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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Archive : Baule Ivory Standing Male Figure
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Baule Ivory Standing Male Figure - DA.458B. (LSO)
Origin: Baule- Ivory Coast- Africa
Circa: 1830 AD to 1900 AD
Dimensions: 9" (22.9cm) high
Collection: African Art
Medium: Ivory
Condition: Very Fine


Additional Information: sold

Location: UAE
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Description
This beautifully-carved ivory figure of a bearded male was made by the Baule, and was intended to be a spirit husband, or Blolo bian. Upon reaching one’s majority – and particularly during a crisis of some sort - many Baule citizens enlist the help of their otherworld spouse, a perfect partner who is linked to them and who can help them in adversity. The identity of their spouse is ascertained through divination, following which a figure representing the partner will be carved and blessed. The plaintiff will then spend considerable time with the carving – generally one night a week – in the hope that supernatural assistance will be forthcoming. One’s spiritual alter ego is a serious matter in Baule society; they are also meant to represent physical and social/moral/ethical perfection.

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, but they are also renowned for sculptures representing bush spirits (Asie usu) – mischievous and potentially malevolent inhabitants of the “bush”, or dark country beyond the boundary of the village – as well as dance masks, prestige items (often made of gold) and a range of highly decorated secular objects such as doors, heddle pulleys and culinary equipment.

The fact that many such pieces have a centuries- old patina from handling and libations would seem to suggest that pieces can be inherited, and that the sculptures can either contain more than one spouse, or that s/he can be replaced by the spouse of the new owner. This is particularly the case with valuable or very well-carved pieces. Like most other human societies, the Baule are prey to conspicuous consumption, which is a central key to asserting one’s status in the village, and thus one’s power and influence. While their carving is among the most refined and restrained in Africa, therefore, artists vie to produce more impressive and beautiful carvings which are often decorated or adorned by their proud owners.

The current piece is a case in fact. Most unusually, it has been carved from ivory, which was viewed as being at least as expensive as gold if not more so by indigenous West African societies. It depicts a bearded man with a highly serene expression standing on slightly flexed legs atop an integrated round pedestal base, his hands clasping his protruding stomach. The musculature of the arms and legs is accurately and sensuously carved. The face and head are beautifully rendered in the traditional Baule manner, with hooded almond eyes, an inverted T-bar nose, wide, pouting lips and a tri- forked beard with ornaments decorating the tip of each fork. The face is decorated with four diamond- shaped scarifications on the forehead, two strips of four scars joining the edges of the eyes to the ears, and two strips of beaded scars joining the edges of the nose to the jawline. The coiffure is rendered as a series of crested waves, denoted by herringbone hatching; it is demarcated by a double band of what is probably intended to be textile, wrapped around the head above the ears. There are further rectangular scars on the back, level with the shoulders and the hips. The angles of the limbs, the carving of fingers/toes and the care taken with tiny details combine with the graceful lines of the piece to produce a highly harmonious composition.

The iconography of the piece is of course equivocal, although certain points may be stated with some certainty. It represents a mature man with a full beard, rather than the somewhat younger female statues that are usually carved for men. The scarifications may represent a specific village or area, but more likely reflect status within village society. He is also rather plump, which has been a marker of wealth for as long as humans have created artworks. It is probable that this perfect husband represents a rich older man with high social status, the perfect “partner” for an aspiring younger woman. This is a beautifully rendered piece of Baule art. - (DA.458B. (LSO))

 

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