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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Igbo, Urhobo : Large Igbo Terracotta Statue of a Seated Mother and Child
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Large Igbo Terracotta Statue of a Seated Mother and Child - DV.016 (LSO)
Origin: Southeastern Nigeria
Circa: 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 41" (104.1cm) high
Collection: African
Medium: Terracotta
Condition: Very Fine

Location: United States
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This intriguing terracotta sculpture of a seated woman and her child is an Alusi or Ikenga sculpture by the Igbo of Nigeria. She is seated on a low stool, and is thus an elite personage, as demonstrated by the tall crown, and proliferation of necklaces, anklets and bracelets that she wears. She holds a bowl in bith hands, and her child – which is very thin indeed – clutches her back with its head turned to the left. The proportions are roughly accurate, but the breasts are very large, and the neck elongated. The face is very refined, with delicate rendering of the rimmed eyes, the nose-forehead crest and the thin lips. The headwear is very complex and delicate, as are the prominent ears. The clay is basically bare but has remnants of white pigment in some areas.

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.

Alusi figures are usually made of wood, but, given its size, it is unlikely that this can be anything else. The strong maternal iconography is certainly a recurring theme in Igbo pieces of this sort, but this is the most striking example we have seen. This a rare and desirable piece of African art.

- (DV.016 (LSO))


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