This enormous female figure appears to have been made by the Nyamezi people of Central/Western Tanzania, although its dimensions are more akin to Lengola pieces from Gabon and what was once Zaire. The proportions are traditional, with elongated and spindly legs and a long trunk with angled shoulders and nugatory low-relief breasts. The neck is also columnar, supporting a slim head with a long jar, rounded cheeks and a conical apex. The face is simplistic, with a small T-bar nose and brows complex, and protuberant eyes. Detailing is limited, consisting primarily of a dark patina which indicates considerable age, as does the white ant damage to the right leg. It is otherwise restricted to a small loincloth that is tied onto the body via a thong passing through the palms of each hand.
The Nyamezi live in chiefdoms over a wide area of rural Tanzania, and are renowned for sculptures such as this. Their artistic output is configured around ancestor cults, water divination and sorcerers (who guard the village from evil); they also carve secular objects such as anthropomorphic thrones, chairs, combs, horns etc. Their figures tend to be made in dark wood, with elongated midsections, nugatory limbs and a simplified handling of facial features. They represent ancestors, or, to be precise, ancestresses, as most known examples are female; appeals for fertility were the main preoccupation of both religious and secular groups. There are indications that this particular format of sculpture has its origins in later 19th century.
This is a dramatic and imposing piece of African art.
- (DV.026 (LSO))