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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Archive : Yoruba Ivory Female Kneeling Figure
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Yoruba Ivory Female Kneeling Figure - SP.132 B.(LSO)
Origin: Nigeria
Circa: 19 th Century AD to 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 6.9" (17.5cm) high
Collection: African Art
Medium: Ivory
Condition: Extra Fine

Additional Information: Sold

Location: UAE
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This elegant ivory piece was made by the Yoruba of Nigeria. It is a small figure of a kneeling woman holding her breasts in her hands. She is kneeling on a round base and is supporting a round basket on her head. She is literally covered with geometric designs arranged in bands in the manner of scarifications, although the base also has similar, geometric patterning. Her pupils are painted black, while her hair is exceptionally ornate (perhaps representing a skullcap). The ivory has acquired a beautiful patina from age and handling.

The Yoruba peoples of Nigeria have what is probably the longest extant artistic tradition in Africa. The nation state is comprised of numerous subsections that were joined historically by the rise and collapse of the Ife (12th to 15th centuries) and Benin (13th to 19th centuries) polities. Each of the sub-kingdoms – including Oyo, Ijebu and smaller units towards the west – had their heyday, and are loosely united through language and culture, although they still retain a measure of independence in terms of their artistic traditions.

The Yoruba are ruled by hereditary kings known as Obas; access to the supernatural world is supervised by priests (i.e. Olowa) and spiritual intermediaries. Their cosmology is arranged in terms of the tangible realm of the living (aye) and the invisible realm of the spirits and the hereafter (orun). The creator of the world is Olodumare, who is the source of all ase – life force. Orun is populated by all manner of spirits (iwin, ajogun, egbe and oro), gods (orisa) and ancestors (ara orun), all of whom influence the living. Most Yoruban artistic heritage is designed to thwart evil spirits, and to placate or honour those that bring good fortune to the populace.

The purpose of this piece is difficult to establish. It suggests a ritual, perhaps divinatory purpose, especially regarding the basket receptacle atop the woman’s head. Alternatively, it may represent an ancestress. The fact it is made of ivory suggests an elite ownership. This is a superb piece of Yoruba carving.

- (SP.132 B.(LSO))


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