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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Masterpieces of African Art : Baule Wooden Sculpture of a Monkey
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Baule Wooden Sculpture of a Monkey - CK.0308
Origin: Ivory Coast
Circa: 19th th Century AD to 20th th Century AD

Collection: African Art
Medium: Wood, Paint, beads


Location: United States
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Description
This striking sculpture is a Mbra monkey figure, carved by the Baule of the Ivory Coast. It stands on an integrated base. The figure has large feet with flexed legs, a hunched back and holds his left arm over his belly while carrying a spherical object in his right hand. The monkey is called “Mbra” (or Gbreke), and is a potent symbol for the Baule. Full-sized versions of this creature are often stood up in Baule villages and are used to assist in divination rituals. They are considered so powerful that women are not allowed to see them. Their fearsome appearance is boosted by the application of encrusted patinas that are the result of repeated libations of dog blood (dogs are usually sacrificed to this end).

The Baule live across the Ivory Coast area, and have an economy based primarily on sedentary agriculturism. They have thus been able to build up a considerable political and economic stronghold, which has in turn given rise to a strong ritual and artistic heritage. Their own creation story relates to an ancient migration, in which the queen was forced to sacrifice her son in order to ford a mighty river. So upset was she that all she could say was “baouli” (“the child is dead”), thus giving rise to the tribe’s name.

Blolo bian (male) and Blolo bla (female) spirit spouses are perhaps the Baule’s greatest artistic and psycho- social achievement. These figures are otherworldly partners for young men and women, and are designed as perfect women/men who provide spiritual assistance to their earthly spouses. The Baule are also known for sculptures representing bush spirits (Asie usu) – mischievous and potentially malevolent inhabitants of the “bush”, or dark country beyond the boundary of the village – monkeys, and three types of masks that are used in the celebration of good harvests, mourning, and the visits of important dignitaries.

This is an outstanding example of the Baule magical tradition. - (CK.0308)

 

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