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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Nok, Katsina, Sokoto : Nok Terracotta Head
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Nok Terracotta Head - PF.5765
Origin: Northern Nigeria
Circa: 500 BC to 200 AD
Dimensions: 6" (15.2cm) high x 4.75" (12.1cm) wide
Collection: African
Medium: Terracotta

Location: United States
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Some of the earliest examples of sophisticated sculpture in sub-Saharan Africa come from the Nok culture. We do not know what the people called themselves, so the culture was named after the town of Nok where the first object was found. The fired clay or terracotta sculptures range in size from small pendants to life-size figures. Nok is an iron age culture that has been dated between 900 B.C. and 200 A.D. Archaeological artifacts have been found in Nigeria, primarily to the north of the Niger- Benue River confluence and below the Jos escarpment. According to some accounts, based on artistic similarities between early Yoruba art forms and Nok forms, there may be connections between Nok culture and contemporary Yoruba peoples. What is clear is that certain stylistic tendencies prevalent in black African art today, such as the disproportionate emphasis placed on the head, may have originated in the sculptures of the Nok.

The composition and texture of the terracotta of this head fragment is typical of the Nok style. The distinctive blend of the light orange clay with the sporadic black and white mineral deposits is a virtual signature of this culture. Aspects of the facial features are also characteristic of the Nok, including the prominent almond-shaped eyes and the pierced holes representing the pupils. The sophisticated interplay between vertical and horizontal planes present in this fragment is typical of the most accomplished Nok sculptures. The figure’s hat and beard both project outwards, perpendicular to the plane of the face, penetrating into our space. This hood originally must have wrapped all the way around his face, joining with his beard, as seen in other similar examples. Two small horns, prevalent in representations of Nok deities, protrude from the figure’s cap. Although just a diminutive fragment, this sculpture is indicative of a greater truth. Throughout history, mankind has molded natural materials into our own form. Today, these relics of an ancient age are as vibrant as they ever were. They allow us to communicate with the past. In the case of the Nok culture, they are all that remains to document their existence. - (PF.5765)


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