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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Masterpieces of African Art : Igbo Painted Wooden Alusi Sculpture
Igbo Painted Wooden Alusi Sculpture - PF.4875 (LSO)
Origin: Southeastern Nigeria
Circa: 1870 BC to 1910 AD
Dimensions: 72.5" (184.2cm) high x 8" (20.3cm) wide
Collection: African
Medium: Wood and Paint

Additional Information: Hong Kong

Location: Great Britain
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This tall, elegant piece is a female Alusi sculpture from the Igbo of Nigeria. In general terms it strongly resembles early Askari figures, especially in reference to the tall, rather authoritative headwear and military stance. It is however very much a fusion of traditional and progressive characteristics. The figure is excessively elongated, with a very long neck and a slim body rising to a conical hat-bearing head. The face and body are decorated with scarring, and the body is naked except for banding around the waist. The right arm hangs down, holding a weapon, while the left arm is stretched up the back, the hand almost touching the shoulder. The detailing is consistent and crisp, with the texture of the hat and scarring perfectly picked out.

The Igbo are one of Nigeria’s most ancient groups, and are particularly notable for their very early metal smelting technology. Their main deity is named Chukwu, beneath which there are hundreds of “alusi” – minor deities who deal with specific issues such as war, ancestors, rivers, mountains etc. They are represented in figures that are carved by men and often decorated by women using “celebratory pigments” such as camwood powder chalk. The figures are placed in centralised or domestic shrines – depending on the size of the figure – and were believed to uphold health, wealth and moral fibre. They were often given libations as offerings, and appealed to in times of hardship. Large figures also adorned men’s meeting houses, which were known as “Obu Nkwu” (lit. “house of images”).

There are literally hundreds of alusi, and it is impossible to know to which individual this piece refers. However, the rendering of the piece makes it possible that it represents an alusi that was involved in some way with the martial arts, or perhaps a specific war of battle of particular significance to the Igbo. This is a spectacular piece of Igbo art.

- (PF.4875 (LSO))


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