked with a block-shaped ear. The face is long and slim, with a gaping mouth, a rounded muzzle with elongated nostrils and coffee-bean eyes mounted superiorly. The surface is undecorated, but the horse is clearly harnessed, with a stippled double band around the base of the neck and an integral three-strand strap arrangement that encircles the back of the head and proceeds to the muzzle. The piece is unusual in being rendered in the round, as most Bura objects appear to have been devotional in nature, and only carved or sculpted on one side (perhaps being static objects on an altar or similar). Pieces such as this represent wealth, as only the most elite members of any society (including the larger Mali Kingdom) could afford to own horses. There are preliminary data to suggest that the urns that these objects adorned were buried with important individuals and that the horse was usually shown with a rider – representing the deceased. The standard text on the subject (Bacquart 2000) states that only two examples of horses and riders known to exist.

The Bura are a true paradox: almost nothing is known of this shadowy Nigerian/Malian group. They appear to have originated in the first half of the first millennium AD, although the only archaeologically-excavated site (Nyamey) dates between the 14th and 16th centuries. They are contemporary with – and probably related to – the Djenne Kingdom, the Koma, the Teneku and a satellite culture known as the Inland Niger Delta. Insofar as can be ascertained, the Bura share certain characteristics with these groups; for our purposes, these include extensive ceramic and stone sculptural traditions. The Bura appear to have been sedentary agriculturists who buried their dead in tall, conical urns, often surmounted by small figures. Their utilitarian vessels are usually plain, while other “containers” – the function of which is not understood – are often decorated with incised and stamped patterns. Their best-known art form is radically reductivist anthropomorphic stone statues, with heads rendered as squares, triangles and ovals, with the body suggested by a columnar, monolithic shape beneath. Phallic objects are also known; some phallomorphic objects may have been staffs, perhaps regalia pertaining to leaders of Bura groups. Ceramic heads are usually more complex than their stone counterparts, with incised decoration and variable treatment of facial proportions and features. There are a few very rare equestrian figures: these bear some resemblance to Djenne pieces. Almost no intact human or equestrian figures are known.

The role of these figures is almost totally obscure. Equestrian figures probably represent high status individuals, and the very few full- body representations of humans may be portraits or ancestor figures. Intuitively – as with so many other groups both inside and beyond Africa – figures with exaggerated sexual characteristics would tend to be associated with fertility and fecundity, as would any artefact modelled in the shape of pudenda (although the sceptre-like qualities of some such pieces should be noted – see above). The distribution of decoration on some ceramic pieces (notably phalluses) may suggest that they were designed to be viewed from one angle only – perhaps as adorational pieces. Many pieces are believed to have been found in burials, perhaps implying an importance that would have been linked to social standing and status.

The status inferred by pieces such as this is irrefutable. This is an astonishing rare and desirable piece, and a striking and attractive piece of ancient art from one of Africa’s lost civilisations.

- (DC.322 (LSO))

 

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