African Sculpture

African sculpture

Pole Sculpture in Wood
Pole Sculpture in Ivory
Masks
Benin Bronze Sculptures
Yoruba Sculpture
Ife Portrait Heads

The focal point of African  art lies in West Africa, the area extending from Senegal eastwards to Lake Chad. Past the Niger, artistic motivation is restricted to connected art and craft and some elaborate beautifying art. The Benue joining the Niger forms the outskirt of another area of sculpture extending eastwards and south-eastwards and embracing Angola and the Congo bowl. Accordingly the entire territory can be separated into two circles: the Sudan circle round the Gulf of Guinea, and, the Congo circle which lies to the east and south-east of it between the Atlantic and the incomparable Lakes. Toward the south of Tanzania and in Mozambique lives the Makonde tribe, an isolated gathering of plastic artist. The Bantu tribes of South Africa, who are profoundly created both rationally and physically, demonstrate impressive aesthetic ability, however their plastic art is poor contrasted and that of the Congo bowl and the West. Their best wood-carving comes as headrests, and periodic creature figures of interest. It is anyway crafted by the western locale which has made the African renowned sculptor in wood. Wood sculpture is the established inborn art of Africa. To a few people Benin bronze sculpture speaks to even better work, however it would likely not be right to consider these as absolutely African, because the technique of bronze casting is accepted to have been introduced from abroad.

Pole Sculpture in Wood

Pole Sculpture in Wood
The essential value of African wood sculpture has been characterized by the English art critic Roger Fry as total plastic opportunity. African artists really conceive form in three dimensional and appear to have no trouble in getting away from the opposite direction of the two-dimensional plane. There is a simple explanation of the straightforwardness with which sculptors in Africa have gotten a handle on the round and hence cylindrical form of the human body. It lies in the material and in the system forced by it. The sculptor begins with a segment of tree-trunk – a round block of wood.If the construction is simple, the block of wood remains recognizable as a cylinder. The classical examples are the roughly fashioned ancestor figures of the Bari, and the colossal pole sculptures of the Azande, both in the Eastern Sudan.  If further cubic forms, similarly arrived at are applied to this basic cylinder, the result is an almost geometric style. The trunk is one solid cylinder, the arms are smaller cylinders running parallel to the body, and the head is strongly stylized. Geometric-style abstract sculpture of this type have been produced in their highest artistic form by the Babe tribe in Western Sudan.

The style is in no way, shape or form limited to Africa; a similar improvement is found in American Indian art (notably of the northwest USA), Oceanic art, and in addition that of Siberia and Indo-China. The principle of pole sculpture is also applied to masks in the idea of things the mask is in every case half-cylindrical, and the artist has so little chance to expand this half-cylinder that it remains the prevalent form. This style was produced by tribes like the Hopi Indians in North America. In Africa, mask of this sort are to be found in the Ivory Coast and in the Nilotic region.

Pole Sculpture in Ivory

It is obvious that cylindrical pole sculpture can develop from any long shaped material, not really from wood. An outstanding variant is the ivory elephant-tusk. It is clear that if an artist needs to hold the unity of a slender unbroken line in his sculpture, working from a single block without the expansion of some other piece, he won’t have the capacity to portray any detail exceeding the limits of the original cylinder. From this emerges a further characteristic of African sculpture- lack of proportion. There is a wooden African sculpture as of now in display (2011) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, for example, involving a horse and a rider. but, in correlation with the rider, the horse is small to the point that a few people may think it was implied as an exaggeration, aside from the artist had no such aim.  It was simply that within the limits of his tusk he had no means of making the horse large enough to be in proportion to the rider, and since he was primarily worried about the rider, the size of the horse did not trouble him.

Not all African wood sculpture depends on this principle. The round block can be more widely explained into a progressively more realistic form which has no similarity to the first shape of the material. Sculpture of this kind is found in the parklands of the Cameroons, through the entire of the Congo region, and in the east among the Makonde tribe.

Masks

mask

The forms of African masks are exceptionally differ. Some are absolutely realistic, others thoroughly stylized. The larger part are highly colored however this isn’t one of a kind. There are not very many individuals in history who left their sculptures unpainted. Figurative Greek sculpture was frequently painted, primarily on the eyes and mouth, to give a realistic appearance. Egyptian sculpture, Buddhas from Gandhara, and the figures of divinities in ancient Mexico were altogether painted. In Africa the color ranges from the easy dark statues and masks in the hinterland of the Cameroons, to the splendid yellows, reds, whites and blues of the Nigerian figures and the Yoruba masks. On the Ivory Coast the Atutu cover the most valuable of their statues with gold-leaf. Once in a while the sculptor himself does the plating, in some cases he passes the work on to a pro. One artist, who made just ungilded sculptures, said that on the off chance that he at any point had two children he would teach one carving and the other plating with the goal that they could co-work.

In numerous parts of Africa, indigenous art is on the decrease, however in areas like the Ivory Coast it is still flourishing. It is even undergoing further advancement – not through European impact, but rather through the imagination of the artists themselves. Generally speaking, the limit of West African tribes as experts isn’t high, and their profitability is little. Their practical capacity as sculptors and goldsmiths is therefore all the more striking.

Benin Bronze Sculptures

Benin Bronze Sculptures

Between the Ivory Coast and the Congo lie Ife, in the Yoruba country, and Benin, in Southern Nigeria, where African sculpture has achieved its largest amount. Benin was visited in the fifteenth century by John Alfonso d’Aveiro (1485-86), and in this manner by a few Portuguese, Dutch and English travelers. A couple of ivory objects advanced toward Europe, however it was just with the British victory in 1897 that the bronzes were found, and that Benin art in general ended up known to a more extensive circle.

