Figure, Mumuye, Nigeria
Although Mumuye statuary - which was first brought to light in Europe in the late 1960s - was immediately viewed as one of the most inventive expressions of African art, only a limited number of master craftsmen had been identified through their work up till now. In his typology based on the correlation between leg and trunk proportions, Bernard de Grunne identified a style known as "thickset", which he considers "the most aesthetically accomplished within the Mumuye statuary" (Grunne, Mains de Maîtres, 2001, p. 86).
In this piece, the drastically reduced volume of the pelvis/leg area enhances the striking dynamics of the torso. The elegance of the outline, enlivened by the flowing movement of the arms, finds an echo in the strapping fullness of the shoulders and the tightly drawn facial features, making this statue one of the most remarkable within that style.
The oldest Mumuye statues to have reached Europe came to the British Museum in 1922 and were long attributed to the Chamba, a people established to the Northeast of Nigeria (see statue inv. No. 1918.104.22.168 and Phillips, Africa. The Art of a Continent, 1995, p. 363, No. 5.25a). Only in the late 1960s, in the anarchy surrounding the Igbo secession and ensuing civil war, together with the decline of religious practices, did collecting missions led by Arnold Rubin (cf. Rubin in Vogel, For Spirits and Kings. African Art from the Tishman Collection, 1981, p. 155), Albert Maesen and Philippe Guimiot enable their identification and instant rise to fame.
Collected by Philippe Guimiot in 1968, this work, in its sheer aesthetic vibrancy, stands as the embodiment of a protective spirit, thereby increasing the status and prestige of its owner.
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