Among African art forms, wooden figurative
sculpture has received a great deal of attention
from western cultures. Wood is the material
typically used throughout Sub-Saharan Africa
because it is practical and available. The human
figure is most commonly represented in
sculptural form. Lees frequently, animals such as
birds, antelopes, monkeys, and leopards, are
depicted. Figures are represented standing with
bent knees or seated on a circular stool. Few
sculptures depict figures in movement. African
sculpture is very balanced and symmetrical. A
common device used to create a sense of balance
is the repetition of shapes within different parts
of the body. While a sculpture is meant to be
understood form a continuous view, by walking
around it, most African sculpture does not have a
predetermined direction for viewing, some
figures were never intended for display, and
therefore will not stand on their own. African art
is not meant to be an illusion of reality. The
features and body parts are often somewhat
abstract in form. The figure enters reality by
being given a personal name, like a child. The
sculpture interacts with the viewer by being part
of their space. Usually being modest in size, the
sculptures are made to be portable and handled.
The figures may be made for various purposes.
Some represent a deceased twin, carved upon its
death. the twin figure, or Ibeji, would then be
cared for by the mother as though it were her
child, washing and feeding it, to insure the
health of the surviving twin. The wood surface of
the figures often shows wear from the constant
rubbing and use. Other figures may be used to
facilitate childbirth. Some represent spirit
partners, a husband or wife of the spirit world
which also needs attention form its owner.
Figurative sculpture is widely used in divination
practices. Many of the diviner's instruments are
elaborately carved with heads, faces, and figures.
Power sculpture, nkisi, is used in the Zaire river
basin for healing and protection.
In the Yoruba culture, the thunder God, Shango,
has a strong following. Cult members dance with
small wooden staffs called ose Shango. These
staffs most often depict a single female figure
whose head supports a double ax. This double
ax motif, which represents thunderstones is the
most important element associated with Shango.
It represents Shango's destructive side and his
ability to hurl thunder celts into the community.