African & Tribal Art :
Igbo, Urhobo : Igbo Sculpture of a Woman
Igbo Sculpture of a Woman - LSO.207
14.5" (36.8cm) high
x 5.5" (14.0cm) wide
Location: Great Britain
| Photo Gallery
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.
This figure represents a woman seated on a
stool. She is very full-figured, with subtle and
well-executed carving to the body outline. She is
naked except for a necklace, what appears to be
a brassiere, and boots, implying that this piece
dates to a period when such items were scarce
and desirable. The face is very strong, with a
wide trilobate nose, thin lips, triple-oval eyes
and eyelashes carved in with a very fine chisel.
The pupils and eyebrows are carefully low-
lighted with dark paint. The hairstyle - or
perhaps hat - is low above the eyes, and is very
complex, with vertical bands of chevrons
surmounted by a small secondary bun
arrangement. The left posterior aspect of her
headpiece is decorated with diamond shapes.
The stool and the integral base of the figure is
decorated with cross hatching in dark brown
paint. This clearly represents a woman of some
importance - perhaps a chief's wife - judging
from her seated position and also her western-