36
36
Statue, Yoruba/Nago, Bénin
YORUBA / NAGO FIGURE, BENIN
Estimate
400,000600,000
LOT SOLD. 408,750 EUR
JUMP TO LOT
36
Statue, Yoruba/Nago, Bénin
YORUBA / NAGO FIGURE, BENIN
Estimate
400,000600,000
LOT SOLD. 408,750 EUR
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Arts d'Afrique et d'Océanie

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Statue, Yoruba/Nago, Bénin
YORUBA / NAGO FIGURE, BENIN

Provenance

Collection privée, Bruxelles

Exhibited

Tanlay, Centre d'art de Tanlay, Lumière noire, Arts traditionnels, 7 juin - 5 septembre 1997
Barcelona, Fundación "La Caixa", Africa : Magia y Poder, 2500 ańos de arte en Nigeria, 23 aoūt - 13 décembre 1998
Tours, Chāteau de Tours, Image de la Femme dans l'Art Africain, 21 octobre - 3 décembre 2000

Les deux statues ont été datées au C14 fin du XVIIIe siècle / début du XIXe siècle (CIRAM, octobre 2011)

Literature

Tanlay, Lumière noire, Arts traditionnels, 1997 : n° 38
La Caixa, Africa : Magia y Poder, 2500 ańos de arte en Nigeria, 1998 : 142, n° 128
Joubert, Felix & Rivière, Image de la Femme dans l'Art Africain, 2000 : n°47

Catalogue Note

Two Anago Shrine Sculptures
(lots 35 and 36)

These two Anago Yoruba shrine sculptures are extraordinary in their artistry and rarity. Other than carved headdresses for Gelede masquerades and ere ibeji for deceased twins, there are very few documented shrine sculptures from this southwestern area of the Oyo Empire. They are the work of not only a highly skilled craftsman, but a person with marvelous artistic imagination. Furthermore, they are, I believe, complementary ritual objects. That is, they were created as companion pieces for a particular shrine. Prior to the mid-twentieth century, the Yoruba did not collect art or create museums. They commissioned sculptures for use as ritual objects, such as dance wands or masks for festivals, or to be placed on shrines as expressive of the nature, power and presence of a deity before whom one knelt, with whom one identified, and by whom one was enpowered. Of course objects were also carved as status symbols on the doors, verandas and window frames of residences of kings and chiefs. Other than in the Ketu area or in larger towns such as Abeokuta and Lagos, few are known.

In the mid- and late eighteenth century, the palace of the the Alaafin, Oba or king, of Oyo-Ile became the center of a large Empire extending to the borders of the Nupe people in the north, the Benin kingdom in the east, the Ijebu people in the south coastal region, and the kingdoms of the Ketu and on to the coastal region of the southwest where Oyo warriors clashed with the armies of Dahomey chiefdoms. Oyo soldiers travelled mainly on foot, although they attempted to use the horse with which the Fulani in the north were all too successfully attacking northern Oyo towns and villages. The tse-tse fly virtually defeated the Oyo cavalry in the forests and on the plains of the central and southwest areas of battle. Nonetheless, the image of equestrian power remained widely used by Yoruba carvers.
The armies of the Alaafin penetrated into the southwest largely to secure a trade route from Oyo-Ile to the coast, especially Porto Novo, where contact with European ships was well established. The patron deity of Oyo was orisa Shango, presumably the deified fourth king of Oyo-Ile.
Shango's priests and many of his followers accompanied the troops of the Alaafin, established shrines to Shango and became the represetatives of the Alaafin, exacting tributes to the Oba. The oriki or attributive names (praise songs) for Shango not only reveal the essential nature of the deified king but the perception of Shango and the powers of his followers, especially the Alaafin of Oyo

Shango, I hope you awakened happily. Ooooo.
Leader of devotees. Ooooo.
He strikes a tree and shatters it.
He plunges a hot iron into his eyes....
Orilaku, who overturns the tables of traders.
One who adds stones to the light load of a person. Eeeee.
One who is light as an asa board.
Do not add more stones to my load.
One whose teeth are like large bones.
The talkative create trouble in the house.
Shango is always willing to talk....
When he is angry, he hurls a person into a stream as though brushing away a fly.
Shango, who hurls the stubborn into boiling water, Do not put my head into hot water....
When he enters the forest, he strikes with his thuderbolts.
One who uproots the iroko tree.
His fiery eyes are like those of Ogun....
One whose eyes are terrifying to behold.
One who smashes the calabash into pieces....
Erigitola, who publically accuses the police and the chief clerk.
One who chases the king and the householder.
Shango is the almighty power who blesses a sensible person and maddens the fool.

The sculpture of the equestrian warrior is clearly an image of a Shango devotee. In addition to the central head and prominent face there are two other heads jutting to the right and left. This immediately calls to mind the Shango dance wand, ose Sango, which is the principal emblem carried by a Shango devotee when chanting oriki before a Shango shrine or at the time of the god's annual festival. At the top of the staff there are always two celts, okuta, or thunder bolts jutting forth from the image of the devotee's head, symbols of Shango's power, hurled on the roof tops of those with whom he is displeased and from whom his agents exact financial penalties. Artist's have variously imaged these as simple depictions of large stones, at times with lineage marks inscribed on them or depicted them with the graceful curves of a woman's breasts, or as axe heads or taking the shape of human heads (see Fagg and Pemberton 1982:pls 11, 19, 28, 33, 53, 57, 62; Drewal, Pemberton, and Abiodun 1989:150-153). There is also the suggestion of orisa Ogun, the god of iron and war. A spiral of hair descends from the central figure's head to the heads of two small female figures mounted on the rump of the horse. It is a hunter's hair style often found on carvings celebrating the hunter/warrior. A spear is held in the rider's left hand and the horse wears an elaborate leather blanket. As the oriki cited above states, Shango's eyes are fiery like those of Ogun.

The style in which the facial features are carved is remenicent of the faces on Ango Gelede headresses—narrow, elongated, the eyes somewhat almond shaped and the ears articulated in a severe angular design. The same may be said regarding the faces of the sculpture in which a woman carries a warrior on her shoulders.
This is an extraordinary carving. I do not recall having seen this subject among Yoruba carvings, although John Picton photographed an early nineteenth century carving from Opin in northern Ekiti depicting a.warrior being carried on the shoulders of a priest (Picton 1994:9). A child is suspended in front of its mother's vagina. The mother grasps the ankles of the male figure seated on her shoulders. She wears a brass collar, a sign that she is a devotee and perhaps a priestess for orisa Osun, goddess of medicinal waters and woman's beauty. The male figure seated on her shoulders carries a broad blade warrior's axe in his right hand, more than likely a ritual instrument or sign of office, and holds the neck of a small ceramic container with his left hand. The axe or machette calls to mind the Ifa story of orisa Orunmila using an ada talabi with which to defeat witches. The contents of the container were probably medicinal for the protection of the mother and child by which the male figure is supported. A necklace of large beads adorns his neck.

Perhaps the sign of chieftaincy. The marks on his forehead are not clear. The mouths of both figures are open, the teeth bared. There is an intense, aggressive expression on both faces. In this respect they are statements of physical power, precisely the opposite of the inner, spiritual power of "the mothers" celebrated in Gelede. However, as in many shrine sculptures and on veranda posts where male and female images are positioned next to or above one another there is a statement being made about the shared basis of Yoruba society: the overt power, agbara, of man, the hunter/warrior and the inner, covert power, ashe, of woman.
figures.

John Pemberton III
Crosby Professor of Religion, Emeritus
Amherst College

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