Lot 7
  • 7

Senufo Oracle Figure (Kafigeledjo), Ivory Coast

60,000 - 90,000 USD
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  • wood, feathers
  • Height: 42 1/4 in (107 cm)


Jay C. Leff, Uniontown, Pennsylvania
Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, October 10-11, 1976, lot 191, consigned by the above
Allan Stone, New York


Art Center, La Jolla, The Sculpture of Negro Africa, 1960; additional venues:
Los Angeles Municipal Art Galleries, Los Angeles
California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco
Portland Art Museum, Portland
Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute, San Antonio
Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas
Museum of Primitive Art, New York, African Sculpture from the Collection of Jay C. Leff, November 24, 1964 –February 7, 1965
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, The Art of Black Africa: Collection of Jay C. Leff, October 24, 1969 –January 18, 1970
 S2 Gallery, New York, Hunters and Gatherers: The Art of Assemblage, November 18 - December 16, 2011


Stolper Galleries of Primitive Arts, The Sculpture of Negro Africa, New York and Los Angeles, 1960, cat. 29 (not illustrated)
Museum of Primitive Art, African Sculpture from the Collection of Jay C. Leff, New York, 1964, cat. 42
Carnegie Institute, The Art of Black Africa: the Collection of Jay C. Leff, Pittsburgh, 1969, cat. 147
Lisa Dennison and Adam Gopnick (eds.), Hunters and Gatherers: The Art of Assemblage, New York, 2011, p. 118


Very good condition overall for an object of this type, age, and material. Thick, crusty, crumbling patina over fabric. Chips and small losses to patina as expected throughout, especially to pole shaped "hands". Minor nicks, chips, small losses, dents and abrasions consistent with age and use. Wood dust around the foot. Arms are attached by fabric and swing freely from the body. Fixed to modern base.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

The shrouded kafigeledjo figures created and used by Senufo diviners are among the most visually poetic of all African figural sculpture.  Discussing the example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, LaGamma (2000:26) notes, "this oracle figure deliberately provokes anxiety through its shrouded anonymity and the sense of suffocation and entrapment it suggests.  Such works and the ritual practice in which they are used are both known as kafigeledjo, a term that is variously translated as "he who speaks the truth", "tell the truth", or "saying true things".  The figures give a visual representation to invisible bush spirits and function as divination devices.  In contrast to the sublime humanism of works of Senufo Sando divination [...] they clearly embody a wild and unsettling anti-aesthetic."

She continues (ibid.): "Kafigeledjo divination is used to uncover misdeeds, false testimony, and culpability.  [...] this pursuit of truth ultimately seeks to preserve and uphold Senufo social guidelines concerning descent.  It does so by unveiling illicit behavior and by punishing with supernatural sanctions those who violate rules pertaining to forbidden sexual relations and exogamous marriage.  The kafigeledjo figure is concealed within a small hut, and although it has the potential to affect all members of a Senufo community, access to this oracle figure is restricted to the most enlightened senior male and, occasionally, female members.  These elders occupy positions of leadership, as initiates into the highest level of esoteric knowledge imparted by Poro, the Senufo men's initiation association.  Poro and its counterpart, Sandogo (the Senufo women's association), function as a system of government and oversee religious education and all ritual practices."

Invisible beneath the textile shroud, which is covered with thick crust of ritually-applied mud and other sacrificial materials, is presumably a fully-realized human figure, as we can surmise from the example in the Barbier-Müller Museum in Geneva (see Koloss 1990: 30, fi. 22) which has had its head covering partially removed. It is by the denial of access to this secret knowledge that these haunting sculptures draw their power.