Last year I had the pleasure to see the above staff while visiting a private collection in The Netherlands. The current owner acquired this masterpiece early 2014. Only a few weeks later he encountered an old black/white picture of his staff in the new exhibition catalogue of the Rietberg Museum: Afrikanische Meister – Kunst der Elfenbeinkuste (p. 168, fig. 218). I don’t need to explain the collector suddenly was even more happy with his last acquisition. Listed as ‘current location unknown’, the staff was last ‘seen’ when Schädler published it in 1973 (Afrikanische Kunst in Deutschen Privatesammlungen, p. 74) – it was his picture that was used in the 2014 catalogue.
After having spend more than 30 years hidden away, the staff will be on view to the public from 14 April until 26 July 2015, at the last stop of the traveling exhibition, now dubbed Les Maïtres de la Sculpture de Côte d’Ivoire, at the Musée du quai Brainly in Paris. I’m happy to already share some pictures of it here.
Clearly this staff from the Korhogo district doesn’t resemble the more common Senufo staffs handed out to most productive farmers; possibly it served as an emblem of dignity. The zoomorphic figures on top most likely represent a chameleon and a bird. The group of figures, which is equally fascinating seen from any angle, is held in tension buy a skillful balance of surface areas, an intriguing interplay of lines and an elusive air of mystery. Frequent use has left a shiny, deep, reddish-brown patina at the centre of the staff, and the group of figures is covered with the remains of numerous sacrifices.
As the above profile of the figure shows this staff was sculpted by a master carver. Due to the specific shape of his hands, he was nicknamed the ‘Master of the Spade-Shaped Hands’. A helmet mask (at least it looks like one) from a private Belgian collection can also be attributed to this artist – who is also sometimes called ‘The shovel shaped hands Master’. An interesting detail is that they share their earliest European provenance: Robert Duperrier. A third object from this sculptor is a small figure in the collection of the Rietberg Museum – also illustrated below. In my humble opinion the style of this artist is quintessentially Senufo; I don’t think it can get much better than this.