This powerful piece is a rhythm pounder (pombilele) sculpture, made by the Senufo group of the Ivory Coast and Mali. It is a well-used and patinated female example, in the traditional style. The short legs terminate – without feet – in a columnar base, flaring to wide hips/skirt and an elongated, narrowing body that widens again into the powerful chest/shoulders complex. The breasts are large and very pointed. The arms are very long, thus matching the body, and the hands rest on the hips. The neck is short, crowned with a classically Senufo head – a wide brow, pointed chin and crested coiffure – with a maturely carved face featuring arched brows, slit eyes, a long nose and pursed lips. The ears are block-shaped and prominent. Additional detailing includes a marked umbilicus, armlets on each elbow and a pendant with cruciform design around the neck.
The Senufo group, based in the Ivory Coast and Mali area, has a long history of using highly decorated objects in many aspects of everyday life. However, their extremely high level of skill in woodcarving is nowhere better seen than in the realm of their magical-religious art. At the heart of Senufo society is a patriarchal groups of elders known as the Poro society, which is responsible for many religious and more urbane functions to do with the running of the tribal group. Their ceremonial events are often associated with dancing, music and the use of Pombilele sculptures.
“Pombilele” literally translates as “those who give birth”, and traditionally constitute a pair of figures (one male, one female) who represent primordial humanity and the ancestry of all humankind. Most examples, however, are of single, female figures. The appearance of these figures is relatively homogenous, being tall, slim and somewhat angular. However, the personal characteristics of each sculpture were often based upon a dream or vision by a Poro elder. There is also some social and geographic variability. The figures were used as pounding devices (holding each arm) to keep the rhythm for dancing, or were stood for purposes of contemplation in the middle of the Poro society’s sacred enclosures. They are also used for the interment of prominent Poro members; they are carried to the graveside with the dead body, then used to tamp down the earth on top of the grave, to ensure that the spirit of the dead is directed to the afterlife rather than returning to haunt the living.
This is a striking and attractive piece of African art.
- (PF.3052 (LSO))