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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Masterpieces of African Art : Punu Anthropomorphic Door
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Punu Anthropomorphic Door - LSO.73
Origin: Gabon
Circa: 19 th Century AD to 20 th Century AD

Collection: African
Medium: Wood

Location: Great Britain
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This imposing sculpture of a naked male is a section of door made by the Punu people in what is modern-day Gabon. The representation, while evidently Punu, is highly unorthodox, representing an elongated figure with disproportionately short, flexed legs, a very long torso and equally long, well-muscled arms with the hands resting by the groin. Detailing below the neck is reduced, save for simplified marks defining the torso, and a very large phallus. The neck is long and columnar, supporting a rounded head with a central crest that divides the brow. The face is serene, with downcast eyes, a triangular nose connected to the crest, and pursed, thin lips. The figure is backed with a halo-like sconce with a perimeter of scalloped forms, topped by a ridged lip that demarcates the concave top of the original door. The figure is standing on a ledge demarcating the door base; it is likely that it was accompanied by another figure, probably female, which stood to the viewer’s right. In addition to some old damage, the surface of the wood is highly weathered and has been extensively libated with light-coloured pigment. this implies a considerable age, and probably prolonged exposure to the outdoor elements.

The Punu are justly famous for the quality and refinement of their art, which is comparatively well understood in terms of social intent and aesthetic production. The white pigment which remains on some parts of the figure reflects the Punu’s long-standing preoccupation with protection from witches. It is also found on their masks, which are used in ceremonies to reflect perfect youthful beauty, and to detect/repel witchcraft. Figurative doors are not uncommon in Africa, but most Punu and other tribes tend to depict the female form. It is unusual to show such a flagrantly male representation. Given the obvious stature of the door from which this came, the representation and also the application of white pigment, one might surmise that it originally came from a prestige home or a centralized ritual structure whose importance and necessity for protection from evil was highly visible to the entire society.

This is an impressive and dynamic piece of African art. - (LSO.73)


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