This colourful piece was made by the Ashante (or Asante) group, and represents a seated woman. Her stool is plain yet tall, with four columnar legs, and painted white. The figure is remarkable in possessing red “skin”, and is additionally clad in a blue knee-length dress with white patches. The neck is ringed – as is common in Asante pieces – supporting a naturalistic head with a symmetrical coiffure rendered as a series of rounded eminences. The subtle modeling of her body beneath the dress is superbly captured, and her feet are clad in what are unmistakably high heeled shoes. She is holding part of an object designed for weaving.
The Ashanti/Asante are one of many tribes that make up the Akan polity of what was once the Gold Coast (now Ghana). Their society is highly ritualised, with numerous gods under the main deity Onyame (the Supreme One). Asante society is ruled by Asantahenes and a host of minor chiefs who claim royal status through their connection with the land.
The Ashanti are Ghana’s greatest artistic force. Their Akuaba dolls are one of the most recognisable art forms on the continent, while their fascination with gold (which is considered to be a physical manifestation of life’s vital force, or “kra”) has given rise to a plethora of artefactual and artistic production. Their religious and ritualised art is balanced by secular pieces that echo the great life-observer sculptors of other tribes such as Thomas Ona of the Yoruba. Yet they also incorporate socially significant elements that are not immediately observable, but which mark out the traditional skills of Asante carvers.
This particular woman is of high social status, as evidenced by her apparel, her stool (a marker of elites), her coiffure and her necklace of trade beads with a central brass pendant. The colour of her skin refers to the Asante preoccupation with fertility, which is a common feature on their female figures but very rare on their male counterparts. It is therefore likely that she served a spiritually beneficent purpose for the owner, perhaps on a domestic shrine.
This is an excellent piece of Asante art.