Lot 25
  • 25

Ejagham Ekpe Society Emblem, Nigeria

30,000 - 50,000 USD
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  • wood, animal skulls
  • Height: 50 in (127 cm)


Allan Stone, New York


S2 Gallery, Sotheby's New York, Hunters and Gatherers: The Art of Assemblage, November 18 - December 16, 2011


Lisa Dennison and Adam Gopnick (eds.), Hunters and Gatherers: The Art of Assemblage, New York, 2011, p. 117

Catalogue Note

Among the Ejagham of present-day Nigeria, members of the ekpeassociation, a male grade society widespread in eastern Nigerian cultures, created two-dimensional assemblage sculptures as emblems of their community. Constructed of a mat of woven cane to which three dimensional objects are attached, including animal skulls, rope, carved wooden objects, a drum, medical leaves and other elements, the sculptures were placed on the central post of a community house, and sometimes also on a wall demarcating the inner sanctum. SeeNooter (1993: 60, cat. 23) for further discussion.

The conceptual and artistic ingenuity of African assemblage sculpture and its important role for the evolution of collage art in the West are well-known. In his discussion of a closely related Ejagham ekpe society emblem at the occasion of the seminal exhibition "Primitivism" in 20th Century Art. Affinities of the Tribal and the Modern, William Rubin (1984: 64-69) notes: "That Picasso should have made the first modern construction sculpture [Guitar, 1912] in the same year he invented collage, and that these interdependent developments should have been launched at a time when he was deeply involved with tribal art, appear to me quite logical. The seeming simplicity and rawness of collage certainly constituted for Picasso a second primitivizing reaction, in this case against the hermeticism and belle peinture of high Analytic Cubism. It paralleled that of six years earlier when he had overcome the late Symbolist refinement of his Blue and Rose Period paintings with the primitivism that culminated in the Demoiselles. In the spring of 1912, when Picasso glued a piece of oilcloth on his Still Life with Chair Caning and ordered an 'endless' mariner's rope to go round it in place of a frame, he not only short-circuited the refined painterly language of high Analytic Cubism, but undercut its 'classical' structure by introducing a mélange of materials previously considered incompatible with the Fine Arts. His subsequent application of the collage technique to constructed sculpture created the hybrid form known as 'assemblage.' While Picasso's admixture of cloth and rope was unprecedented in the Western tradition, the principle of such mélanges was familiar to him in tribal sculptures whose markers often utilized cloth, raffia, string, bark, metal, mud, and found objects in conjunction with wood and other materials. [...] I do not want to imply this means that tribal objects were necessarily the primary inspiration of collage, for the latter have other possible precedents, but given Picasso's deep involvement with tribal art in 1912, they had to have played an important role in his thinking."

"[... Another] longtime collector of African art, Arman [felt] a deep affinity with tribal art, but like most artist-collectors does not borrow from it directly. Yet his collecting of African art is no accident. 'At the beginning of my interest in African art,' he recalls, 'I was attracted by artifacts covered with material and charged with magical powers. Such fetishes, which reflected a sense of the accumulative, were somehow close to my own work in their allover multiplication of elements and the resultant power of suggestion. A long relationship with African sculpture as a collector gave me a clearer understanding of what really good art should be.'"