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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Masterpieces of African Art : Baule Blolo Bla Spirit Spouse Figure of a Woman
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Baule Blolo Bla Spirit Spouse Figure of a Woman - PF.8067 (LSO)
Origin: Ivory Coast
Circa: 20 th Century AD

Collection: African
Medium: Wood and Glass Beads

Additional Information: SOLD

Location: United States
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This elegant and well-patinated figure was made by the Baule, a subsection of the Ivory Coast Akan polity. It depicts a tall, slim female with a slightly oversized head, elongated arms and shortened legs. The surface is encrusted with handling gloss on the more elevated portions. The physique is highly feminised, with protuberant breasts and a fecund profile. The knees are slightly flexed. The right hand rests on the upper thigh while the left holds an unidentified object (possibly an egg, a token of good luck in Baule culture). She bears bars of keloid scarificatins on her back, a characteristic that is beautiful in the eys of the Baule, and which would also identify her origin to any onlooker. The detailing below the neck is largely schematic, with most attention being paid to the head. The features are classically Baule, with a high, domed forehead, a heart-shaped face, an elongated inverted T-bar nose, half- closed eyes and rounded cheeks that run into the small, protuberant mouth. The hair is exquisite, comprising a triple set of rounded eminences decorated with incised lines running dorsally (the central section) and inferiorly (the lateral sections). The figure is adorned with bands of white glass trade beads around the neck and each ankle. While the identity of this piece is uncertain, it is probably a Blolo Bla sculpture – a spirit spouse to whom a man was “married”, and through whom he would receive spiritual guidance. These figures are traditionally made to represent the ideal spouse – beautiful, serene women and, usually, somewhat older, wealthy men, each expressing the marital intentions of the person for whom the piece was made.

The Baule live across the Ivory Coast area, and have an economy based primarily on sedentary agriculturism. They have thus been able to build up a considerable political and economic stronghold, which has in turn given rise to a strong ritual and artistic heritage. Their own creation story relates to an ancient migration, in which the queen was forced to sacrifice her son in order to ford a mighty river. So upset was she that all she could say was “baouli” (“the child is dead”), thus giving rise to the tribe’s name.

Blolo bian (male) and Blolo bla (female) spirit spouses are perhaps the Baule’s greatest artistic and psycho-social achievement. They are also known for sculptures representing bush spirits (Asie usu) – mischievous and potentially malevolent inhabitants of the “bush”, or dark country beyond the boundary of the village – monkeys, and three types of masks that are used in the celebration of good harvests, mourning, and the visits of important dignitaries. Secular items are also known, including heddle pulleys, doors, catapults and other utilitarian objects that are often decorated to a very high standard by Baule artists and craftsmen. Their metalworking – especially in gold – is also renowned for its quality. Their arts are most often confused with their neighbours, the Yaure and the Guro.

Like most other human societies, the Baule are prey to conspicuous consumption, which is a central key to asserting one’s status in the village, and thus one’s power and influence. While their carving is among the most refined and restrained in Africa, therefore, artists vie to produce more impressive and beautiful carvings which are often decorated or adorned by their proud owners. The current piece is an excellent example of this, being not only beautifully rendered and comparatively dynamic, but also adorned with trade beads which were literally worth their weight in gold (they were traditionally used as money in various African societies). This is an exceptional example of the genre.

- (PF.8067 (LSO))


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