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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Mumuye : Mumuye Wooden Sculpture
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Mumuye Wooden Sculpture - CK.0115
Origin: Eastern Nigeria
Circa: 20 th Century AD

Collection: African Art
Medium: Wood

Location: United States
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The Mumuye live in a part of northeastern Nigeria so difficult to reach they remained virtually isolated until 1959. When a culture is "opened" up to the rest of the world drastic changes are likely to occur, often reflected in art. Retaining what is most precious- religious beliefs, moral values, ancestral wisdom, is fundamental to a people's cohesion. And such principles are the very essence of African art; deeply ingrained in each individual who lives and breathes them as part of his or her heritage.

Mumuye statuary was not discovered until 1968, and when they came to light their extraordinary uniqueness caused a stir among scholars and art lovers. They are unusual for a number of reasons. Firstly, the statuary does not depict ancestors, but rather incarnates tutelary spirits. To possess one brought prestige and status to the owner. In a sort of private ritual he would hold onto the statue and carrying on a dialogue with it to ensure his personal protection. The largest statues were used in divination and in trials where men in dispute swear on the statue and then kiss it in a gesture of respect. Some statues (ranging in size from 30cm to 1.5 meters) are used as pillars, topped by a sculpted head and displayed in the center of the village.

The second most distinctive feature of Mumuye statuary is its extraordinary abstract design, unique in African art. This is characterized by systematic openwork between the body and arms, which forms a scroll or a spiral around the slender cylindrical bust. The entire composition is built upon geometric shapes, constructed asymmetrically, which paradoxically adds to its overall beauty and dynamism. Despite its sheer abstraction this fascinating statue is decidedly human, full of personality and charm. The sculptor has left a visual record of intimate worship and personal values expressed through a people's union in faith and the art they create to express that faith; untainted by the outside world. - (CK.0115)


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