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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Masterpieces of African Art : Bongo Stone Effigy Figure
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Bongo Stone Effigy Figure - SUD.014 (LSO)
Origin: Sudan
Circa: 1000 BC to 1000 AD
Dimensions: 28" (71.1cm) high
Collection: African Art
Medium: Stone
Condition: Very Fine


Location: United States
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Description
This remarkable sculpture of a standing woman is both very old and highly inscrutable. The legs appear to have been truncated at the ankle, providing a flat base. The posterior and the stomach are highly protuberant, and the breasts are also marked. The neck is thick and low, supporting an almost round head with a flat face divided by a long nose. This meets the high arches brows that sit over almond-shaped eyes, and the mouth is almost invisible, blended with the jawline. The irregular condition of the stone implies that it has been buried for a long period of time.

The sculpture strongly resembles Palaeolithic works from Europe and Asia Minor, which are preoccupied with “fertility” symbolism that usually revolves around corpulent, schematically simplified women with highly exaggerated breasts and buttocks. This and other related pieces in the Barakat collection have been classified as Bongo, but there are issues with this classification. The Bongo are linguistically, historically and archaeologically attested to have come to Sudan from the area currently known as Chad during the 16th century, thus post-dating this piece by between 500 and 2000 years. We are thus talking about an unexplored culture. The similarities in style with Bongo art may be coincidence, but it is more probable that the Bongo people acquired their distinctive art styles from the previous inhabitants of the area in the manner of the Dogon and the Tellem.

As stated, nothing is known of this culture. Even the age of the piece is uncertain: the span we have provided is inevitably wide, and while it is most likely to lie within the first millennium BC to the first millennium AD, it may be older than this. The art itself does imply a society of considerable complexity, and thus settled, agricultural and socially stratified. The function of the piece is unknowable at present. However, the size of the object exceeds that which might be expected for personal talismanic functions, and is more likely to be a social/religious focus that represents an ancestor either real or mythical.

This is a rare and fascinating piece of ancient African art.

- (SUD.014 (LSO))

 

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