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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Fang : Fang Sculpture of a Standing Woman
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Fang Sculpture of a Standing Woman - PF.4591 (LSO)
Origin: Southern Gabon/Cameroon
Circa: 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 23.25" (59.1cm) high x 8" (20.3cm) wide
Collection: African
Medium: Wood

Location: United States
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This glowering figure of a standing woman was carved by the F’ang people of Gabon, and is based upon a Byeri figure, which were used to sanctify the reliquary baskets containing the bones of revered ancestors (see below). It is unusual in that it has no spike posteriorly to be inserted into a reliquary basket – it may therefore be aesthetically-inspired rather than being endowed with magical properties. It is a stocky, muscular woman with bent knees and sectorial limb structure and a very dark patina. Detailing is limited below the neck, with pointed breasts, scarifications, a prominent navel and anklets. The head is blocky in its overall form, with a domed brow, an ornate geometric headdress and protuberant ears. The face is fixed in a grimace, with a highly polished forehead, a sharp nose, heavily incised eyes and a snarling mouth – with a strong dimple above – exposing sharp teeth. The patina is very dark, with irregular polish indicating extensive handling.

The Fang are perhaps the best-known tribal group in Africa in terms of visual arts. Their current territory is Gabon, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, although they are known to have migrated to these areas over the past few centuries from their original heartland in the northeast. Their general métier is that of warriors, which explains the somewhat martial and fierce appearance of their figural works. Their success at conquest means that they are spread over a very wide area, and they also intermarried with local tribes such as the Betsi, the Ntumu and the Ngumba, giving rise to yet further diversity of art styles. They are connected by similar belief systems, especially including a heavy reliance upon ancestor worship to validate their actions and protect them from evil; this preoccupation has transferred itself to their material culture.

F’ang ancestor worship entails the retention of ancestors’ remains inside specially made bark containers (reliquaries – nsekh byeri), which are protected by reliquary figures or heads known as “byeri”. This system probably evolved because of the high level of mobility practiced by early Fang populations, and so that ancestors’ remains could be continually present even during military campaigns. The spirits were appeased in a variety of ways, and were always kept close to the family whose ancestors they were. The figures were often decorated with copper and other materials, and many examples still exude the oils and other offerings with which they were endowed. The F’ang are also known for their everyday items – such as bells, gongs, tools and other objects – which are decorated with their distinctive artistic motifs. All of these objects played a major role in the development of western art styles in the 1900’s drive towards expressionism, cubism and primitivism in Paris, in the hands of such luminaries as Picasso, Modigliani and Brancusi.

This is a powerful F’ang artwork, and a worthy addition to any collection.

- (PF.4591 (LSO))


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