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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Nok, Katsina, Sokoto : Nok Terracotta Head
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Nok Terracotta Head - PF.1449
Origin: Northern Nigeria
Circa: 400 BC to 200 AD
Dimensions: 6.5" (16.5cm) high x 4" (10.2cm) wide
Collection: African
Medium: Terracotta

Location: United States
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It is difficult to say whether this majestic head represents an aristocratic mortal or a god. Rendered with powerful abstraction, it radiates a dignity and authority that suggests high rank. Spiritually, it seems kin to the cult statues of the ancient Near East, and its votive function was no doubt similar. The prominent eyes rivet our attention, as if they held clues to vital secrets. This is a splendid and rare example of early African terracotta sculpture, one whose appeal crosses the boundaries of time and culture.

The terracotta statuary of the Nok Culture is a classic art style whose sudden appearance has radically challenged the traditional art history of African sculpture. Four main characteristics distinguish the Nok style. (1) The treatment of the eyes, which form either a segment of a circle or sometimes a triangular form, with the eyebrow above balancing the sweep of the lower lip, sometimes making a circle. (2) The piercing of the pupils, the nostrils, the lips and the ears. (3) The careful representation of elaborate hairstyles, with complex constructions, buns, tresses, locks and the profusion of beads around the neck, torso and waist. (4) The realism in the modeling of the curled lips, the straight nose with flaring nostrils and the large overhanging forehead.

The earliest known sculpture of large size in the Sudan is that produced in pottery by the Nok culture, which flourished extensively in northern Nigeria from the 5th century BC into the early centuries AD. These people were the first known manufacturers of iron in Western Africa; furnaces at Taruga having been dated between the 5th and early 3rd centuries BC. Of well-fired clay, their sculptures represent animals naturalistically; human figures, however, are depicted with heads that are usually tubular, but sometimes conical or spherical, and with simple tubular trunks and limbs. The art of Nok indicates the antiquity of many basic canons of West African sculpture, but the precise relationship between ancient and modern forms is obscure. - (PF.1449)


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