SENUFO SEATED FEMALE FIGURE, IVORY COAST
René Rasmussen, Paris
Ben Heller, New York
Sotheby's New York, The Ben Heller Collection of African Art, December 1, 1983, lot 94
Robert Rubin, New York, acquired at the above auction
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Perspectives: Angles on African Art, February 21 - April 26, 1987; additional venues:
The Center for African Art, New York, September 18, 1987 - January 3, 1988
The Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, January 31 - March 27, 1988
Museum for African Art, New York, To Cure and Protect: Sickness and Health in African Art, February 7 - August 31, 1997; additional venue:
National Museum of Health and Medicine, Washington, D.C., February 18 - August 23, 1999
Susan M. Vogel, Perspectives: Angles on African Art, New York, 1987, p. 90
Frank Herreman, To Cure and Protect: Sickness and Health in African Art, New York, 1999, p. 27
Small wooden antropomorphic statuettes were used by Senufo diviners, called Sando'o, to communicate with helpful spirits living in the wilderness. The name tugubele applies to both the spirits and the mediating statuettes. Artists creating tugubele followed closely the instructions given to them by the diviner who would have been told certain details about the figure's required appearance, gender, posture, scarification marks etc. directly by the spirit. Diviners were contacted by the spirits often while they were sleeping in the form of a dream. See Foerster (1988: 79-80) for further discussion.
The Rubin tugubele is an exceptionally fine figure executed in an archaic style. Her oily patina and the worn area on the tip of the mouth attest to long ritual use. For stylistically closely related figures see Einstein (1915: pl. 71) and de Zayas (1916: pl. 12).
In his discussion of the Rubin Senufo Statuette in the catalogue of the exhibition Perspectives: Angles on African Art at New York's Museum for African Art, Ivan Karp notes (Karp in Center for African Art 1987: 90): "What is very clear is that the posture of the woman, the emphasis on the breast, the belly - all have to do with her procreative potential and capacity. Her facility is to produce people and to reproduce the world [...]."