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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Mumuye : Mumuye Wooden Sculpture of a Man
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Mumuye Wooden Sculpture of a Man - X.1046 (LSO)
Origin: Eastern Nigeria
Circa: 20 th Century AD

Collection: African
Medium: Wood

Location: United States
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This elegantly elongated figure was carved by the Mumuye people, and was designed as an apotropaic device with additional powers such as the ability to encourage rainfall. It is comparatively tall, with relatively sdhort legs, a very long torso decoprated with lines probably indicatins ribs and thus starvation, a shield-like arrangement of shoulders and arms (which wrap around the front of the body with a distinctive ribbon-like form, and bent elbows), a ringed neck, and a simplified head decorated with incised features, large ears and a coiffure crest. The face is unusual in its formatting of the mouth, which is a central circular hole surrounded by an incised box and a starburst of short lines. In profile the piece is exceptionally graceful yet also powerful. The face is very harmoniously and simply carved with naturalistic proportions, emphasised by the powerful angularity and expressionism of the limbs, which seem to be in a tense state of readiness. The surface is unadorned except for a single neckband and a series of waistbands. The figure has acquired a rich, glossy patina from generations of handling – in addition to a skilled indigenous repair of a crack in the wood – implying that it held an important social role within its original context.

The Mumuye of Nigeria are comparatively understudied. They live in small villages, are primarily reliant upon farming, and are governed by the seven-grade Vabong secret society that holds flagellation-based initiation ceremonies for induction purposes. The artefacts associated with the Vabong are primarily masks, whereas Iagalagana figures – such as the current piece – are more closely allied with the family unit, under the guardianship of an elder. Iagalagana are carved by the village blacksmith or weaver. The pieces have apotropaic, divination and rainmaking powers, and served as house guardians while denoting the elevated status of their owners. They invariably possess deliberately distorted proportions, unanatomical limbs and a head that resembles a helmet or visor, usually with ornate, crested hair. They usually have exaggerated ears/lobes, pierced nasal septums for receiving stalks of maize and highly simplified or nugatory facial features.

Mumuye art is very unusual, but often it grates upon the sensibilities due to its expressionist tendencies. However, this piece is exceptional in its reserve, careful handling of facial features and its patina, while still retaining the potent and dynamic carving style that puts the Mumuye at the forefront of African tribal art traditions.

This is a wonderful piece of African art that would enhance any collection of which it was a part. - (X.1046 (LSO))


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