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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Masterpieces of African Art : Igbo Wooden Polychrome Alusi Sculpture
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Igbo Wooden Polychrome Alusi Sculpture - PF.4636
Origin: Southeastern Nigeria
Circa: 20th th Century AD
Dimensions: 33.5" (85.1cm) high x 10" (25.4cm) wide
Catalogue: V24
Collection: African
Style: Colonial
Medium: Wood and Paint

Location: Great Britain
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The Igbo (Ibo) of the Northern Niger River Delta are one of the largest and most important tribal groups in West Africa. They are culturally highly complex, with a political system based upon a loose form of chiefdom/kingship in some areas, and a democratic panel of decision-makers in others. Social life was usually governed by a number of secret societies. Their main god is Chukwu (literally “Great Spirit”), the creator of the world, who is also linked to the sun and all that grows and lives. Social conduct is governed by Ogu-na-Ofo, spirits who defend the innocent against unjust charges. If a guilty person appeals to them for help, they will be cursed by Amadioha (the god of thunder and lightning). There are numerous other gods that deal with issues as diverse as Ahia Njoku (yams) to Ikenga (fortune and industry) and Agwu (medicine men). Each person has a god named Chi, which is essentially an embodiment of a person’s fate.

The Igbo are known for their artistic diversity, due to the wide range of environments and local histories to which their culture is exposed. Standard sculpture includes Alusi figures – large, public figures designed to embody the spirits of significant gods – and also Ikenga figures, which are kept on personal altars in private homes.

In the rest houses of the men (called M'bari) and in sanctuaries, large sculpted figures are found, such as this beautiful woman holding her baby. The figures are often grouped in couples, constructed according to the ideal family model: husband, wife, and children. These Alusi statues are usually painted red, yellow and white and are given physical characteristics, such as scarification, to show rank. The individuals depicted are most often founding ancestors or divinities of the village. The Alusi are highly prized and carefully maintained. They are given fresh coats of paint before important ceremonies, when they are brought from the sanctuaries dressed in traditional Ibo costumes.

The brilliant rose-red color on this striking Alusi immediately catches our eye, and entrances us with its aura of maternal love. The mother stands very erect holding her baby with pride for all to see. Both stare directly ahead, their faces painted white with delicate red highlighting the mother's lips, eyes and edging of the forehead. She wears an amulet around her neck, probably for good luck, and her hair is beautifully styled in flowing waves. Though this delightful "portrait" may not be modeled on specific individuals, it surely depicts the ideal family image of maternal dignity, happy childhood and close bonds between mother and child- an image that is inspiring, endearing and very lovely.
- (PF.4636)


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