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HOME : African & Tribal Art : African Collection/ HK : Standing female Baule statue
Standing female Baule statue - PF.4501
Origin: Ivory Coast
Circa: 1890 AD to 1920 AD
Dimensions: 21.2" (53.8cm) high
Collection: African Art
Medium: Wood, paint
Condition: Fine


Location: Great Britain
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Description
Standing female figure with fairly naturalistic proportions and hands firmly clasped on the hips. Highly stylized and elaborate hairstyle in the form of five braided threads, terminating at the beginning of the nape. Scarification marks in the shape of semilunar keloid lesions surface in low relief on both the cheeks and the high forehead. Delicate facial features, with arched eyebrows, symmetrical almond-shape eyes, the iris painted black against a white- painted pupil, eyelashes are indicated by tiny vertical incisions, narrow nose, finely cut mouth with thin lips. Both ears are placed much forward on the temples and appear prominently. Several “lines of beauty” adorn the statuette’s neck. Breasts are firm and pointed, with areolas painted in black. Slightly protruding belly with the navel designated in black. She is wearing a simple loin cloth in black and white. Powerful legs, rather large feet, clad in black sandals with yellow decoration. Immediately below the knees, bands of black cloth. Nails and toes are all painted in white and the articulation of each digit is clearly illustrated by pairs of diminutive horizontal lines. The body posture is far from naturalistic, possibly also for practical reasons, as to offer a much better stability to the statue. This colourful artwork has been carved by the Baule, an African tribe inhabiting a part of the eastern Côte d’Ivoire between the Comoé and Bandama rivers that is both forest and savanna land. The ancestors of the Baule were a section of the Asante who immigrated to their present location under the leadership of Queen Awura Pokou about 1750, following a dispute over the chieftaincy. The story of the tribe’s creation is closely related to this particular ancient migration moment, in which the queen was forced to sacrifice her son in order to ford a mighty river. So devastated was she by her loss that all she could say was “baouli” (the child is dead), thus giving rise to the tribe's name. The Baule continued to rule much of Côte d’Ivoire until the end of the 19th century. As a tribe they are also much celebrated for their fine wooden sculpture, particularly for their ritual statuettes representing ghosts or spirits and carved ceremonial masks, all associated with the ancestor cult. The Baule is one of the rare tribes where sculpture is both produced for aesthetic appreciation as well as for ritualistic purposes, allowing a closer contact with the supernatural world of ancestors. It should be also noted that Baule sculptures are not depictions of actual people or specific ancestors but rather of spirits and the ennobling qualities of the society. The sculptures made by the Baule reflect their belief system, and is intimately linked with the duality of the sexes and the civilised character of the village versus the wilderness of the bush. Bush spirits and spirit spouses that appear in dreams and must be appeased are notable artistic accomplishments of the Baule, in addition to naturalistic and deconstructed zoomorphic figures and masks, which relate to cultic activity and ceremonial celebration of fertility, agriculture and appeasement of ancestors or potentially harmful natural forces. All human experience evolves out of and remains inextricably tied to the ancestral world (blolo) which controls and determines the fate of the living. Blolo affects the quality of harvests or the availability of game as well as the physical well- being and fertility of members of the community. The Baule believe that spirits both male and female, live in the bush and occasionally fall in love with human beings. When this happens a statue, such as this delightful example, is made to honor the spirit. The figure is treated like a real person, to the extent that it is fed and dressed by its owner. A 'spirit mate' that feels neglected will cause problems in the life of the living partner, and may cause impotency or infertility. A diviner is then needed to sort out the problem and appease the otherworld lover. The underlying causes and solutions to collective and individual difficulties that potentially arise are relayed by diviners. Diviners commission figurative works as a means of attracting the attention of bush sprits, and in consequence by bringing them out of the bush and into the village. Artists commissioned with the creation of sculptures used in divination have to follow closely the instructions of the diviners who might have been told certain details about the figure's required physical appearance, posture, scarification marks, jewellery and hairstyle by the bush spirit itself, often during a dream. The current figure is unusual because the Baule are not usually much given to the decoration of figures with paint but are instead rather traditional in respect to the stylistic execution of their sculptures. Though paint was introduced by the Europeans, African artists use it in a most extraordinary way, placing an emphasis on cultural ideas and concepts rather than realism. In most African traditions red has been associated with birth and rebirth, being therefore viewed as a female colour. The brilliant red of the figure’s skin is symbolic of sexuality and announces in particular the coming of age of young girls. By being coloured in glossy red the figure is immediately seen as sexually attractive and highly fertile, promising to bear numerous children to a future husband. Her extended breasts further emphasize this point. The scarification marks besides adding a delightful detail to her appearance were considered means of beautification; beyond that fact they make also a statement that the carved figure represents an adult, as the marks were made during rites of passage into adulthood. Other features used to connote beauty as understood by the Baule are the hair styling, the arched brows and the long neck with the beauty lines. The general characteristics of this sculpture with it’s ornate crested hairstyle, the cast- down eye and serene expression makes it most likely to be a blolo bla figure, a spirit wife, a model of feminine beauty with her brilliant red skin and finely carved facial features. She embodies all a man could wish for in a companion, furthermore symbolizing the intimate relationship between the physical world and the world of spirit. On the basis of the figure’s overall proportions, the statuette possibly dates to a time when polychrome painting was preferable to carving detailing onto a figure, that is to say, a fairly short time into the colonial period. - (PF.4501)

 

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