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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Igbo, Urhobo : Igbo Wooden Figure
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Igbo Wooden Figure - DA.363 (LSO)
Origin: Southeastern Nigeria
Circa: 1870 AD to 1930 AD
Dimensions: 36.5" (92.7cm) high
Collection: African Art
Medium: Wood
Condition: Very Fine

Location: United States
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This tall, impressive and beautifully glossy sculpture of a standing male is an Alusi or Ikenga sculpture by the Igbo of Nigeria. It is unusual in being unpainted, but instead has a very well-handled patina. The proportions are elongated, with long legs, flexed arms, a comparatively short trunk and a long neck. The figure seems to stand somewhat debonairly, with the weight on the left leg and the hands extended as if in greeting. The head is high, with a large jaw, a small face – with a triangular nose, a broad, thin mouth and rounded almond eyes – and a tall brow capped with hair vanishing under a European-style cap/hat. The centre of the body is marked with a band of keloid scarifications, a prominent navel and unusually small genitalia.

The Igbo (Ibo) of the Northern Niger River Delta are one of the largest and most important tribal groups in West Africa. They are culturally highly complex, with a political system based upon a loose form of chiefdom/kingship in some areas, and a democratic panel of decision-makers in others. Social life was usually governed by a number of secret societies. Their main god is Chukwu (literally “Great Spirit”), the creator of the world, who is also linked to the sun and all that grows and lives. Social conduct is governed by Ogu-na-Ofo, spirits who defend the innocent against unjust charges. If a guilty person appeals to them for help, they will be cursed by Amadioha (the god of thunder and lightning). There are numerous other gods that deal with issues as diverse as Ahia Njoku (yams) to Ikenga (fortune and industry) and Agwu (medicine men). Each person has a god named Chi, which is essentially an embodiment of a person’s fate.

The Igbo are known for their artistic diversity, due to the wide range of environments and local histories to which their culture is exposed. Standard sculpture includes Alusi figures – large, public figures designed to embody the spirits of significant gods – and also Ikenga figures, which are kept on personal altars in private homes.

Given its size, this is an Alusi figure, a public shrine piece. The patination implies a long use life in the original society, and makes this a rare and desirable piece of African art.

- (DA.363 (LSO))


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