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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Igbo, Urhobo : Igbo Sculpture of a Soldier
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Igbo Sculpture of a Soldier - LSO.226
Origin: West Africa
Circa: 1900 AD to 1940 AD
Dimensions: 24.6" (62.5cm) high
Collection: African Art

Additional Information: Hong Kong
Location: Great Britain
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The current piece is unusual as it seems to be a secular piece – namely, an observation of something that lay outside the standard repertoire of artistic subjects, or possibly even a portrait. Depicting an individual wearing military uniform, the character displays characteristics of both native and colonial cultures. The face is scarred, but the skin is whitened with kaolin – which often occurs in Igbo sculpture – but which may have assumed a new layer of meaning in the current case. The uniform closely resembles that of native soldiery attached to the British Army, with shorts, matching shirt with a V-collar, shoes, and a tall hat. Unusually, the shirt bears three chevrons on each sleeve, which – assuming it refers to the British military rank system – implies that the person depicted is a sergeant. The right hand is damaged, but wears an unmistakable groove which denotes that he was originally carrying something. The orientation of the groove is near vertical, which suggests that it might have been a flag, rather than a gun, which was originally held. It is impossible to date this figure with certainty, but the fact that the sculptor saw fit to carve it seems to suggest that it was sufficiently new and unusual to merit artistic attention.

The Igbo (Ibo) of the Northern Niger River Delta are one of the largest and most important tribal groups in West Africa. They are culturally highly complex, with a political system based upon a loose form of chiefdom/kingship in some areas, and a democratic panel of decision-makers in others. Social life was usually governed by a number of secret societies. Their main god is Chukwu (literally “Great Spirit”), the creator of the world, who is also linked to the sun and all that grows and lives. Social conduct is governed by Ogu-na-Ofo, spirits who defend the innocent against unjust charges. If a guilty person appeals to them for help, they will be cursed by Amadioha (the god of thunder and lightning). There are numerous other gods that deal with issues as diverse as Ahia Njoku (yams) to Ikenga (fortune and industry) and Agwu (medicine men). Each person has a god named Chi, which is essentially an embodiment of a person’s fate.

The Igbo are known for their artistic diversity, due to the wide range of environments and local histories to which their culture is exposed. Standard sculpture includes Alusi figures – large, public figures designed to embody the spirits of significant gods – and also Ikenga figures, which are kept on personal altars in private homes.

This is a fascinating and beautifully-executed sculpture from a dynamic period in Nigerian history. - (LSO.226)


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