The bronzes are of two kinds. There are figures – either life-size human heads or models of animals or human beings and mythological or magical symbols. The male heads appear to be to somewhat stiff by virtue of the high neck design. The faces are bare  of human attributes, and relatively indifferent. The general impact is fascinating as opposed to excellent. heads on the other hand are more individual. The enrichment on the neck is so slight as to be relatively unnoticeable, and the hair is prepared upwards in a high horn-like style. The chief ivory items are extensive elephant tusks carved in relief, goblets and tankards decorated either in relief or open-work, and armlets and different decorations in a similar style. The goblets and tankards are often European in shape, usually after the style of Renaissance art, and there is no doubt that they were carved from European patterns to the order of Portuguese travelers. Different pieces are simply or transcendentally African. European soldiers and merchant in sixteenth-century dress show up occasionally on the bronze plaques.

The headdress and the rings round the neck of bronze heads, represent the traditional coral decoration still worn by the lords or obas of Benin. Coral beads were an essential piece of the crown treasures, and when a ruler stopped to wear them it was an indication of terrible financial policy. Chief Egharevba reports that Ahenzae, the great grandson of Oba Orhogbua lost his riches along these lines. He was just sixteen when he went to the position of authority; and his inexperience was abused without anyone else’s input looking for subjects. The long-stored treasure of the former kings was wasted, and the royal coral beads were gambled away in games of dice with Osuan.

Yoruba Sculpture

yoruba sculpture

There is a tremendous difference between the ancient art of the Yorubas and their present-day work. Modern Yoruba art comprises mainly of wooden figures and masks. With its striking poly-chrome paintings, it is certainly very decorative, but it is on a lower artistic plane than the old classic stone sculpture in stone, terracotta and bronze.The old carvings in hard stone, for example, quartz and the old bronze castings are recognized by a surprising devotion to nature, completely right proportions and an absence of regular features. The method was amazing and the figures show a marked sense of beauty.

It is most likely hundreds of years since work of this sort was produced at Ife, however the antique masterpieces have never been overlooked. Bronze heads still remain in the royal residence of the Oni. On specific celebrations they are expelled by the priests and carried to the shrines. Many wonderful terracotta heads were kept in a shrine outside the town until just a couple of years back, when they were altogether stolen or broken. In Ife there is as yet a still a ram’s head in granite, almost life-size, and ceremonial stools carved in single pieces from solid pieces of quartz. But it is the terracotta sculpture (and bronzes) which show the art of ancient Ife at its best. Even the Benin heads cannot compare.

Ife Portrait Heads

Ife Portrait Heads

It is only recently that these most beautiful of all African sculptures have been known in Europe. There were comparatively few bronze heads known even in Ife until early in 1938, when seven high-quality examples covered with green patina were unearthed during the digging of foundations for a house, and four more at another site. Some of these have tiny holes symmetrically arranged round the lower half of the face; it is not known whether these were formerly filled with paint to represent tribal marks, or used for fixing hair for a beard as in the wooden masks of Japanese art and that of Northwest America. Other heads have furrows representing the vertical stripes which are still used as tribal marks among the Yorubas.

African sculpture exerted a not inconsiderable influence on painters such as Andre Derain (1880-1954), Maurice De Vlaminck (1876-1958), Picasso (1881-1973), and Matisse (1867-1954), most of whom were greatly stimulated by the expressionistic features of the primitive statuettes and masks that arrived in Paris from French colonies in the African subcontinent. Indeed, several began to visit collections of ethnological artifacts, and purchase objects for themselves.

The age of the Ife heads has not yet been conclusively ascertained, but since it is practically certain that the bronze art of Benin was derived from Ife, there is some data to work on. They first came from Ife to Benin about 1280, after which it must have taken some time for this crude art to develop into the masterpieces which we know, so that the bronze art of Ife cannot have reached its zenith till the thirteenth century at the earliest.

Although both in terra-cotta and bronze the ethnic characteristics of the models are well portrayed, the works resemble the sculpture of ancient Greece or Egyptian art, rather than the culture of black Africa. The anthropologist Frobenius considered a connection with the Mediterranean sphere, and Sir Flinders Petrie in his book on ancient Egypt remarks that if any of the Ife heads had been excavated in the foreign quarter of Memphis, they would have been accepted as larger examples of the local-type. He adds: “The Memphite work cannot have come from the Niger, it is too close in touch with Persia and India; but the idea, and even the workmen, may have come from Egypt to West Africa.”

Meanwhile, the Yorubas have a tradition that they came from the east, from Upper Egypt, and it has been suggested that they were originally not Africans at all, but became intermingled with the negroes later.

On the other hand, objects of ancient Egyptian origin have been found all over Africa. The curved ceremonial knives of the modem Azande in the borderlands of the Sudan and the Northern Congo are derived from the ancient Egyptian sickle. Head-rests, musical instruments, and even certain customs and beliefs show the signs of Egyptian influence. “It is not plausible,” says Wilfred D. Hambly, that a civilisation like that of Egypt existed as a self-contained unit. Egyptian caravans penetrated far into the Sudan; Egyptian ships sailed to the land of Punt; a region generally identified with the Somali coast.

Further detailed research is necessary, however, in order to prove that all the various elements pointing towards Egyptian origin have actually been derived from that source. Meanwhile, all that we know about the chronology of Ife and Benin bronzes suggests a much more recent date for the highest development of Ife portraiture in bronze. It may be that Egyptian influence came through terra-cotta rather than through bronze. More excavations in Nigeria right throw new light on this interesting question.

 

 

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